Last spring, my cousin’s wife came to DC (where I lived at the time) for a conference. Meghann works for a Minnesota-based non-profit called TXT4LIFE, which promotes suicide prevention and awareness. While she was in town, she and her co-workers mentioned that they wanted to stage a flash mob in Canal Park in Duluth, MN. Shortly after our initial discussion, Meghann asked if I’d be willing to create something for TXT4LIFE to Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
In August, I created the choreography, and made a series of teaching videos Meghann could put on YouTube and send to the participants. This would be the way they would learn the choreography so they could show up to Canal Park on a Saturday in September and perform the dance.
I’d made two other teaching videos like this before. One was for a flash mob for a surprise birthday party, and one was for a flash mob for my friends’ wedding reception. The videos all have similar teaching structures that feature a couple of versions of the choreography: I perform the dance, I perform the dance facing the back so participants can easily follow along, and I break down the choreography in detail. I usually film myself dancing and teaching in my apartment on a FlipCam.
Using YouTube or Vimeo to teach flash mob choreography is a pretty common practice nowadays. I love that dance can be transmitted this way, and that individuals can learn choreography on their own that they then share with others in the final performance. For me, it is also a way of dance crossing boundaries. Flash mobs often recruit people who are not dancers in their day-to-day life, but have some investment in the cause (i.e: a flashmob to raise awareness of an issue), or the event (i.e. a friend’s wedding). Although flash mobs take the form of dance, the dance itself is almost secondary to the act of organizing around a topic in a public space.
It’s why, when I met with the wedding party and guests at Joey and Lauryn’s wedding, their friends, most of whom have not taken a dance class before, came to our one rehearsal knowing their choreography in detail. They came with specific questions about the material and complete investment in the task. Because they love their friends and wanted to be part of something that celebrates them, and in this case, that thing was a dance.
As worried as I get that dance is limited to certain populations, and as passionate as I am about creating opportunities for people to access dance, it is very much part of our culture today: flash mobs, So You Think You Can Dance, viral dance crazes, etc: they all get people dancing in a very public way, and get people excited to be involved in something larger happening within culture.
I had a conversation recently with someone about the lack of shared cultural touchstones in America today. There are more TV channels, a thousand memes, a million videos to check out on Facebook. With few shared reference points…maybe dance can be that common cultural ground.
Joey and Lauryn’s wedding flash mob in May:
The TXT4LIFE flash mob in September: