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August 3, 2013

Flash mobs more theatrical production than dance

Brittany Lesavoy
The Daily Star

---- — Most people are familiar with the term “flash mob.” It’s associated with groups of people congregating briefly to the surprise of the surrounding public, and often incorporates a choreographed dance. You’ve probably been witness to one, or you’ve probably seen one online, as they are extensively documented — there are more than 10,000 results on YouTube if you search for flash mobs. 

Until recently, I thought the idea of the flash mob would have fizzled by now. I felt the time had come where the flash mob, with the intent to be unique, could no longer be considered so. These surprise performances have been popping up across the country — at universities, city centers, amusement parks — for close to a decade. Isn’t it time? 

But, while the idea of the flash mob may not be new, each incident is as original and exciting as the next — both for the audience and the participants. I came to realize this recently when I not only participated, but helped organize a flash mob. A few months ago, a good friend said jokingly, “All I want for my birthday is a flash mob. It doesn’t even have to be a surprise! I’ll help organize it!” 

So over the course of the next few months, I joked with her about what songs we should use, what dance moves we should incorporate. And by then, we had talked about it so much, we couldn’t not produce a flash mob dance for her birthday. But, we decided to surprise her. 

Another friend and I brainstormed what music to use. We decided we wanted a mash-up of different songs. (I still can’t decide if that made choreographing the dance harder or easier.) Once the songs were decided, another friend mixed the music, and we all collaborated on how to make this happen without her knowing. It’s particularly difficult when everyone involved works together. I was hesitant to put anything in writing about it, for fear she would find it. So, plans were made in secret conversations and by passing information through “the grapevine.” 

Because of everyone’s extremely busy work schedules, the group was only able to have one legitimate rehearsal. It took place at 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday for about an hour and a half. After that, we sent the music to most people, along with a description of the dance moves. I heard of people practicing on their own in their living rooms or on back porches. And for a busy group of mostly non-dancers, I was pretty impressed. 

We decided to premiere it at a company party. So, while it would be public, it would still be a more intimate performance venue. Only some company members knew this would be happening. We had an approximate start time and a cue song (there was already a lot of dancing going on at this party). Prior to our performance time, everyone had butterflies. We would secretly all walk around and say to each other things in passing like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so nervous” or “I think I’ve forgotten all the moves.” 

Our cue song came on, everyone began the first choreographed dance moves, and a cheer erupted from the crowd. The birthday girl knew what was happening immediately, and began dancing and jumping in excitement. 

Apparently, it was a huge surprise and a huge success. 

The organization of this flash mob was, in fact, a theatrical production. We had initial conversations on concept, choreography sessions, rehearsal and performance. And afterward, it was all anyone could talk about. Similar to a theater performance, it lives only in its moment. We can reminisce, look at pictures and even the video that was thankfully captured, but, like a theatrical moment, you have to be there to really experience it.

Brittany Lesavoy is secretary of ArtsOtsego, the alliance of Otsego County arts organizations, and director of public relations for The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown. Column ideas may be sent to ‘Around The Arts’ columns can be found at