What the Float is a private dance party in public spaces. At this “silent rave,” participants meet up at a designated bar and prepare for an evening of dancing. Floaters dance around to the sweet tunes in their headphones, while remaining completely inaudible to any on-lookers. Dancing takes place traveling through the city, and music is supplied via an mp3 download. We sat down with Annie Floatstravaganza and her founding partner Nicko to talk about just how magical What The Float really is.
1. Where did the idea come from to start What the Float?
Nicko: I started making Float in 2011, just with a small group of friends. Floating dance parties had existed for years on college campuses, and I’d seen one a couple years earlier. No one had tried to do it in a big urban space like New York though, so over the first couple years I figured out how to adapt it without losing its spirit of liberation. Honestly, it was only supposed to happen once, but Float was such a hit that my sudden fanbase wouldn’t let me stop. We’d tapped into something we had no idea was missing from city life, and our audiences have been growing steadily ever since.
2. Please introduce yourself and your founding partner.
Annie: Hi, I’m Annie, a.k.a. Annie Floatstravaganza, and I started attending Floats pretty much from their beginning in NYC. After participating in my first event, I knew I had found something that I needed, something absolutely essential. Floats quickly became a habit. I let Nicko know my interest in getting involved very soon after, and after much wheedling, he let me into his inner circle of one. Now I’m so proud to say that I’m First Officer of this crazy/amazing organization.
Nicko: My name’s Nicko. I’ve cycled through too many pseudonyms to count. I started this nonsense, Annie joined the team, but a whole host of collaborators help make sure this thing happens every month.
3. What were some of the best costumes you’ve ever seen during your dance parties?
Annie: I love the outfits people put together for the events. #FloatStyle is special and personal. It’s a chance to rock a tutu, a crazy pair of leggings (my fave), your shortest shorts—whatever you’re feeling that night. But a nonconventional ensemble is not a requirement for admission. You do you! We just want you to dance and feel comfortable.
Nicko: For our Halloween Floats we see some particularly ambitious looks. One brave soul wore this bright pink foam rubber giant squid costume. Tentacles everywhere. It must’ve weighed a ton and was super ungainly and it ended up on a swing set in Central Park, ready to meet a new owner.
4. Do you host What the Float in any other cities?
Nicko: We’ve brought Float five other cities – Seattle, Austin, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles. We’re hoping to hit even more next year.
5. Where do you discover all those amazing DJ’s you feature?
Nicko: If you put ten New Yorkers in a room, you’ll end up with eleven opinions, so we get a lot of suggestions and volunteers. I love that we can feature so many unique styles.
Annie: Float mixes are a blend of everything. Each DJ brings their own tastes and unique catalog to the table. SoundCloud is an amazing resource for interesting remixes and mashups. And we’re always listening to the music around us in stores, on TV shows and movies, and even on the street. But whatever it is or however we hear it, the song has to make us incapable of resisting the urge to move.
6. What was your most memorable night during What the Float and why?
Annie: My birthday Float was the first Float I ever created and lead totally by myself. The mixes are still some of my all-time favorites, the route was amazing, and so many of my friends came out to be a part of my special night and try this crazy thing I talk about incessantly. Best birthday ever.
Nicko: There’s a special alchemy each time; everyone who’s come has brought their own energy to a different landscape on a different night with different music. It’d be like picking a favorite child.
7. You planning on going international? If so, where would you hold your international launch?
Nicko: Absolutely. We don’t think there’s anywhere Float can’t go. Music is a universal language, and there’s no place on Earth that’s having too much of a good time right now.
Annie: Japan is my number one. The color, the chaos, the catharsis– I feel like What The Float would be well-received there. We have Japanese fans that are dying to experience it first-hand, and I can’t wait to bring it to them.
8. What inspires you most when hosting these events?
Nicko: Faces. When first-time Floaters arrive, their faces tend to be a little skeptical and nervous. As soon as the music starts, the eyes widen and the smiles start to crack. Before we’ve gotten to our second stop, I’ll be surrounded by the most open, beaming, euphoric faces I’ve ever seen. What could be more inspiring than helping people unlock their joy?
