Passersby are encouraged to dance along, or even join the party. Credit: JJ Darling
As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out on our streets are determinedly ignored.
For the first time in a long time, however, I let my guard down to experience What the Float, which was first explained to me as a cross between a silent rave and a flash mob.
Follow the ‘Float Commissioner’
In a mysterious email from “Float Commissioner” Henry Floatinger, I received three secret soundtracks, with instructions to download but not listen to them, along with the address of the bar where we were to meet.
Upon arrival at the bar, I was greeted by Sister Lola of the Church of Float and other members of the Float team, and handed glow sticks to wrap around my body. Half an hour of schmoozing later, the two dozen or so Floaters assembled outside the bar to be addressed by Floatinger from a neighboring building’s ledge.
“We’re all here together, sharing this experience,” Floatinger began, after reminding us what the Float is all about (love) and giving us tips for the two hours to come (“Do not dance up on people who do not want to be danced up on”; “If it’s fragile, don’t touch it”; and “If you trespass and are asked to leave, leave respectfully, quickly, efficiently.”)
Finally, the commissioner told us to queue up the first playlist. We counted down, then semi-simultaneously pressed “play.”
Floaters dance to a party only they can hear along the street. Credit: JJ Darling
The makings of a scene
Psychmagic’s remix of Haim’s “Falling” swelled in our ears, and for the next half hour we danced.
The music ranged from oldies like The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” and pop mash-ups, all tied together with a good beat.
The stage was the city’s parks, plazas and sidewalks, each time in a different neighborhood. (Next week’s Float will be in the Financial District; previous locations have included Times Square, Roosevelt Island and Midtown East). Floatinger curated the party route, incorporating both the most populous sites and those best suited for improvised dancing.
One of the most memorable locations was an abandoned plaza with a stone bench long enough for every Floater to dance on at the same time. Some Floaters took advantage of scaffolding, adding a little parkour into their routines; others preferred interacting with passersby and recruiting them to join us, or at least dance along.
Who needs a dance floor? Credit: JJ Darling
Not the weirdest thing to happen
The audience included Sunday’s late shift workers, bar hoppers looking for their next spot and jetlagged tourists wandering the city. Bystanders stared, photographed and even danced along. Guards smiled. A brave few even joined in, downloading the music onto their smartphones or else sharing a pair of earphones with someone. Most passersby, amused and confused, accepted the business cards Floatinger and the Float team passed out.
The costumes were our glow sticks, which ended up being multipurpose — unifying us and helping us identify each other easily. Floatinger would make sure no stray Floater wandered into danger in intersections — getting lost in the music wasn’t just a figure of speech in this case.
Each half hour of dance was separated by 15 minutes of rest, during which Floaters had the opportunity to drink at that stop’s bar or else choose between water and an energy drink from the “coat check” – a car driven by a member of the Float team that would meet us at each stop and carry our belongings so that we could dance freely.
After the music stopped
For me, What the Float accomplished its mission of bringing love, or at least joy, to others. For the first time I enjoyed being part of a spectacle, and based on their reactions others enjoyed watching it. For anyone out there itching to be a part of something crazy happening in front of you instead of just watching it, this is what you’ve been looking for.
What the Float $10-$15 in advance, $20 on-site July 28 and the last Saturday of every month Wear comfy shoes; BYO music player and headphones www.whattheflo.at