I’m standing on a terrace overlooking the steely Thames, as a pearly pink light slips up the Southbank skyline. Staring into the eyes of a girl I’ve never met before, we both shiver slightly in the early morning breeze. Suddenly, she starts to cry – but I promise you, we’ve been having fun.
I’m at Secret Sunrise, a series of early-morning, open-air sessions which use silent disco style headphones to guide you through dance and meditation (get ready to pretend to be a butterfly, shake it to Abba and dip into mindfulness in the same hour).
Promising “the start of the best day of your life”, Secret Sunrise launched in Zambia back in 2014 and has since attracted more than 50,000 dancers. It launched in London, its tenth city worldwide, last year.
I generally need at least two cups of tea (and half an hour of grumbling at the radio from under the duvet) before I can countenance the morning, so it’s fair to say that getting to Victoria Embankment venue 58VE for 7am has required some grit.
Feeling sluggish, I’m greeted warmly by the extremely bouncy team, and given a set of headphones. I stand shyly, noticing gratefully that plenty of others seem to have arrived alone too.
It quickly becomes apparent that I’ve slipped into a parallel universe, where shiny, happy people really exist. Everyone looks genuinely, unabashedly excited, and beams at me when they catch my eye. It’s a bit like the crowd in Glastonbury’s Shangri-La, minus the mud and gurning.
Through the headphones we can all hear the same music – mostly upbeat, cheesy hits, from Bob Sinclair’s Love Generation to A-Ha’s Take On Me – underneath the instructions of the hosts. We begin with slow stretching, but before long we’re dancing, doing catwalk struts, and even getting into pairs to pretend to be bulls and matadors.
As a self-conscious, somewhat jaded journalist, being confident and silly with a group of strangers– while stone cold sober – certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. But the vibe is so judgement-free and positive that I think, “well, f*ck it,” and just go for it. Before long I’m grinning like the rest of them, and leaping gawkily around to the music. Note to self: next time, wear a sports bra.
It helps that the event doesn’t take itself too seriously. At one point, as we stand to greet the first warm rays of the rising sun on the terrace, the unmistakable opening call of The Lion King’s The Circle Of Life booms through our ears.
But it’s not all high jinks – towards the end of the session we’re asked to pair off with someone we’ve never met before, and look into their eyes for the duration of a song. As a typical reserved Brit, I’m internally mortified, and my partner and I giggle nervously as we begin.
Initially, it’s torturously awkward, but then I start to think about how rarely it is that I look into an unfamiliar pair of eyes – and how easy it is feel oddly isolated, in a city of 9 million people, even as we are superficially more connected than ever before.
As we’re asked to truly look at each other, to remember that all the strangers we pass in the street have their own stories and their own strifes, I begin to feel an overwhelming rush of goodwill towards the girl I’m staring at. Her eyes fill with tears, and it’s clear I’m not the only one experiencing an empathy overload. Before long, we’re having a big hug, and it truly does feel – weirdly – like she’s somebody I’ve known forever. It’s like a mini therapy session, and I’ve not even had a coffee this morning yet.
“Secret Sunrise combines everything Londoners love and need,” says 20-year-old Margot de Broglie, who brought the event to London after sampling it in Cape Town. “The relaxing benefits of yoga, the energy of a work-out class and the thrill of stepping outside of your routine and trying something completely new.”
While the spectacular Morning Gloryville was the first brand to bring sober morning raves to London, with sellout events such as Daybreaker, the scene is constantly expanding. Secret Sunrise plan to expand by launching Secret SunSETS (for the not-so-early risers) in 2019.
Ultimately, I’m not sure that silent sunrise discos will totally replace noisy late nights for me just yet. But that’s the beauty of life in modern London: I can enjoy both.
In 2019, Secret Sunrise will be taking place at the Ugly Duck space on the last Saturday of the month, with a different theme each time. The next event, on Jan 26, is themed around New Beginnings.
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