My first experience with silent disco was in an Italian nightclub during last year’s spring break. My entire perception of the dancing experience was forever changed by a pair of glowing headphones and three in-house DJs competing for my listenership of their respective channels, each marked by its own glowing color and distinct musical genre. With the blue channel bumping oldies and the green channel dropping beats, there was a certain choose-your-own-adventure aspect to the experience that made me feel that I was uniquely, and actively, a part of something greater than my own bad dance moves. There was, in this sea of colorful glowing headphones, a very empowering sense of unity.
Ever since that night, I’ve been scouring Facebook for silent disco events happening in the greater Boston area. And then, almost a year later—as if by fate—I came across the Facebook event for Silent Disco Snow Day.
Built around the idea of changing perceptions of winter through “outdoor dance experiences and community building through the medium of music,” Silent Disco Snow Day was held this past Saturday as the first of its kind.
“On Saturday, Feb. 4th, bundle up in your raddest winter gear and put on your winter dancing boots,” reads the event’s Facebook page. “We’re turning the city into our dance floor.”
Dancers met at 2:30 in the Charles Hotel Courtyard in Harvard Square, where they were met by an energized group of organizers and given free neon Whole Foods beanies. The first 110 dancers to arrive also received rubber bracelets that would give them access to the after party held in Allston’s Zone 3 Venue. The one-mile silent disco dance walk commenced at 3 p.m., winding through Cambridge and into Allston, with stops along the way at a playground and at Harvard Stadium.
“The mission of the event was really to give people in Boston a fun, goofy, and accessible way to fight seasonal affective disorder,” says the event’s creator, Lilly Wang. “I’m a recent grad myself, so I know that being in Boston during the winters can be really long and isolating, since I experienced that very personally.”
The day itself was sunny with an icy chill, but the dancing cut through the bite of the wind. Every dancer brought their own pair of headphones and tuned in to the event’s electronic playlist on EchoMe. Wang and her team partnered with the EchoMe app for the event, drawn to its mission of being a real-time music sharing platform where anyone can stream their own station for others to tune in to. Of course, the more phone battery-conscious dancers could always opt to listen to their own tunes.
“The winter of 2012 was particularly tough for me,” Wang says. “I was feeling really low and was looking for some way to help myself feel better. I came across Igloofest, an outdoor music festival in Montreal. I ended up going and found myself outside in Montreal’s single-degree weather, but I was surrounded by thousands of people who were bundled up and dancing and just embracing life. It’s that hell yeah mentality, like, yeah it’s cold, but we’re going to embrace it and go out and dance.”
After Igloofest, Wang was struck with the idea of bringing that same infectious energy to Boston. It wasn’t until this past summer, however, that she met the team behind the EchoMe app at their floating silent disco party and decided to link up with them to make her idea a reality.
“The idea is to transform the urban outdoors into a destination itself,” Wang explains. “We wanted to take over the sidewalks and make that our dance floor. My intention was to make it a free event that was really accessible for people, with an after party space where we could all be together and warm up with some cider and chili. My whole goal is always to help people make a positive memory associated with winter within the city.”
And she certainly delivered on her promises—the event brought together dancers from all walks of life and took to the streets for some silent disco magic. Cars honked as we danced past, and passersby couldn’t help but grin at the sight of our neon hats bobbing along. There was a shamelessness to it all; we were just a spectacle of contagious joy and energy, hundreds of random strangers unified by an unapologetic love of dancing.
“I think also from the mental health perspective, it’s true that a symptom of a lot of mental illness is social anxiety,” says Wang. “Music is a universal language, and being able to have that shared experience with a group of people without necessarily having to communicate verbally—that’s just so incredibly powerful and empowering for people going through that experience.”
Silent disco on its own is one thing—it helped me to personally embrace dancing in a way that I had never before been able to by making music and dance into an collective, synergistic experience rather than a nightlife rite of passage. But silent disco as a means to combat seasonal affective disorder and the winter blues? In a multitude of respects, it’s clear that Silent Disco Snow Day is a game changer.
“One of my favorite reviews of events like this that I’ve done in the past is that it’s like when you’re dancing by yourself in your bedroom, but there are a bunch of other people there with you.” Wang laughs. “I love that, and I think it’s so true. This is totally a passion project for me, and a lot of my heart went into it, so I’d love to continue to work on building a community and an experience out of this.”