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Dance party craze presses 'mute' on speakers

Adam Warzawa / EPA file

Partygoers dance with themselves (and others) at a silent disco at the July 2011 Open'er Festival in Gdynia, Poland.

 

Disco isn’t dead. It just went quiet. Just walk into a Silent Disco event and see for yourself: a couple hundred people, two DJs spinning, and a dance floor filled with gyrating dancers – in total silence.

To the spectator, it’s an odd sight. But this new dance party phenomenon, which started in Europe (of course), uses specially designed wireless headphones rather than a traditional speaker system to get music to the masses. This Silentpalooza is people-watching heaven.  And it’s now taking America by storm.

“People would think its anti-social, but it ends up being the exact opposite,” says Ryan Dowd, owner of Silent Events, Inc., who caters Silent Disco events around the country. “If you meet someone or give them the eye on the dance floor, there’s no way to talk in a loud, crowded club without going outside, but this way you can literally take off the headphones in the center of the dance floor and talk in an inside voice steps from the DJ.”

Silent Events is one of the first American companies to bring Silent Disco to the U.S. You can now find college campuses hosting Silent Disco parties for their students as well as music festivals, fairs, weekly silent nights at your favorite club, rooftop parties—Jet Blue even held one at their airport terminal at JFK. (It gets interesting around the 1:50 mark.)

Originally created to deal with noise ordinances, dance parties booming music that’s both private and shared provide a feeling of camaraderie. Everyone feels like they’re in on a secret since they’re all wearing the headphones. But when it’s just you and the music, you kind of forget other people and sing like you’re in the car or the shower. Plus, there’s a comedic value since spectators nab a voyeuristic pleasure from watching the group dance in what appears to be silence.

 “I think it’s become a phenomenon because there are so many ways to enjoy it,” says Dowd. “If you don’t like loud music, you can dial down the volume. If you don’t like a certain type of music, you can change the channel. If you don’t dance, you can people watch.” Often there’s a choice of several DJs or two or three types of music like rock, rap or electronica. Silent Events even created a bilingual option for a recent Coca-Cola silent dance party.

Dowd, who’s been at the helm of Silent Events over three years, says each year it’s become better known and better received. People stand in line to get in. When the headphones run out that means Silent Disco is really hopping.

Could you shed your inhibitions and dance without music blaring?