Hoping to make more
meaningful connections

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It’s not really about the meal at the monthly Conscious Family Dinner, although there is plenty of vegan Indian food. You can spend time in a cuddling sanctuary, sit down with a tarot reader, chat career goals with a life coach or sit in on an acro-yoga sex psychotherapy presentation. And there’s almost always some form of dancing.

But what’s inconspicuously missing is alcohol.
Creator Ben Rolnik says the dinners are about creating a new form of play that facilitates meaningful connections, not the vapid chitchat that often proliferates at cocktail parties or bars.
The reception to the dry dinners, held at various spots in Los Angeles but expanding soon nationwide, has been impressive, with each of the 200-person events selling out. Tickets cost about $35.
“It’s like a journey more than a dinner,” said Rolnick, a 26-year-old yogi and former talent manager.
Similar parties are popping up across the country, notably in New York, Miami and Chicago, tapping into an itch from millennials to find meaningful connections and purpose even in their night life.
When Justin Henderson, who created the event company Bender , hosted his first few events in Chicago a few years ago, he served alcohol, but noticed very few people were imbibing. As time went on, he noticed more alcohol was leftover at each event and he decided to stop offering it all together.
Instead, Bender’s events range from 40 to 300 people and include everything from a rooftop yoga pool party at the Standard Hotel to midnight silent disco yoga on the pool deck of the SoHo House in Chicago during a full moon.
“I’m just one part of a much, much bigger movement that’s happening. It’s not so much about whether alcohol is there or not … people are just looking for ways to connect around things that they value and are passionate about,” said Henderson, a former health care manager who was looking for a fun way to help people life healthier lives.
Courtney Nichols, a 28-year-old owner of an event planning company and self-proclaimed dance fiend, has attended several Bender events in Los Angeles, and says it combines the fun of a late-night party in a more socially conscious manner.
“It’s never been an issue of not having alcohol. It probably is to the benefit of the event,” said Nichols, who was struck by the sense of camaraderie she experienced. “You get to meet people in a clearer head space. You leave the party and you feel refreshed.”
While the events have a different feel around the country, they all involve movement, often yoga or dance, to help people loosen up and connect with their bodies and each other in a shared experience.
The Shine has the feel of a variety show, with mindfully-curated content in Los Angeles and New York once every two months, and includes everything from guided meditation to comedians to beat boxers.
The Shine gives about $400 of its ticket sales to a guest with instructions to help someone with it. They might use the money to feed the homeless or donate it to an animal sanctuary. A short video of how they paid it forward is shown at the next event, said co-producer Andrea Praet.
On the notorious boozy holiday St. Patrick’s Day, Anna Garcia traipsed a group of about 20 to a workout — like Caribbean reggae dance or boxing — before hitting four different juice bars around New York for her popular Juice Crawl . Her first event in 2014 sold out.
“I wanted an alternative where you could hang out with people and not feel the effects of alcohol and also highlight that you don’t really need it. It’s about highlighting the relationships with people,” said Garcia, a 30-year-old trumpet player who found it difficult to socialize after going vegan.

In this March 8 photo, Andrew Hoepfner, left, and Pamela Martinez, center, dance along with participants at a sober social event sponsored by The Shine at a hotel in the Williamsburg neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. Alcohol-free events, which are popping up in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, are part of a trend fueled by millennials seeking to find meaningful connections while they party. 

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