Virtual dance parties, happy hours spring up to fight against loneliness during COVID-19

When self-described "international party scientist" Vancouverite Jacques Martiquet heard people were staying at home to ward off potential coronavirus infections, he knew it was time to act. 

Martiquet, 24, operates VYVE, a company hired to liven up meetings and events for corporations and festivals. They encourage people to dance, join conga lines and sing along to songs like Eye of the Tiger, all in the spirit of fostering human connection.

Which is exactly what he planned to do Friday night — but this time for a group of a few hundred revellers joining in online from their homes. 

"It's more important than ever to maintain our mental health to stay connected to our communities and still have fun and experience joy," Martiquet said. 

"The virtual dance party is an opportunity for people to dance off all their stress, take care of their mental health and feel connected to people over the virtual world."

Martiquet is one of many people in British Columbia and around the world organizing opportunities for people to gather and connect while maintaining social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Much of this activity is taking place online, with digital tools like Zoom, FaceTime and Skype replacing bars, concert halls and living rooms. 

Lara Aknin, an associate professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University, says the loneliness that self-isolation can cause means it's more important than ever to find ways to socialize while maintaining a physical distance. 

"All this great effort that people are investing into staying connected ... underscores the importance of human connection for our well-being," Aknin said. 

Aknin herself recently attended a virtual wine club meeting, where members who usually clink glasses did so virtually instead. In fact, virtual happy hour seemed to be one of the more popular activities to gather online, as are virtual dinner parties.

For other groups, meeting online instead of in person is more of a challenge.  

Ian Bryce, who leads a Vancouver-based community choir of about 45 people called Eschoir, says he led about half of his singers through FaceTime last Sunday when many couldn't or wouldn't come to practice. 

Now that social distancing measures are more firmly in place, Bryce intends to lead the entire group online this weekend.  

"People can be really socially isolated already, even before the whole COVID-19 thing happened. And singing is really powerful," he said.

Ian Bryce

But finding a way for everyone to join in as a chorus is proving to be difficult. 

Bryce says he's still fishing for the right online platform to do so, especially given that his singers learn songs by artists like Radiohead and Arcade Fire by ear rather than reading music. 

"It'll be a little bit more challenging because we won't have any immediate feedback of people singing to us," he said.

Other people have planned more passive ways to spend time together online, like watching a movie or TV show together via streaming services like Netflix Party. 

Arts performances go online

For those interested in arts and entertainment, musicians and performing arts organizations have been streaming performances live online.

Vancouver-based music Dan Mangan announced he'll be playing #quarantunes via the Side Door app every Saturday, with donations going to a different charity each week. 

This week, theatre venue The Cultch is livestreaming performances of MINE, its most recent show cancelled due to the pandemic. 

The Vancouver Art Gallery, which closed its doors earlier this week, says it plans to make some of its programming available online as well. 

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.