It’s 5:47 a.m. and I’m surrounded by people wearing all white. To be fair, we were supposed to wear all white to this event, in keeping with its “white hot” theme. I’m fashion-challenged on my best days, and the idea that I own white pants is laughable. I would rather be kidnapped than draw attention to myself in front of strangers—you know, like a well-adjusted person. So my stretchy black pants are a bit off-theme, though I’m not the only one who didn’t fully adhere to the “white only” directive, lending a bit of flair to a gathering that otherwise resembles the world’s most “early bird gets the worm” suicide cult.
I roused myself from a comfortable bed at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. on this Wednesday in July because I had been invited to attend a Daybreaker Party, the newest trend among urbanites with a penchant for doing very silly things. It starts at the stroke of way too early with an hour of yoga, and then segues into a two-hour dance party, all before the time a normal person would have to be in the office. Which is ironic, because if you’re carving out three hours in the morning for a stone-cold-sober fitness routine and rave wearing all white, the idea that you’re the normal person in the office seems fairly unlikely. It seemed bizarre enough that a couple of us decided to give it a shot, and find out just what kind of people would subject themselves to such a ritual—and more importantly, whether it’s worth it. (Full disclosure: We were given press passes for this event. Tickets are usually $40 for yoga and dancing or $25 to just dance at 7 a.m. on a rooftop.) Regardless, it’s currently happening in 22 cities, on hotel rooftops, college campuses, anywhere and everywhere that could fit a couple hundred people grooving to dance music. And one awkward writer wishing the floor would swallow him up.
4 a.m.: I awake at the time that Clayton Purdom, The A.V. Club’s internet culture editor, agreed upon yesterday. Groggy and slow, I sift through the brain fog and remember why my alarm is going off at this time. Managing to dress in white shirt and socks (I had wisely laid out everything I would need the night before in obvious places) before donning the too-bad-I-have-nothing-else black exercise pants. After stumbling through my preparations, grabbing my bag, and walking to the train to head downtown, I see a text message on my phone from half an hour earlier. “Check Slack,” it reads, and as I log in to read Clayton’s note to me, I already know what it’s going to say, and what it means: Clayton has thrown me under the yoga mat. He uses very polite language, but “enjoy dancing alone, asshole” are the words between the lines.
5:10 a.m.: I arrive at the Savage Smyth building in Chicago, a venue for hosting events such as this, described on its website as “a place pulsing with a disruptive spirit that inspires innovation, and allows you to craft your own experience.” Which seems like a silly way of saying, “Rent a room that isn’t a fluorescent-lit windowless prison,” but whatever. There are two other people already waiting in the lobby, until we put together that we can just head up the stairs to the rooftop where this is scheduled to occur. There’s perhaps a half-dozen other folks already there, waiting in a small cramped room at the top of the stairs, because the folks setting up this Daybreaker experience appear to be running a little behind schedule out on the wooden-slatted roof. An effervescent woman, who is way too animated for this hour, assures us they’ll be ready for us soon; it sure doesn’t look like they’ll be ready for us soon.
As I hear the buzzing sound of drills and electric screwdrivers fastening a DJ booth together, more people are arriving, and I venture a cautious look up from my phone at the assembled group. Everyone here is in way better shape than I am. Appallingly so. It’s like the world’s easiest Where’s Waldo? picture, or one of those “one of these things is not like the other” Sesame Street segments. Most people are just in sensible workout clothes, though I do notice a couple costumes—a Sailor Moon here, a gold-banded raver there—and for some reason the costumes help normalize an otherwise weird situation, making it all less awkward. Five minutes prior to the scheduled start time for the yoga session, the stairwell is packed with people, our tiny room is becoming increasingly uncomfortable, and we’re all staring enviously out the door into the cool open air where the employees continue their work. They begin checking us in with a scanner, and when I show them my emailed confirmation of a press pass, the woman with the scanning device says, “I don’t know anything about press passes.” Everyone around us stares at me. After an excruciating number of seconds, she shrugs and says, “I’m sure it’s fine.”
