“Namaste!” our yoga instructor says into her headset as house music simmered from the speakers around her.
It’s 6:45 a.m. and I’m sitting on a sticky basement floor of a nightclub with my legs crossed and my hands pressed together. I've been up since 5 a.m. and have been fighting off sleep for the last 45 minutes of a yoga session.
“Namaste,” my classmates repeat.
“Now let’s dance!”
She cheered into her mic and just like that the music volume shot up and my morning dance party with Daybreaker began.
Daybreaker is a unique and aggressively millennial dance party that starts with a 6 a.m. yoga session that leads into two hours of dancing.
It describes itself as “a morning movement that will start your day off unlike anything else.”
Boy, were they right.
As soon as yoga unceremoniously ended, the room went from speckled with a few people to a packed nest in under 15 minutes. A vast majority of the guests (most of whom were white, in-shape yuppies) had opted to skip the yoga and arrive at 7 a.m. for the dance party. Before diving into the music, the guests flocked to the bar to drink the complimentary cold brew coffee, juice and energy shots.
Much to my surprise, there was no Kool-Aid.
My friend Stephanie and I, after tucking our belongings into a corner, hesitantly joined the tossed salad of bodies on the dance floor, most of which were dancing like extras on the Mickey Mouse Club.
It was about 7:10 when I realized mid-twerk that, in terms enjoying Daybreaker, I had peaked.
"I can't do this for two more hours. Especially sober," I grimaced at the thought. "Hell, I can barely make it to 1 a.m. when drunk."
I did my best, however, to match the enthusiasm of my fellow dancers, who were growing in number and flooding the floor by the minute.
"This could be one of those body snatchers situations," I imagined as I examined the blank but joyous expressions of my fellow dancers. "I can't let them know that I don't belong … "
Out of the dancing, shaking and shimmying fray rose our emcee, a fit young man who just emanated cool with his indoor sunglasses and tank top.
He welcomed us all and stirred the pot of chaos by making a circle on the dance floor and inviting awkward-looking dancer after awkward-looking dancer into the center with him.
"Do not be afraid of the middle!" he yelled into the mic. "There is no judgment in this room," he said, as I rolled my eyes. The dancers seemed to take his words to heart, and flailed about to the wind of their soul -- uninhibited and free. It seemed as though they had just been waiting on someone to give them permission.
Despite the lack of drugs and alcohol (that I could see) everyone was dancing like they were part of some hipster, Lululemon-sponsored, Dionysian orgy. Was it shock that was powering them? Was there some kind of spell? Was the coffee really gasoline?
"Look at the guy in the red hat and gray sweater," I yelled into Stephanie's ear.
This dude, like many of the men at Daybreaker, had about as much rhythm as a potato chip at a bar mitzvah. This dude, though, thoroughly believed he was killing it. He was doing his own straight-guy version of voguing and that version was not pretty. But I suppose 95 percent of looking good (or just feeling good) is confidence.
"I hate him!" I yelled, while refusing to take my eyes off him.
"I LOVE HIM!" Stephanie yelled back as the beat dropped and the crowd went wild.
Throughout the two hours of dancing to non-stop, lyric-less, makes-you-want-take-an-Ativan music, a brass band appeared and made its way through the crowd while wailing with the cacophony. Shortly after, two costumed characters (a pear and a cherry dressed as a gladiator) materialized and joined the fray of bodies. It was sensory overload.
“I don’t understand!” Stephanie cried out as we watched the giant pear dance up on a woman.”But I don’t think you’re supposed to.”
Stephanie and I spent a majority of the time half-dancing on the sidelines, taking in the chaos around us. I kept looking for the drugs and even considered going up to a stranger, and with a quick poke to the side of my nose, jokingly asking if they had a bump hidden in a crucifix.
Y'know, just to see what would happen.
As the clock clicked closer to 9 a.m. more and more people began to trickle their way out of the basement. Eventually the room emptied out until there were only about 50 people left. The music slowly faded out and our emcee invited us all to sit down.
He explained to us that he was a vocal artist and actor (I wasn’t terribly surprised and probably rolled my eyes) who had been with Daybreaker for about a year or so. He then told us he would sing a song of his that had become “the anthem” of Daybreaker.
It wasn’t very good, but the audience seemed absolutely enthralled by it.
Once the song was over with and the expected applause was given, the founders of Daybreaker took their chance to speak and announced more Daybreaker events -- including an all week Daybreaker.
“Can you guys manage this -- Daybreaker every morning?!” one of them asked the crowd which cheered with way too much enthusiasm for 9 in the morning.
“No. Never. No way,” I thought as I shook my head back and forth.
Once the announcements were made, the founders asked us to take out our “intention cards.”
“Oh my God; this is a cult,” I muttered under my breath as I looked at the card that had just been passed to me. On the card was an inspirational quote -- the kind of quote one might read in a cheesy poster in a classroom, or on some sappy Instagram account (except without any typos):
“Imagine yourself as you would like to be, doing what you want to do, and each day, take one step towards your dream,” the entire room read aloud in unison, sending a shiver of dread down my spine. “And though at times it may seem too difficult to continue, hold on to your dream. One morning you will awake to find that you are the person you dreamed of. Doing what you want to do, simply because you had the courage to believe in your potential and to hold on to your dream.”
I have a strong personal aversion to large groups of people doing anything in unison. It makes me think of North Korea and/or my weekend at church camp when I was sixteen. This was no exception, and I couldn’t bring myself to read aloud with them.
With a quick spattering of applause Daybreaker ended. We all gathered our things and slowly filed our way out of the basement and into the light of the morning.
Stephanie and I left Daybreaker with a strange sense of unease. Both of us did not expect the pseudo-spiritual side of Daybreaker and were caught off guard by how similar it was to our personal experiences with church, Sunday school and youth ministries.
What we decided as we sat down and reflected on our morning over breakfast was that Daybreaker was fun and had all the ingredients to be a huge success.
But it also had all the ingredients to be a cult.