At-home dance parties are helping people shake off the self-isolation jitters

TORONTO — As bars and nightclubs around the world are forced to shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, the hottest new club appears to be the internet.

Club Quarantine is a nightly dance party geared towards the queer community that takes place on Zoom, a video conferencing platform originally designed for workplaces and schools. Every night at 9 p.m. EDT, users log in using a special passcode from Club Quarantine’s Instagram account to join the party.

Nightly DJs spin music for the crowd, and participants can request songs using Zoom’s chat service. A video grid shows who else is at Club Quarantine, and users can strike up a conversation, bust a move or simply sip their drink in the corner.

“Queer people are extremely resilient. This is another example of that,” explained Brad Allen, one of Club Quarantine’s four founders.

Club Quarantine was started by four Toronto-based artists — Mingus New, Casey MQ, Andre Sierra and Brad Allen— who were looking for a way to connect with others during self-isolation. They started the event on Instagram, but when the group became too large, they switched over to Zoom.

What began as a way for a few friends to connect online has exploded into a nightly party with more than 150 attendees. Club Quarantine’s organizers recently paid to upgrade their Zoom account to allow up to 500 participants.

“It happened very organically,” said Allen, a comedian, who said he’s surprised how busy he is these days helping organize the digital nightclub. “I thought I was going to be in bed eating Cheetos and staring at the sunlight though the window, but that’s not the case.”

As the monotony of self-isolation sinks in, many people — especially young people — are turning to services like Zoom to throw virtual parties packed full of friends and strangers.

One of the easiest ways to find a Zoom party is through the Facebook group Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens. Mehul Agarwal, a computer science student from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, started the Facebook group with a couple friends as a way to share funny memes during the pandemic.

But, over the past week, the group has exploded to more than 250,000 members, most of them university students from the U.S. and Canada.

“People realized that in this time of social distancing, we needed to turn to social networks to bridge that gap in community,” Agarwal told CTVNews.ca from his home in New Delhi, where he returned after the coronavirus arrived in the U.S.

Agarwal recently attended a Zoom party with 90 other people, where some attendees were playing drinking games while others were just hanging out. He’s also seen participants organize Netflix-viewing parties using a extension on Chrome that allows them to watch the same show simultaneously.

The reason Zoom became young people’s platform of choice during the pandemic, Agarwal suspects, is because many students had already used the tool for online university courses. Zoom also allows a host plenty of controls over an event, including the ability to mute certain users or play music.

“Even if it’s something fun, it’s very well controlled,” he said.

While many companies have been hit hard by the plunging stock market and fears of a recession, Zoom is one of a select few businesses that has seen its stocks performing exceptionally well in recent weeks.

But technology isn’t completely necessary to throwing an at-home dance party.

Fran Auty is part of a line-dancing group in Toronto that was no longer able to meet after the city shut down its community centres. The decision to cancel their meet-ups was a prudent one, Auty said, because some participants are well into their 80s and are therefore more susceptible to the coronavirus.

But after a few days of social distancing, Auty said she missed the connection of dancing with her friends. So she reached out to her line-dancing dance group via email and suggested that they coordinate a time to dance from home.

“We’ll each dance a specific dance at a specific time,” Auty explained.

And so, on Tuesday, Auty and about 10 other women cleared space in their homes and cued up the song ‘Baby (I Love You),’ on their computers. Without Zoom or Skype or any other video streaming service, they danced.

“It felt strange. It felt silly. But it also felt like a way of keeping in touch with people who I’m fond of,” Auty said.

When asked if her group might benefit from a video-streaming service, Auty dismissed the idea, saying that no one in her group would know where to start. But they also don’t need the technology, she said.

“We know that the other folks are there, even if we can’t see them.”

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