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Daybreaker Is Chicago’s Weirdest Dance Party

This rave happens at sunrise—and is completely sober.

Illustration: Chris Gash

My head is foggy as I trudge up a dark staircase sprinkled with red paper rose petals. It’s barely 6 a.m. on a Thursday, and the bar at the swanky River North nightclub Studio Paris is nearly empty. Under the glow of pricey, backlit bottles of vodka and Champagne rests an impressive spread of energy bars, yogurt drinks, and cold-brewed coffee. I follow the gentle sounds of trance music and find the dance floor filled with yoga mats.

I’m a little early for this morning’s festivities, so I hover in the background and try not to look too creepy as I observe the preparty acroyoga (as in, acrobatic yoga) session: pairs of toned Lululemon types, mostly women, knitting their bodies into poses that remind me of Cirque du Soleil crossed with a sweaty game of Twister.

I head back to the bar, crack open my first of several cans of coffee, and strike up a chat with Becca Rabinowitz, a 20-something with long, dark braids waiting for the main event alongside a guy in tight red shorts and a red headband.

“Supposedly, this turns into, like, this crazy rave,” she says. On cue, the bass starts to build—bhmp, bhmp, bhmp. Predawn revelers stream by us to join the 50 or so yogis who are already warmed up. The Daybreaker morning dance party is about to blast off.

Its New York organizers refer to Daybreaker as a “morning movement,” a way to jump-start your day with all the reckless abandon of a night out clubbing—but without the drugs, alcohol, and unfortunate decision making. The first of these sober raves happened in Manhattan in 2013 and quickly spread to other cities by attracting both club kids and fitness freaks.

Chicago’s first Daybreaker took place last fall at 1st Ward, the Chop Shop’s event space, and had a Back to the Future theme, complete with Marty McFly outfits and an appearance by a real DeLorean. Today’s mid-February party, the fifth local gathering, is dubbed Love Fest—hence the preponderance of red getups, including an oversize plush Elmo head.

I’ve never been much of a club guy, but for some reason, the notion of sidestepping the velvet ropes and thick-necked bouncers to experience a nightspot first thing in the morning intrigued me. Since my kids get me up at the break of dawn anyway, why not spend my prework hours hanging out with a bunch of spandex-clad party animals?

“I like to say it’s a sober event but full of spirit,” says Mel Safford, one of Daybreaker’s Chicago producers. (Despite being alcohol-free, the party has a cover: $35 for both dancing and yoga, $27 for dancing only.) “No one is here by accident. You’re not waking up at five in the morning to go see what parties are out there. You’re not just stumbling into a club. There’s no judgment.”

That’s a good thing, because almost immediately I feel out of place. Nearly everyone is in a fitness outfit or funky costume. I’m wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Maybe I should have busted out those skinny sweatpants that my wife insists are fashionable.

I walk back to the dance floor, and the vibe has transformed from mellow to manic. I keep expecting to catch a whiff from a funny cigarette, but no, all 250 revelers appear to be having a good time without any mind-altering chemicals.

DJ DiOX, a spiky-haired spinner who typically plays Studio Paris during a more sensible time slot, has whipped the room into a tizzy with tracks from Michael Jackson, the White Stripes, and Bowie. I’m tempted to jump into the glow-stick-twirling mass of humanity, but then a guy in dreadlocks starts break dancing. I can’t compete with that. And without any booze, I have nothing to chase my inhibitions away. Instead, I sidle up to a regular-looking dude wearing shorts and boat shoes with gray socks and ask him what he’s doing here at such an ungodly hour.

“When we go to clubs at night and everyone’s drinking, people are like zombies,” says Tim Cuga-Moylan, 32, an electrician who lives in Edgewater. He motions to his wife, Niki, 31, a teacher who’s wearing black boots and stretch pants, and the three of us bounce in a circle. “Here, we can meet people like they really are. Plus, we’re jumping. We’re sweating. It’s a great workout.” While we chat, I fall prey to the hypnotic electro-house music and bop around a bit. It’s exhilarating, conducting an interview while dancing. But when the couple ducks out, my confidence dips. I return to the bar and eat my fifth fruit-and-nut bar.

Just after a woman in a crimson jumpsuit performs a crazy dance routine with a glowing LED Hula-Hoop, I meet Dan Becco. The trim 59-year-old Ravenswood resident works in client relations for a law firm, but to pals at his yoga studio, he’s known as Party Monster (and has the business card to prove it). Becco self-published a book that explains his nearly all-encompassing definition of the party lifestyle: “anything and everything, as long as it’s about feeling good and loving others.” At previous Daybreaker events, he showed off impressive flexibility by doing a jump into the splits. He’s not feeling it today, however. “I’m not sure if I’m wearing the right jeans,” he explains.

But Red Bull and coconut water can fuel a party for only so long. By 8:30 a.m., after a horn section parade and freestyle rap performance, the DJ brings the room down to earth. It’s time for everyone to get back to reality.

On my way out, I strike up a conversation with Matt Snyder, a rugged-looking guy wearing a red onesie that is similar to an outfit my 3-year-old sleeps in. I ask him how the rest of the day could compete with this high-energy morning.

“Well, I’ve been to Burning Man. This is very much my thing,” he says. “Even if it was four in the morning, I’d still be bouncing around like an idiot—but maybe not in the onesie.”

Snyder, an ad salesman in town from Boston, attended his first Daybreaker in New York two weeks prior and is now hooked. In a few hours, he’s scheduled to give a presentation to a bunch of honchos at a major local advertising agency.

“I’m thinking of putting a picture of me [out on the dance floor] in the PowerPoint,” he says. “I’ll start the meeting by telling the group: ‘Guess how I started my day today?’ ”

Go for it, dude. While I can appreciate the appeal of mixing up the morning routine and getting off the hamster wheel every once in a while, my short-lived energy boost is fading fast. I’m heading home for a nap.

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