New York City's always-bustling Union Square is not known for an abundance of silence. Located atop one of the city's largest subway stations, Union Square park is a thoroughfare and meeting place for students, hipsters, tourists and locals, making it perhaps the perfect location to host a silent rave Saturday afternoon.
Popularized during the 1990s, the rave has come out of its dark and private underground place with a 21st century twist. The phrase "silent rave" seemed counterintuitive, as traditionally, the parties were quite loud, but what unites the old school rave with its new, noiseless incarnation is the pursuit of fun.
A couple hundred solo rave dancers gathered in the park with their digital music players and literally danced to their own beats, flailing around to personalized soundtracks after event organizer Jonnie Wesson led a 10-second countdown to exactly 5:28 p.m. With headphones and earbuds fastened securely in place, the ravers rocked out with nary a noise complaint from the neighbors.
"At a completely random time, thousands of people who have heard about [the event] would all meet up in a public place. Everyone turns out and [puts on their] head phones and has a good time," said Wesson, 18.
Instantly, Wesson, a foreign exchange student from London, began throwing his arms in the air as others followed his lead. Some, like Wesson, had preplanned their playlists. Others, who weren't so wise, just winged it or opted for the random option on their iPods.
My own lack of planning resulted in some interesting combinations, like bouncing between country group Rascal Flatts, tween sensation the Jonas Brothers and pop heavyweights Rhianna and Beyonce, making it hard to keep the beat. In all honesty, my moves probably shamed my Nigerian family just a bit.
With your headphones on, it's as if everyone moves to your beat; when they're removed it feels as if the hundreds of people are dancing to the city's ambient sounds of humming car engines, shuffling feet and reverberating chatter.
Curious and confused passersby were surprised to see people dancing so intensely to what looked like absolutely nothing to the spectators. Many stopped and stared for minutes, attempting to figure just exactly was happening.
Even as a participant it was confusing to see the diverse group of tweens, teens and middle-agers moving as if someone has just yelled "action" in a movie musical.
For the curious observers, the questions weren't exactly clarified when a participant yelled out, "It's a silent rave!"
"I think it's very fun and unique because people are having fun," said 10-year-old Alexandra DeSandis, who stumbled upon the event with her family. "I'm dancing in my head."
But her 12-year-old cousin wasn't as enthusiastic and said the dancers looked awkward. I secretly wondered if she meant me.
Still, the boppers reveled in the attention, the music and the inevitable conga lines.
"What could be better than a party with your own music? You can change the song whenever you want to," said 17-year-old Manhattan native Eudora Peterson, who learned about the event through the social networking site Facebook.
The idea of the silent disco isn't a new one. Silent raves, or silent discos as they are sometimes called, have been occurring in Europe for years.
"I've been going to them in London for the last three or four years," Wesson said.