Out to Lunch: International Midday Dance Party Hits Manhattan

Lunch Beat gets everybody on the dance floor.

Lunch Beat gets everybody on the dance floor.

Between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. last Wednesday afternoon, more New Yorkers than usual ducked out of the office for “doctor’s appointments.” No, there wasn’t a spate of seasonal allergies. Really, they were sweating it out at Slate, an upscale sports lounge in the Flatiron District, for the Manhattan launch of Lunch Beat, the international lunchtime dance party.

Nearly 150 urban professionals wandered into the sleek, modern space, lining up along the undulating bar, which was aglow with candles but sold no social lubricant (i.e., the event was alcohol-free). There was, however, a vegetarian buffet.

In an adjacent room, DJ Space Jam laid down house beats while a handful of skirts and suits idled with a backdrop of video artist B.A. Miale’s keytar-triggered belly dancers swiveling on multiple TV screens. Those too shy to abide by Lunch Beat’s Fight Club-inspired rule (“If it is your first time at Lunch Beat, you have to dance”), ate their lunch at a row of high-top tables overlooking the spectacle.

Two dweeby finance dudes, who introduced themselves as Kevin and Tom, told the Transom how they had pranked their co-worker (also named Tom) and lured him to Lunch Beat. “We told him he had a business lunch,” Kevin said, grinning, as Tom No. 2 shrugged his shoulders. “We had him researching the guy we told him he was meeting with and everything.”

By 12:40 p.m., when Diana Dean—who would not reveal her place of employment—walked in, the majority of attendees were still more concerned with their Caesar salads and mushroom quesadillas than with busting a move. “As far as dance scenes go, this is pretty lame,” Ms. Dean said. “I can get lunch for $12 anywhere. That’s not why I’m here.”

The Transom tried to groove to the persistent electronic tracks, and by 1 p.m., a rave vibe had finally caught on. The floor filled with “lunch break dancers,” and some people even looked good out there. A tall, Napoleon Dynamite-esque character kept his expression deadpan as he showed off his fancy footwork.

Leanh Obrentz and her co-workers were all smiles and sweat, celebrating her last day at ad agency DiMassimo Goldstein. Co-worker Chelsea McGuire said their boss knew where they were going and told them, “Get out of here! Go have a life!”

“The crowd is really wild tonight and we’re just trying to catch up,” she joked in between dance moves.

Founded in Stockholm in 2010 by a 29-year-old concept developer named Molly Ränge, Lunch Beat has since been recreated in more than 55 cities, from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Seoul, South Korea. Wednesday’s organizers, Sarah Reynolds, a 33-year-old freelance artist, and Isha Toor, a 25-year-old business analyst, discovered Lunch Beat separately, but each had the same reaction: why hasn’t this happened in New York, and how do I make it happen?

Ms. Reynolds was the first to contact Ms. Ränge and implement the vision, hosting a small-scale version in Long Island City in June 2010. Ms. Ränge connected her with Ms. Toor and the two decided to collaborate.

Ms. Reynolds, who came dressed in gold spandex pants, pink Tyvek shoes with neon green laces, and a sticker that read “You are beautiful” on her chest, spent the morning handing out flyers for the event. “It was great commuting to work today like this,” she said. Brownsville resident Dorothy Vasquez, who was in Manhattan visiting her son at Lifespire, had taken one of Ms. Reynolds’s fliers.

“I love to dance, and I thought, why not?” she said.

Ms. Toor and Ms. Reynolds hope to expand Lunch Beat to different venues, indoor and outdoor, maybe to Brooklyn. “Somewhere like Dumbo would be great, where we could target the professional community,” Ms. Toor said. They also plan to switch up the musical and culinary themes.

Software developer Joe Che offered some constructive criticism as the event began to wind down: “It was great. But I want to drink, I want it to be louder, and I want it to be longer.”

On the way out, one young woman said to her friend, “I wish it were once a week.”