Also, everyone here is either with a friend or group of friends, which is as it should be. I hate you, Clayton.
5:36 a.m.: The roof is a pretty cool space, and it’s a beautiful and not-too-warm morning, which I figure is going to make this all go down a lot more comfortably. Still, it’s a lot of people, so they pack our mats tightly together, practically touching one another, a bunch of yoga-ready sardines packed into several hundred square feet.
We’re in place, our mats are lined up, and then begins… the line for headphones. I had wondered exactly how you could get away with a dance party in the wee hours of the day, and it turns out, the answer is to create a private dance music jam in between the ears of every individual attendee. You hand over your ID card, they hand you a pair of fancy headphones that the germaphobe in me really hopes were wiped down in between health-nut raves. There’s a long line snaking down the back of the space, next to tables bearing kombucha and bananas, pressed juice and small bags of organic popcorn. It’s all very healthy, and absolutely counter to the normal things you would expect to accompany a big dance party, which is sort of the whole point. Daybreaker touts its “no alcohol, good for you” vibe as one of the main selling points of its events.
I hand over my ID and am rewarded with a pair of headphones already blaring a steady beat of pulsing chill wave, or maybe just music from a Volkswagen ad, I’m not sure. People are stockpiling kombucha and bananas, which is probably smart, and those like myself who were waiting until after the yoga to claim our snacks will possibly go hungry. (This will turn out to be an unnecessary worry; Daybreaker is nothing if not good about making sure there’s plenty for all.) There’s a guy behind me wearing a white sport coat you might see on Martha’s Vineyard, headphones up, sipping juice, smiling. He looks like he owns this place. Maybe he does.
By 6 a.m. the line is finally dying down, and a woman at the front of the assembly, just past the DJ booth, dons a headset mic and prepares to guide us through a round of yoga for beginners. Right now it’s still just groups of friends sitting together, casually talking, taking selfies, and so on. The two people next to me start making out like they’re at a drive-in movie. Thankfully, they have to stop because it’s yoga time.
6:50 a.m.: I hate to admit it, but doing yoga at a horrifyingly early time actually felt pretty good. (“Why the fuck wouldn’t it?” my rational brain scoffs. “It’s yoga.”) True, my mat became progressively more soaked in sweat, leading to my slipping all over the place for the last 10 minutes, but even as out of shape as I am in comparison to these bronzed gods around me, it felt great to start the day with a workout that allowed me to sweat out some combination of La Croix and whiskey, leaving me refreshed and awake. The sun, however, is ominously rising, with the temperature accompanying it, and I can feel the rays starting to bake my indoor-attuned body like a clay pot. But that’s all right, because the yoga portion of the morning is over, and something much more eye-catching is commanding my attention: The dance party is about to start, which means the kids dressed like unicorns are here to get it bumping.
Now my anxiety kicks in, as I see people starting to sway in the middle of the room. Swarms of wildly attired people who skipped yoga and just showed up for the dance party begin flooding the deck, and I notice the chillwave in my headphones has been replaced with “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim. Most people are still eating bananas or just chilling with friends around the edges, but a man with a microphone has begun to thread his way through the crowd.
“Welcome to Daybreaker—the most exciting party on the planet, because YOU’RE here! You made a good choice, enjoy it…”
Some people are very comfortable dancing in broad daylight to music we can all only hear in headphones. I am not one of those people. I look enviously at the dude 10 feet away, wearing a shirt that says, “GOOD TIMES,” lost blissfully in a musical world of his own making as “Crazy” plays separately to all of us. He’s really enjoying himself. Everyone dancing seems to be, and even the people more casually swaying on the sidelines mostly look like they’d rather be lost in the morass of carefree dancers. I used to mock such embarrassment-free individuals as a kid, for the obvious reason that I was jealous as hell of people who legitimately don’t seem to mind public displays of behavior that send me scrambling for a Xanax.
