On a recent afternoon at the Park Avenue Armory, Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance’’ was blaring from a DJ booth. A disco ball glittered overhead. Eyes closed and inhibitions loose, I felt a sensation I hadn’t experienced since the pandemic shut down New York City’s nightlife (and, as a result, my groovy moves) 13 months ago: total release. The reason? “Social! The Social Distance Dance Club,” an interactive art show that gave about a hundred people at a time the chance to be in a “club,” if the club in question were like Studio 54 revived as a sweaty Pilates class.
Dreamt up by the artists David Byrne, Christine Jones, and Steven Hoggett during the early days of the pandemic, the show provides each attendee with their own kaleidoscopic orb of light to dance in, creating individual spotlights. “The idea of moving in sync with strangers—it’s a transcendent experience,” Byrne says. “You become part of a larger entity. You lose yourself, and there’s an ecstatic feeling to losing yourself.” Throughout, a pre-recorded narration, voiced by Byrne, guides the crowd in choreographed or freestyle movements. When he commands attendees to do “puppet legs,” for instance, everyone raises their appendages as if they are connected to an invisible string.
Participants are required to take a rapid coronavirus test and sit through a brief incubation period before being cleared for entry at the space’s Drill Hall as well as maintain a distance of 12 to 15 feet from others—a contactless process that, Jones believes, reflects the moment we’re suspended in, pandemic-wise. “We were very clear in the beginning that this was conceived for this in-between moment,” she says. “For a time where people feel safe to begin being indoors together again and experiencing artworks, but they’re not ready to be in a Broadway theater next to a thousand other people.”
“Social!” sold out all of its dates in a matter of hours. “It was a deluge,” Byrne says. “People are really longing to do this kind of thing.” The creative team hopes the performance will travel to other cities in the near future, though they acknowledge the cost will likely be a deterrent for some institutions. No expenses were spared for the complex lighting arrangements, which, as Jones put it, were like piece of artworks in themselves. “We’re not talking Lion King,” Byrne jokes, “but it’s not like ‘Throw a couple lights up and have some speakers blasting.’”
About halfway through Social!’s 55-minute run time, I bopped around my green circle in an attempt to jitterbug to a remix of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” On the other side of the room, a therapy dog swung its tail in ecstasy. And in the back row, I spied Byrne in a red circle, letting the clarinet solo take him on his own journey.