Have you ever wondered what goes into participating in a flash mob?
I danced in a flash mob and I LOVED IT. Loved it loved it loved it!!!
If you have ever been in the finals for a sporting event, been presented an award on stage or achieved something truly wonderful in front of your friends or family, that’s the exact feeling I had when we finished our dance. That sweet mix of terror, exhilaration and oh my god what the… OH CRAP the music has started, all bundled up with pride, joy and excitement so you don’t know whether you should be laughing or crying.
I still felt the buzz hours later.
The Flash Mob I participated in was the International Zouk Flash Mob (IZFM) in which every year around the world the same choreography is performed on the same day. This year it was performed in over 180 cities by over 4000 dancers. Zouk in Brisbane is taking off as one of the largest forms of Latin dance and we managed to field 136 dancers for IZFM and Brisbane had the largest Flash Mob for IZFM in the world.
For those who don’t know what Zouk is, it is a free flowing form of Latin dance that has its origins in the French Caribbean, much like Salsa, Rumba, Tango and Samba. One of the peculiarities of Zouk is the ability for dancers to add their own interpretations to a style which is much less rigid and formal than other styles. I have a YouTube of our Flash Mob instructor James Quinn-Hawtin dancing with Romina Hidalgo which is a beautiful example of Zouk.
Before I continue, I have to thank James Quinn-Hawtin our dance instructor from the James Quinn-Hawtin Dance Academy. James isn’t a big man, but his charisma, confidence, and experience make him larger than life. James had us hanging on his every word and move for eight weeks, and he did a superb job in getting us ready for the flash mob. I would also like to thank his special guests Kelsy Luengen, for her lessons on how to cambré and a very sexy solo Salsa combo, and Bella Pham, all the way from Vietnam, for her energetic Zumba warm-up. Finally of course, James’s partner, Archana who added style and elegance to James’s lessons.
How to join a Flash Mob
This all started for me at the end of July. A friend of mine heard through Facebook about the flash mob looking for participants, and when she shared it with me I thought “why not?”
I wasn’t entirely sure at that stage how a Flash Mob came together, but the Facebook Post said eight weeks of lessons for $50, a shirt, and a two minute thrill ride. Given that a lesson normally costs around $20, this seemed too good to be true. It was too good to be true, it far exceeded my expectations.
These days it seems most flash mobs are organized through social media such as Facebook. From what I can tell, a local dance instructor will set up a flash mob event and start sending the public invitations out through their students. There will generally be a website, and you should be able to Google upcoming flash mob events to join. Instructors run a gauntlet of needing to advertise for participants yet keeping it discreet enough it doesn’t become well publicized in local media, so don’t expect the details to be in the local papers.
Flash mob training involved two hours of training every Sunday for eight weeks prior to the Flash Mob day. The first week involves bringing all the dancers up to speed on how to dance the basics of Zouk and learning about the first 20 seconds of the choreography. For the next five weeks we would review what we had already learned and add about 20-30 seconds of choreography each week. By weeks seven and eight it was full speed ahead rehearsal trying to bed down the whole song and working on synchronizing 150 people.
For those thinking of participating in a flash mob you can miss a week or two of choreography training if you are worried about previous commitments, but it is advisable not to miss the last two sessions. The other key is to watch and practice the choreography video at home as much as you can. I haven’t counted exactly but there are around 50-60 moves in two and half minutes of choreography, and you really need to have the moves embedded into your muscle memory by the time the day arrives. It is very easy to forget a move, especially towards the end of the dance.
We had an interesting bunch of people join this year’s flash mob. We ranged from experienced Zouk dancers, I guess about half of us, to those who had danced other styles from Salsa, Swing, and Jive and the final a quarter had never danced before. We had all ages from two 16 year old girls to those well into their 60’s. From those I talked to, we had housewives, University students, IT workers, engineers, electricians, accountants, construction workers, real estate agents and almost any other job you could imagine. It really was a diverse group of people but we all mingled and soon began to get to know each other.
If you are worried about being a stranger amongst 150 people while learning the choreography for a flash mob, take heart that most people only know one or two others. We were all as nervous as each other and while it can be intimidating walking into a large hall with that many people in it, by the end of eight weeks there is a camaraderie that develops between you all. When you have to dance with each other you quickly realize even the experts make mistakes and their memory is no better than your own. Even the great James didn’t practice as much as he should have in the previous years flash mob and he forgot a move during the performance.
At the final rehearsals we were all told where the flash mob would be and where to gather prior to the dance. This year we performed at Brisbane’s South Bank markets, a busy Sunday inner city market with a large rectangular courtyard in the middle. About half an hour before the scheduled performance we all started gathering on a grassy knoll near the markets. As people walked by us some noticed our Flash Mob shirts and asked us where we would be performing. At this point these strangers seemed far more excited than we were, although I am guessing nerves played a fairly large part in this.
Yes we were nervous, we were talking in quiet tones and most of us were milling around with a dazed look of cattle about to enter a slaughter house. About five minutes before James rallied us with a pep talk and walked us through exactly how we were going to enter the market area. Then all too soon, that half an hour, which seemed to last an eternity but also went by in a heartbeat, was over and we were all walking to the market square. For anyone who has done a public performance walking to the stage is the worst part. Every “Oh my god what if I stuff up/forget/look stupid” thought rushes through your mind a million times a second. Thankfully the music starts and it’s all forgotten, because now you have to perform.
I don’t know what it’s like for everyone else but for me it was a perfect rush of “nowness”. You have 50 moves to get through and I performed them with my partner Nicole (Thank you Nicole, you were awesome and it was a pleasure to be your partner). I couldn’t see the crowd, I didn’t notice what the other dancers were doing, there was just the music, Nicole and I. It almost came as a surprise when we finished the last move and we dispersed back into the crowd.
As you can see from the video above, the flash mob was a roaring success. We all seemed to have the timing down and any errors, well I’m not going to point them out because they’re irrelevant anyway. We didn’t get harassed by security or the police and at a rough guess I would say we had a good 300-400 people watching the flash mob. We all had an absolutely amazing time and I don’t think it gets much better than that.
If you are wondering which one is me, I am the tallest guy in the flash mob, front and center in the video with Nicole at about 1min 30sec. In the photo above I am on the outside left of the mob about halfway down the photo. James and Archana are the first two to enter the square at the start of the flash mob.
Post Dance Celebrations
There is nothing better than winding down after a flash mob than stopping by the pub for a beer and some dancing by the river at the Kangaroo Point Cliffs with some light snacks. About 50 of us made it down to the river afterwards and we danced away into the early evening. I think most of us were still buzzed four hours later and relaxing in the cool afternoon breeze amongst new found friends topped off a perfectly wonderful day.
Photos courtesy of the author.
- Andrew Nuttall for Music and Studio Management
- Sarah Hufnagel for administrative assistance
- Bob Macgahan Photography
- Michael Don Photography
- Andrew Nuttall for putting the YouTube Video together