Want in at the Bay Area’s hottest dance party? You’ll need to bring a baby
OAKLAND — Stuffed animals are forbidden at Coachella, and the Electric Daisy Carnival prohibits pacifiers. But the WubbaNub — a mashup of the two comfort objects — is the hot dance party accessory among the newest club kids in the Bay Area.
Teal pacifiers festooned with tiny elephants, whales and unicorns were conspicuous in the crowd of 150-plus revelers who filled a commercial building in the rapidly gentrifying Temescal neighborhood of North Oakland on a summer Sunday. Attendees were jumping, twirling, and throwing the occasional tantrum in the fenced-off “rolling zone,” where fellow partyers lie on their backs, staring at the lights in the dark.
Anything goes at Baby Rave, the Bay Area’s wildly popular daytime dance party for children under 4. Although it’s never advertised, the monthly soiree sells out in minutes. Now in its third year, the ball is older than most of its tiny dancers.
“I had no idea what I was walking into,” said Oakland native Edward Hazzard III, aka DJ E.T., who has hosted Baby Rave for the Bay Area Children’s Theatre since it launched in 2016. “My first few years of deejaying was always for adults. There was an occasional middle school dance, because my wife was a middle school teacher, a few proms here and there — but never for babies.”
The gatherings share DNA with kids’ raves in the United Kingdom and a smattering of parties for older children in U.S. cities such as New York and Atlanta — where glow sticks and strobe lights are de rigueur.
In Oakland, the events are a lower, slower, shorter version of a grown-up rave, with moms in lieu of MDMA.
With its playful environment and irreverent name, Baby Rave has quickly become a magnet for Bay Area families, both newcomers and natives like Hazzard who are striving to raise their children in a region where blue-collar workers are increasingly rare and Berkeley professors can scarcely afford to remain.
“We only do one a month, but they sell out instantly,” said Nina Meehan, the theater’s executive artistic director, who tapped Hazzard to produce the first rave. “It’s become by far the most popular thing that we do.”
Many of the parents in attendance that Sunday were tech-sector workers, but others were artists, academics and Oakland public school teachers.
While a few were ex-ravers, the majority were simply searching for something to do between breakfast and nap time. Amid skyrocketing rents and dizzying displacement, kids — and kids’ activities — are disappearing from the Bay Area. At local libraries, toddler story time competes for space with tenants’ rights workshops, adult coloring clubs and “yoga for success.” Infant language classes and postpartum boot camps have replaced traditional playgroups for new parents with only a few weeks of leave after childbirth.
“We changed all the facts around family economic life — how much college is going to cost, how much housing costs where upward mobility is possible — and then we’re shocked that people parent differently,” said Conor P. Williams, a fellow at the progressive Century Foundation in Washington, D.C. “It’s hard, if you’re (both) working 50 or 60 hours a week, to pull it together on a weekend to offer 12 hours of entertainment. Structured activities give parents a moment to wipe their brow and catch their breath.”
Local parents flock to Family Laundry in Fruitvale for “Wash and Read” storytime, 90 minutes of free toddler entertainment put on by the Oakland Public Library for those with little time for either enrichment or chores.