When you first see it, you spy people jumping around in the thrall of dance, twirling illuminated hula hoops and batons and — wait — they’re all wearing earphones lit up with red or blue. But there’s no music!
It was in Lithia Park during the art walk and, soon, you are informed that a DJ is spinning two different mixes of funky electronica, which are called "House" (very danceable, also known as “four on the floor”) and "Bass," which is a very evolved version of disco with a heavy drum beat, says organizer Jordan Rose.
In fact, the whole unique event is called Silent Disco and, also unique, it’s a dance party charging $5, with all money benefiting helpful nonprofits in the valley. Staff is volunteer. There’s no alcohol either.
“It feels like such a positive environment, with lots of family and children, all experiencing a new kind of journey. It shows community using alternative ways to support nonprofits,” said enthused dancer Sinjin Chalak of Ashland at Friday's event.
“I love dancing in public, and get to dance with a whole lot of people,” says Crystal Mays. “You look for people with the same color lights on their headphones, so you know they’re dancing to the same beat.”
The music is beamed wirelessly into the headphones and you can receive it a block or two away. When you’re done, you return the headphones, on the honor system.
“We suggest $5, but some people give $20 or maybe nothing. We actively seek larger donations to get more headsets. We sell out every event. We need 100 more headsets,” says Rose, who is celebrating a year doing Silent Disco in the valley.
“It’s quite a scene,” he adds.
Silent disco has helped Heartisan, a regional “society of story-tellers, stewards, and community-builders, working together to empower young people,” says its website. DJ Abram Katz of Ashland says Silent Disco raised $1,300 in two events toward digital storytelling and creative writing at Walker Elementary School. He took it to Crater Renaissance Academy in Central Point, which applies “pride, expectations, environment, and engagement” to ready teens for college success, according to its website.
A big plus with Silent Disco is that, with no noise, neighbors don’t complain about it, says Rose. “If people call they city about noise, they start shutting you down. We haven’t gotten any complaints about this.”
“The dance is very inspirational and energizing,” Katz says. “Families bring children and it’s really important to have a safe, positive and welcoming space for teens.”
Rose, the project founder and manager, notes, “Our events draw hundreds of people and every event we have done this summer and last has been at capacity with a line of people waiting to rent headsets. We showcase and fundraise for other local nonprofits and community groups, successfully creating a sustainable fundraising model.”
The event will be at the entrance to Lithia Park for all of Ashland’s First Fridays this summer. For more information, see the event's Facebook page, Silent Movement International.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.