Annie: The positivity, radiating from both participants as well as the people we encounter during our adventures. Dancing without care or fear is one of the most incredible, liberating feelings. Floats are friendly, fun, and judgment-free. Even if it’s your first time, you leave feeling like a part of the WTF family.
Nicko: When we’re planning each Float, it all starts with the geography. We want to honor and illuminate the city. We scour each neighborhood for unexpected and secret places to dance, as well as the biggest public spaces that we can take over and transform from mundane passages into public exhibition floors.
Annie: It’s a very special way to experience NYC.
9. Do you remember the first press article that was published about “What the Float”? What was your feeling or reaction?
Annie: When Metro did a feature on us, it finally gave me something to show my parents and say, “Look! I told you this was a real thing!”
Nicko: Then next week it brought in exactly zero newcomers. It can be a tough sell. We can tell you that it will free your mind and body and soul in brand new ways and make you fall back in love with New York all by itself, but at the end of the day, it’s just up to you. Can you say yes to trying something amazing you’ve never done before? Not everybody’s ready to have an adventure.
10. How many people usually show up to these events?
Nicko: Floats will range from 30 to 60. We find that’s the ideal range. Large enough for folks to feel like they can disappear into the crowd if they want, small enough that we can move easily from location to location and keep everybody’s experience safe and smooth.
11. How do you help people break out of their shell and start dancing?
Nicko: Not a damn thing. We’ve never had to. Just show up, slip on your headphones, and the music flows through your veins. Float gives you the magical feeling of being alone in a crowd. Listening to music on your own headphones is an intensely personal and private experience. It’s the same freedom and safety you feel dancing alone in your room.
Annie: There just happens to be a few dozen friendly faces having the same experience there beside you. Within the dancing, glowing crowd, you’re invisible, in your own private dance party. We’ve visited some extremely public spaces, but anywhere we go, there will be more of us than on-lookers, so it’s impossible to feel out-of-place or judged.
Nicko: Honestly, you won’t understand why anyone could not be dancing.
12. What kind of reactions do you receive from the on-lookers?
Nicko: Part of what makes What The Float such a joy for us to run, is how much joy it brings everywhere it goes. Doormen, pharmacy clerks, and other overnight staff are always shocked to see something exciting happening. I love seeing them laugh, clap, and sometimes show us their own moves.
Annie: Some Floaters like to share their headphones with bystanders so they can get a taste of what they’re missing. People of all ages often can’t help but join in. Some will even get swept up in the experience and stay with us the rest of the night.
13. Have you ever had anyone famous attend?
Annie: Everyone’s a star once they start dancing!
Nicko: Dancing your way through the streets of Manhattan is probably enough to make anybody feel like a celebrity, but if you’re not ready for your closeup, you can fade into the crowd and feel safely anonymous. Part of the appeal is actually that even if you were ludicrously well-known, you still wouldn’t get identified by any on-lookers.
14. What happens once the music stops?
Nicko: If we’ve done our job right, you’ll be a brand new person.
Annie: Sweaty, smiling, and reborn in Float. Halleloo!
Nicko: Once you’ve received the revelation, it’s pretty normal to want to talk about it. We like to have a drink afterwards with our new friends, and they’re usually dying to talk about their experience, the hidden parts of themselves they’d rediscovered.
Annie: When they finally head off into the night, they’re already planning who to bring and what to wear next month.
15. What do you hope to achieve from these events?
Annie: We want to make the world a slightly better place. A dancier place. Going on Float frees a part of your soul, gives you a new appreciation for your city, and connects you to people from all walks of life.
Nicko: You’ll never see those streets the same way again. You won’t be the same.
Annie: And everyone who joins you at Float becomes your family.
Nicko: People come back time and again, and we see new friendships and even professional collaborations form at Float all the time.
16. What’s next for What the Float?
Nicko: We’ve got two more months before we go on hiatus for the winter. So right now we’re fully focused on throwing the two best Floats yet. We want to keep welcoming new collaborators. After five years in New York we’ve still got plenty of new neighborhoods to visit.
Annie: Next year, we’ll be bringing silent mobile euphoria to even more cities. We’re on a mission to spread the Float joy. We’ve got a whole world to get dancing.