Dancing and parties have always gone hand in hand, but one event planner from Philadelphia has found her calling in combining them with pop culture themes.
Megan Hawley, the mind behind event planning company Riot Nerd, has six dance parties planned in the Philly area in the coming weeks. The events each cater to a different pop culture sub-group or fandom.
Many of the events focus on big pop musicians, like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and David Bowie, or global trends like Korean pop music. Others focus on more niche topics, like the goth subculture or the 1990s mystery drama series “Twin Peaks.”
Participants must dress in costumes corresponding to the theme and sing their hearts out to tunes that are usually nostalgic or universally known among the group of fans. Tickets cost between $7 and $15. Participants must be 21 years of age or older.
Hawley started Riot Nerd as a blog focused on Philly-area events about five years ago. But after a party thrown to promote the site turned out to be a big hit, she moved on to event planning.
Initially, she planned many concerts and culinary events, but eventually found her niche with themed dance parties. Now, it’s rare for Riot Nerd to hold any other type of event, she said.
Costume dance parties featuring DJs or cover bands instead of traditional headliners aren’t new, but they’ve apparently become more common in recent years.
For example, “Emo Night” events became popular in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. During these dance parties, the participants come dressed in their outfits from the Myspace era and collectively sing the emo hits of their youth.
Although Hawley has no plans at the moment, she has already hosted her own “Cute! Emo Night”, which she says focused more on female contributions to the genre.
As venues emerged from pandemic restrictions and began scheduling events again, many turned to these dance parties.
Events are popular in large part due to the power of the fandoms they cater to. They create a lot of energy and bring a sense of togetherness to the dance floor as most people in the crowd are united in their passion for the theme of the evening.
“I think people really underestimate how much people love pop culture and are willing to go places to appreciate their fandoms,” Courtney Gibson, who hosts similar dance parties in Florida, told WUFT on last month.
Most of Riot Nerd’s upcoming events will take place at Underground Arts, located at 1200 Callowhill St. in the city’s Callowhill neighborhood.
The Taylor Swift event is expected to be so popular that Hawley is also hosting a New York version of it. She is also hosting a Lady Gaga event at City Winery Philadelphia, located at 990 Filbert St. and a K-pop party that will take place at MilkBoy, located at 1100 Chestnut St. Both venues are downtown.
Attendance at her events has been “random” in recent weeks due to the resurgence of the pandemic, she said. But those that cater to a younger demographic — like nights focused on 2000s pop stars — have done better recently.
Safety is a priority at Riot Nerd events. Vaccination cards are checked and participants are asked to remain masked. Hawley said the continued uncertainty around the pandemic has made it very difficult for those working in his industry.
“You don’t know what things are going to look like next month or the month after,” she said.
But even when Hawley couldn’t host dance parties in person, she found ways to bring people together through music.
She started streaming DJ sets on her Twitch account during the pandemic, which were well received. Those interested in tuning in can find Hawley at twitch.tv/riotnerdphilly.
A full list of upcoming Riot Nerd events in Philadelphia is listed below.
• Shake It Off: Taylor Swift Dance Party, Saturday, January 22, 9 p.m. | $ 10
• “Permission to dance: a K-Pop evening, Saturday, January 29, 9 p.m. | $7
• “Sematary (Goth) Prom”, Friday, February 4, 9 pm | 13 $
• “Bowie Masquerade Ball”, Friday, February 11, 9 p.m. | Sold out – Waiting list available
• “Twin Peaks Party”, Friday, February 18, 9 p.m. | 13 $
• “Lady Gaga Dance Party”, Saturday, February 19, 9 p.m. | $ 15
Events are held at Underground Arts, located at 1200 Callowhill St., with the exception of Lady Gaga and K-pop parties. Lady Gaga event is held at City Winery Philadelphia, 990 Filbert St. K-pop event is held at MilkBoy, 1100 Chestnut St.