We’re ordered to wave our hands in the air. Everyone complies—even I feebly wave one arm back and forth, while eating my banana from the side of the roof.
I think if Clayton were here, the two of us could probably talk each other into some dance moves, because I find emotional support in friends’ co-indignity. As it is, I am partnerless, and therefore dance-averse.
7:15 a.m.: Things are starting to get a little more carnivalesque. There’s a guy juggling some balls near the front (they’re white as well), while the woman he came with gently sways alongside him like a magician’s assistant. A parade of several horn players—trumpet, sax, etc.—starts winding its way through the dance floor, blowing a brassy accompaniment to the music. A bubble machine starts going. This is more like a rave—though without drugs—than I would’ve thought possible.
I admire that the Daybreaker dance party seems to have attracted people of all ages. I’m no longer just surrounded by the young ripped yoga people who make me look like a pile of barf. It’s dancers of all ages, including some kids in strollers and some retirement-age folks, most of them wearing sunglasses and smiles as they move. It’s all very charming. The guy with the mic chimes in again: “A lot of haters on the internet don’t believe this can be the most positive party on the planet. We have to prove the haters wrong!” I don’t know about “most positive on the planet,” but it’s certainly dripping with positivity. The thing about positivity is, even when your default setting is cynicism and making fun of things, when you’re surrounded by people who are cheery and urging you to be cheery, too, there’s an undeniable urge to succumb to the good vibes. Or at least I certainly feel that way. Then again, I’m pretty weak-willed, so who can say for sure.
Curious about the folks who are colorfully dressed and moving like it’s an episode of Soul Train, I interview one of them. Eve Ejsmont, a 29-year-old wearing a purple shimmery dress of some sort, tells me this is her fifth Daybreaker. She loves to dance, so unsurprisingly she feels this is “maybe the best way to start the day?” She’s even more positive than the guy yelling about positivity into his mic. “The feeling of dancing provides something for me that is healing to the soul in some ways.” She asks if I’ve heard of “flow states” (I had not, but luckily Google exists), then gives me a metaphor about karate that I only vaguely understand. She’s very nice, and quick to stop and chat with me, which makes me feel bad for interrupting her flow state.
I still don’t fully get the draw of Daybreaker, I tell her, but I admire it. “There’s a large Burning Man contingent that attends these,” Eve says, and suddenly the entire thing makes so much sense; I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. It’s a place where people who love people can live it up in a gently provocative way, wearing strange outfits and soaking up the positive energy. Some of us just aren’t built for those situations, but it’s an appealing thought. And honestly, if I had a couple of people with me that I could draw on for encouragement and support in combatting my shyness, I probably would’ve been willing to jump in and dance. I’m tempted to return, because let’s be honest, good vibes are in very short supply these days, and a small infusion of them probably did me as much good as the yoga.
But: I already smell. I know everyone else up here does, too, but it still makes me socially anxious. The extent of my bravery is trying out the GIF photo booth.
7:50 a.m.: “Be in the present moment right now. You earned this, you deserve this.” The emcee is reminding us again that we are literally the greatest group of people that has ever existed in human history. “There’s so many songs in the world—we’re gonna play ’em all!”
I made it an hour, gently swaying and trying to be as unnoticeable as possible, which is not always easy as an ungainly 6'3" man dressed in white and stiffly throwing his hands in the air when instructed. If I could pull off the silver sparkly pants some here are wearing, I would. But I’ve never been that person. When I auditioned for Let’s Make A Deal I had a panic attack in the bathroom. But this… this is not so bad. Everyone happy, mellow, proudly dorky. That seems like a good note to end on.
As I prepare to leave, a conga line is forming. Then, I take off my headphones, and suddenly it’s just a group of weirdos on a roof, getting down to nothing in particular.