What It's Like to Be a Dancing Bug at Electric Daisy Carnival

I never truly appreciated peripheral vision until last Sunday night at Electric Daisy Carnival. The blue bug mask covering the bulk of my face is cartoonishly flirtatious, with big, heavily-lashed eyes that obscure tiny sight-holes. All that is visible is what's directly in front of me. Forget the headaches that come with being a near-sighted person wandering sans glasses; to the left, right, top and bottom, I am essentially blind. As the crowd swells on the final night of the three-day electronic music festival, I try keep up with a company of stilt-walkers parading around the Cosmic Meadow stage.

I fall behind. The stilt-walkers, as beautifully scary as characters from an '80s fantasy film, move with grace and speed. They are a group from San Diego, called Dragon Knights, who perform at various events and have appeared at EDC in years past. Some wear stilts on hands and feet, walking like four-legged beasts until they stand tall. They play with the crowd, startling and mesmerizing onlookers.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to dodge partygoers who swoop into my path from directions that I can no longer comprehend. I listen to my guide as she warns of upcoming steps and bumps in the road.

The party is about more than music at Electronic Daisy Carnival. While EDM artists ranging from Hardwell to Disclosure to Bassnectar draw the crowds and provide the soundtrack, a large cast of interactive performers help keep the attendees entertained. Shortly after Sunday's festivities begin, small groups of costumed women and men convene in a building that serves as their green room. Some, like clowns Emu and Sprinkles, try to remain in character as we chat. Their job is to greet people — "give them moments," Emu says.

Kelsey Boomhower, a regular EDC attendee from Portland who performed here for the first time this year, spent the previous two nights as part of the Sparklepops group. Tonight, though, she is a Bumble Bee Flower, dressed in yellow and black with a tutu-type skirt that resembles large flower petals. Like the other performers, she works from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., with a few breaks and meals carved into the schedule, and hops from stage to stage, spending between 15 and 20 minutes with each audience. "It's crazy," she says, "but we all have so much fun." Some performers, like the Dragon Knights stilt walkers, are groups that have been hired on by the festival. Others, like Boomhower, are assigned to their groups.

In the green room, there are people who have spent years honing their performing talents. In other words, they're professionals. I am not. I'm just a journalist with no experience other than dance classes that ended years ago and some high-school theater, who was offered the chance to pretend to be a performer for the night. I arrived at the festival knowing little more than my character's name, Sparklebug.
Anxiety hits the moment Insomniac's wardrobe specialists, Vanessa and Roxan, hand me my costume. Every pull of the one-piece, blue sequined suit is done with the fear that this custom number won't fit. The top is low-cut, much lower than anything I have ever worn. My bra peeks through the top. I ask Vanessa how to fix that. "Take off your bra," she answers. My face twists with confusion — how am I going to do this without underwire support?, I want to protest — but the fake performer in me decides to just make the costume work and worry about the rest later.

It doesn't take that long to get ready. Vanessa and Roxan turn me into Sparklebug with silver go-go boots, a set of massive insect wings, evening gloves and the previously mentioned bug mask. Vanessa does a quick inspection and decides that I need a little blue lipstick and a lot of glitter. She tells me not to smack my lips together, lest I lose the sparkle. The bodysuit is comfortable, though I'm well aware that it will highlight every fat roll on my body. Combined with the cumbersome wings and high heels, I'm forced into good posture, possibly for the first time in my life.

My first trip into the public sphere of the festival is a semi-solo venture. My guide helps me out to Neon Garden, where Catz 'n Dogz are playing. The anxiety that took shape when I first held the costume is now close to consuming my body. Even in a crowd where armloads of beaded bracelets and Super Mario Bros. costumes are considered normal fashion, I am going to stand out, possibly as a weirdo worthy of ridicule. Fortunately, though, if anyone gawks or laughs at me, I can't see it happen. That's the benefit of wearing a mask. Quickly, I temporarily push neurotic Liz Ohanesian out of the costume and let Sparklebug come out and play.

In the early evening, before the crowd got too intense, Sparklebug spreads her wings without elbowing anyone. She dances on the grass without incident. The go-go boots are magic, perhaps more so than the mask, as their soles have enough slip and grip to allow Sparklebug to slide on the grass without falling on her ass. People compliment her. She poses for photos. She has a good time.

Sure, things get frustrating when the darkness settles. The growing crowd proves to be a little much for Sparklebug and she eventually retires. But her brief moment in the crowd at EDC is a joyous experience, both for Sparklebug and the journalist behind the mask. Stage fright is nothing compared to the ecstatic moments of freedom you'll feel in the midst of a performance. The best feeling, though, is the one that comes when you take off the mask, wipe the sweat off your brow, and are finally able to see the whole festival surrounding you.

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Liz Ohanesian
Contact: Liz Ohanesian