Self-quarantined over coronavirus, digital parties are filling the socially distant void

March 24, 2020, 12:00 PM UTC

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For the past two Saturday nights, DJ Dayna Solomon spun a mix of family-friendly jams from her home studio in Columbus and streamed it live on Facebook. Anyone could log on to the 30-minute set for a digital dance party, meaning you could groove in your pajamas, wherever you were at the moment.

Solomon is one of many people who has been taking the party online, literally. As social distancing has prevented us from gathering in person, our social lives have gone digital. From Shabbat dinners to weddings, and workout groups to game nights, people everywhere are embracing the virtual party. If you can’t meet face-to-face, you can still connect thanks to the Internet, with social media like Facebook Live and Instagram TV as well as videoconferencing software such as Zoom and Google Hangouts.

“In the midst of a storm of feelings and emotions filled with sadness, panic, fear, anxiety, and the unknown, we all need an outlet to release and find ways to be uplifted and spark joy,” Solomon says. “Music and dancing do that for me, and I know it does for so many others. It’s truly a universal language, even digitally.”

For Solomon, the aha moment came when several of her live gigs, such as weddings and corporate events, were canceled or postponed. For others, it is simply a way to stay in touch with friends. Countless companies have employees working from home. It’s a seamless switch to transition the videoconference from an end-of-day meeting to a casual happy hour, where coworkers can toast via the computer screen. Annie Jackson, a director at Small Girls PR in New York City, is having her team take a 30-minute crafting break in the middle of the day to build morale, and Kim Riordan, also in New York City, spent Sunday night as part of a digital potluck with her after-work crew, a fitness group called November Project: Everyone cooked something “green” that starts with “L” and shared the results via a Zoom call.

The social calendar is still booked, just with a video link.
Courtesy of Zoom

Birthdays have also made a play in the digital sphere. Meryl Cooper shifted her 50th birthday celebration online. She shared with her guest list signature cocktail recipes, a karaoke playlist she’d made, and downloadable photo-booth props. Similarly, Marnie Nathanson says she refused to let the COVID-19 lockdown derail her 35th birthday party plans. She had bottles of Señor Sangria dropped off at her friends’ houses, and they all logged on to a Zoom call with glasses in hand. “It’s a big birthday for me, and I still wanted to see my friends,” says Nathanson, who is based in New Jersey. “It was the most grounded and simple birthday yet! It was a great change for all of us, and so great to see familiar faces.”

Weddings, Shabbat dinners, double dates, and baby showers have all taken up the digital get-together strategy, but there’s more than just yoga pants involved. Some virtual gatherings have instituted dress codes, requiring formal gowns, sequins, cocktail attire, and more to liven up the mood. Sarah Tracey, a sommelier and founder of lifestyle blog The Lush Life, is hosting a Ballgown Social Hour, where the whole point is to don a fancy outfit. “We are encouraging people to dress in what makes them feel good,” Tracey says. “Part of my normal routine as a social New Yorker is to get dressed up and be creative with hair and makeup. No reason that has to stop, even if we can’t socialize in person.”

Kids aren’t left out of the mix either. Meghan Ely’s son’s first-grade class hosts a “mystery reader” each week. Since schools are now closed where she lives in Virginia, she got inventive: The kids all log on to a Zoom call daily to hear a story from a mystery reader. The first reading brought together 75 children. “The best part was the end when we unmuted, and the kids all started saying hi to one another,” Ely says. “A few even remembered it was another kid’s birthday and made sure to say it. I was completely choked up.”

In Dallas, Nate Nelson, a DJ and director of talent and development at LeForce Entertainment, decided to hold “recess” for his two daughters and their classmates: a short set of kid-friendly jams so the children could let out pent-up energy in the afternoon. On the first day, he got a “huge response,” he says, with 781 kids logged on to the live-stream and another 1,500 views in the first 24 hours. He’s now offering it daily on school days at 4 p.m.

There is a virtual gathering for just about anything that interests you. Chris Jespersen of Cleveland was so enamored with the idea of digital parties that he launched a website,, where people can watch past dance parties or sign up for a live one. New City Players, a theater group in Fort Lauderdale, offers an online lab where writers can prepare a short play or scene on a particular theme and share it with the group. Mimi Imfurst performed in a virtual drag show and cabaret, and watch parties sprouted up where you can “tip your queens” via Venmo. Caterers and food companies have launched digital cooking classes—you just pay for the ingredients to be dropped off. Kaleigh Wiese, founder of paper goods company Méldeen, hosted a virtual networking event for those in the events industry. Everyone’s kids, dogs, and even a pet pig made a cameo.

Game nights have also become a draw. Rosemary Ostmann kept it simple: She invited her 80-year-old mother-in-law, who lives alone, to play a board game via FaceTime. Cherish Conklin and her husband, Lindsey, typically get together with their friends in Temecula, Calif., for a game night each week. For this past one, they moved online with digital games. “We ended up talking, drinking, and laughing for over three hours,” Conklin says. “It was so nice to bring even a little sense of normalcy to our lives.”

That’s how Sara Swiger-Howard of Huntington Beach, Calif., is approaching her regular workout group. She’s leading a fitness routine that involves no weights or props so all the women can join via video. Another friend is guiding a 10-minute stretch to cool down. She says it’s exactly like the workouts they do in person but with a surprising upside: “More girls are able to join since it’s so easy to log in digitally and not have to commute to various parks and areas around L.A.,” she says.

Last weekend, my wine club met via Google Hangouts, with each of us showing off what we were drinking. We typically pick a theme and each of us brings a bottle along with tasting notes to present to the group. We’re now planning to order the same bottlings for the next meeting to taste through a lineup as we normally do—we’ll just say “cheers” through the computer screen. As one member of the group mentioned of our gathering, “You basically drink wine, sans pants.”

More coronavirus coverage from Fortune:

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—Some of the most extreme ways companies are combating the coronavirus
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—Amazon tells employees to work from home if they can. Warehouse workers can’t
—Why Dollar General thinks the coronavirus can help business
—The coronavirus may not be all bad for tech. Consider these “stay at home” stocks

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