Music News

Sober Parties? Rage in Denver Without Waking Up in Dallas

Party flier for Secret Dance Addiction.
Party flier for Secret Dance Addiction. Secret Dance Addiction

Ah, nightlife. The music, the dancing, the community, the booze, the bright lights, the overpriced drinks, the blacking out, the waking up with your tongue glued to a sock that isn’t yours in a strange house in another area code, sometimes in a new month.

There’s got to be a better way.

Husband and wife Mike and Ambie Handby are a DJ duo who wanted to combine their love of dance music with the sober lifestyle they adopted a few years back. Of course, clubbing is synonymous with boozing, and raves with weird drugs usually reserved for veterinary purposes. But the couple didn't let that discourage them. Both believe that even the term "drinking" has been unfairly hijacked and shouldn't immediately be associated with alcohol.

Enter the Handbys' Secret Dance Addiction and the Conscious Cocktail Club.

“It’s really about healthy nightlife,” Ambie says. “Like transformational nightlife, because music and drinking and connection has nothing to do with alcohol.”

The Handbys have had numerous conversations with promoters and guests at parties throughout their careers about ways to enjoy nightlife more positively and bring the best parts of a party to the forefront.

“We realized that alcohol, anytime that was involved, usually resulted in some not-so-fun parts of parties,” Mike explains, adding that Secret Dance Addiction and Conscious Cocktail Club retain the “cheers moment” that is the best part of drinking anyway.

“It’s the thing we do at Thanksgiving,” he says. ‘It’s the thing we do at Christmas. We do it all the time. But it doesn’t have to involve alcohol.”

Because of COVID-19, or perhaps in spite of it, the couple is now only able to digitally DJ over the Internet. Although the online dance parties are in their infancy, demand exists for the service, and they are happy with the response so far.

“We need music right now, because we don’t have music,” Mike says. “It’s such a travesty that there is no live music. We brought this into people’s homes, and it’s taking off. Every week, we're getting a hundred new followers. That’s amazing for us. We're barely out of the gate with this thing.”

Anyone interested in attending a Secret Dance Addiction party can do so free of charge, and paid memberships are also available, with extra features and private events. The Conscious Cocktail Club is $49 a month and comes with ingredients to make non-alcoholic drinks. The Handbys have partnered with Denver-based alcohol-free drink maker Gruvi.

Alcohol-free drinks have come a long way from the dark days of that flat coke from the soda gun at the bar.
One kit, for example, contains alcohol-free rosé and champagne and a recipe card to convert them into cocktails. The kits also include other party favors like fancy drink containers, sunglasses and glitter, and the items change every month.

Mike and Ambie spend a lot of time coming up with different themes for each monthly party in an effort to make the events as immersive as possible. Mike says their ultimate goal is for people to forget they're at home when they attend one of the online parties.

“The music sets the tone in so many ways,” he says. “So we make sure to get music that is spacey for 'Space Rave,' or 'Space Tour.' We did that for Halloween. For 'Ancient Aliens,' we had a lot of Egyptian-themed stuff and some tribal kind of African rhythms.”
click to enlarge The Conscious Cocktail Club offers non-alcoholic drinks and party favors. - COURTESY SECRET DANCE ADDICTION
The Conscious Cocktail Club offers non-alcoholic drinks and party favors.
Courtesy Secret Dance Addiction
The events happen once a month, usually on Saturdays.

“We are doing one event a month, because there's a lot of production that goes into it,” Ambie says. “Everything from the auditory to what you are tasting, your drinks in the box, what you are seeing.”

At the December party, she taught guests how to do the well-known disco dance the Hustle, and that interactive element is what elevates the events from being just a Zoom meeting or DJ set.

“Dance is so fun and easy to learn,” she says. “It’s just about getting out of your head and into your body. We try to make it super fun and engaging, and you're learning new things, whether it’s a new dance or a new drink. We're all doing things at the same time, which taps into how humans connect.”

Mike says the sober community is huge, but he didn’t know it existed for a long time. In the DJ community, however, that might not be the case. The Handbys see it as a way for people who might be "sober curious" to check out a different scene.

“We just kind of created our own here,” he says. “We didn’t know that it was really possible, but now a lot of people are liking it and are reaching out and like, ‘This is beautiful.’ We really want to help people. We really just want to light people up with music and dance.”

Ambie says that in the beginning, she spent a lot of time explaining to people what Secret Dance Addiction is not. People tend to associate the word "sober" with many things, but fun isn’t usually high on the list.

“We really focus on what [sober] is, which is what we call ‘party positive,’” she says. “It’s about having a healthy nightlife experience. It has nothing to do with drinking or not drinking. It’s really about connecting without intoxicants, because that honestly should be an option and should be normalized.”

The Handbys had planned to launch the parties in a physical space, but the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on that. They intend to take Secret Dance Addiction into the real world at some point, when, you know, there isn’t a lethal respiratory virus hanging in the air. In the meantime, they're partying with people in New York and Los Angeles, and even Wichita.

“We would like to tour,” Ambie says. “LIke an art-car road-show tour next year. Take it to the streets. Eventually, we would like to have stages and areas at major festivals like Coachella.”

The next Secret Dance Addiction party happens from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 16. For more information, check out the Secret Dance Addiction website. To RSVP, visit Eventbrite. More information on the Conscious Cocktail Club is available online.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.