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Putting the Pre-Dawn Rave Workout to the Test

Photo: Daybreaker
Photo: Daybreaker

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Imagine your favorite things about going to a (or da, rather) club: letting loose, shrugging off an annoying work week, maybe meeting someone cool. Now conjure up your least favorite things about early mornings: your buzzing alarm, a sense of overwhelming exhaustion, that exercise class you signed up for and can no longer cancel.

What happens when you put all those things together? One psychedelic-but-sober dance party that happens before anyone else is awake. It's crazy, sure, but it's also a fitness craze that's sweeping the nation.

The idea of an off-hour, substance-free rave was first popularized in Sweden, where office-goers have been getting down at lunchtime discos since 2010. Over the past couple of years, the idea has mutated to that of morning raves, with two main players aiming to spread sunrise vibes across the globe. Morning Gloryville, founded in the UK, encourages attendees to wear pajamas and enjoy wake-up massages in 13 cities including New York and San Francisco. Daybreaker, with its live musicians and haiku experts, also holds events in New York and SF, as well as LA. Both brands are planning to expand to cities like Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington DC in the coming year, and with spinoffs popping up in other morning rave-less cities, one thing is clear: The sweaty breakfast club is coming your way, and fast.

Photo: Daybreaker

As I walk into Daybreaker's latest party at Gilded Lily, the model-favored nightclub in New York's Meatpacking District, I find myself pushing past a crowd at the entrance. It's not an intimidating stiletto-clad crowd though—it's a swarm of people chugging coffee, praying to the caffeinated brown god. (Phew, I'm not alone!)

And as is typical of AM dance parties, the bar is bursting not with bros elbowing each other out of the way to get a G&T, but with an endless variety of tea-flavored energy drinks, Amazonia juice-waters, and boutique cold brew, as though your favorite organic bodega has been ransacked for your own personal benefit.

While a few ravers are dressed like they're going to Pilates, the dudes in button-down shirts and the pile of messenger bags lining the front bar confirm that most people here are heading straight to work after. The whole scene is weird and bizarre and, yes, fun, but it desperately makes me ponder one crucial detail: If this is an exercise endeavor, where are all of these people going to shower?

I take a lap around the room, trying to find the center of the dance floor, when I get the feeling that the rest of the attendees and I are on the same page. No, not because we're all dying to feel music pulse through our bodies without the assistance of alcohol at 7 in the morning, but rather because we all coughed up $25 for a ticket, battled with our alarm ringtone, got on the train before any human should, and showed up here only to have the collective thought of, "Oh, fuck."

Photo: Daybreaker

In so many ways, these workout parties make sense. If you'd wake up early to plié at barre class, why wouldn't you wake up early to sweat it out at a drama-, drinks-, and drug-free bar? If the nation's biggest new workout craze is a dance workout mimicking the club experience, why wouldn't you just hit the actual dance floor? I've heard—hell, I've seen—that these parties get crazy, but truly, this one is super tame. Perhaps it's because this particular venue's setup is cramped, but this is not the sweat-dripping, arms-a-flailing activity I was told to expect.

I feel somewhat mislead, until I realize that people aren't grooving so much because...dancing is kinda weird. Dancing sober is very weird. And dancing sober when you could be sleeping is super weird.

The floor is packed, but lining it are a lot of people drinking small paper cups of coffee with their timidness. It's like a seventh grade dance all over again—the free, loose theater kids cramming in to thrash about unabashedly, and the rest of the crowd crowding the edges, bopping along gently, contemplating if they'll have the guts to dive in or not. Here, I thought I'd arrive and join in on the insanity because everyone else would be on board too, but the majority of the pack end up on my same bop-along-to-the-music wavelength. All in all, there just aren't a whole lot of people bringing it.

Photo: Daybreaker

At a sleepy rave, the amount of calories you burn is directly related to how comfortable you feel around strangers. (Or, how many vodka sodas it typically takes you to become less aware of yourself.) Are you usually the first one to grab the mic at karaoke? Buy your ticket to the next Daybreaker party now; you'll be fine. But if you're a little weirder about busting a move while clutching an acai berry-infused drink at a time of day that rounds out a graveyard shift, then you may not be able to actually call this exercise.

That said, at raves that also include yoga—which Daybreaker sometimes mounts—you'll definitely get your workout in. And, after you've stretched as a group, transitioning into dancing senselessly has got to be easier. Expecting you to shrug off your work bag and bust a move before hitting your finance job though? That's a tall order, especially at 7am.

I will say this: I'm all for fun, and these events are planned flawlessly. The amenities are plentiful, the staff is helpful, the music is bomb (there are live horn players!), and those haiku gentleman are surprisingly impressive, but it's not exercise. It's a quirky hobby to partake in before hitting your desk job, one that undeniably has got to put you in a better mood than hitting the snooze button for 90 minutes will. Sure, I was wearing leggings, binging on juice, and tired for the rest of the day, yet despite feeling physically drained, there wasn't much semblance of fitness to it.

Later that night, upon hearing about my early wake-up call, a colleague grilled me about my workout, " A morning rave? Sober? That sounds like the worst idea ever." I just smiled and nodded, because, well, he was kind of right.