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Inside NYC's Daybreaker, a morning dance party where everyone's sober

You’ve heard of them before, read about them, perhaps even gone to one or two.

They’re 6 a.m. dance parties that look like nighttime raves, with a couple of key differences: Everyone’s sober and nobody is trying to hook up.

It was the fall of 2013 when the two co-founders of Daybreaker, Radha Agrawal and Matthew Brimer, were brainstorming how to reinvent New York City nightlife.

“What would be the most amazing, creative, connective, happiest, most joyous way to start your morning?” they asked themselves over late-night falafel in Williamsburg, the movement’s current headquarters. “Probably a dance party.”

Inspired by Burning Man, a yearly festival that emphasizes self-expression, creativity and community, Agrawal and Brimer decided to conduct a social experiment. That December, they threw what became their first Daybreaker event in the basement of The Coffee Shop in Union Square. There was live music, a disc jockey and artwork from Burning Man. And instead of alcohol, they served coffee, tea and juices.

More than 200 people with invites showed up. Some even wore costumes.

“No one knew what it was, and we also didn’t know exactly what it would become,” says Brimer, who also founded General Assembly, an education startup. “It was the most wonderful, healthy, energetic, most positive party we’d ever been to. It worked.”

Flash forward two years later. The Daybreaker community
Photo Credit: Gretchen Ty

Flash forward two years later. The Daybreaker community has exploded into a global dance movement in 13 different cities around the world, including Toronto, Paris and Washington. The organization hosts two themed Daybreakers a month in every city, though Agrawal says the NYC parties are four times larger than in any other location. In June, the organization hosted the second-ever Daybreaker Festival, a weeklong dance party challenge, in New York City.

While Daybreaker is tailored to millennial professionals ages 25 to 35, Agrawal says it's a "safe space" for people of all ages, from parents with children to senior citizens who love to dance.

Brimer adds that there's a free, "no regrets" feeling associated with going to the dance parties.

"You can tell your grandma about Daybreaker," he says.

To attract more individuals who don't consider themselves a "morning person," Agrawal and Brimer launched Dusk, pictured above, (the "happy hour" version of Daybreaker) in February 2016. Nearly 1,000 people attended the event, which took place at Temple Emanu-El on East 65th Street -- far from your typical dance venue.

Gretchen Ty, 26, says she didn't start going to Daybreaker until she found out there were similar events in the evening. After attending the first Dusk in February, Ty has gone to every Daybreaker event -- morning and night -- since then.

At every dance party, the organizers hand
Photo Credit: Wendy Lu

At every dance party, the organizers hand out "intention cards" with thoughtful quotes from books or movies and a reflection question such as, "What is your idea of a perfect getaway?"

Ty, who works at a harm reduction syringe exchange program in Brooklyn, says she uses the intention cards as "food for thought" for her clients. But that's just one reason why Daybreakers are not your average rave.

"It's the dynamic of having different beverages and snacks, and just being around people that are intentionally here to have a good time, not to cause drama," Ty says.

Catherine Gergely, a travel agent from Washington Heights, agrees that the hookup culture that exists in typical nightlife is absent from Daybreaker, where 70% of attendees are women.

"It's not like a creepy dance party," Gergely says. "There's not people dancing all over you."

Because there's no alcohol or drugs, people are
Photo Credit: Wendy Lu

Because there's no alcohol or drugs, people are more mindful of their interactions as they dance sober, which is also known as conscious clubbing, says Agrawal, a seasoned entrepreneur like Brimer. Since Daybreakers end before the workday starts, going takes deliberate effort.

"You have to set your alarm the night before, put out your costume, wake up at 5 a.m. to make it to the venue," Agrawal says.

But Daybreaker isn't just a dance party. It's a place for people who love a good morning workout to enjoy an hour-long yoga session before every party. It's a place where marriage proposals happen and talented artists can do what they love in front of hundreds of people. Past performers include stilt walkers, spoken word poets and break dancers. Last week, "Hamilton" actor Okieriete Onaodowan did a poetry reading at the dance festival.

Ashley Les, a Daybreaker regular who won a trip to Bermuda on the final day of the festival, says waking up at the break of dawn is worth it: "It's all about choosing to be happy, choosing to live."

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