You’re walking around your local shopping centre when a top 40s song blurs through the speakers. You look to your friend confused and wondering, “what is going on?” You look ahead and a crowd of people are gathered around looking at something. You approach and the reason is clear, a group of people are dancing in the middle of the food court, strangers slowly and nonchalantly join in the dance, acting like it was a coincidence they were there at the time. But really, they had spent weeks attending dance classes and carefully curating the perfect ‘Flash mob’.
A ‘Flash mob’ is when a large group of people come together in dance to perform a seemingly random performance, then disperse like nothing ever happened. They’re normally organised over social media with video tutorials being posted onto forums, YouTube and websites for practice. ‘Flash mobs’ became popular in the late 2000s and were even picked up by films and tv shows. They were usually used as a romantic gesture to express their love to their love interest. Some movies and tv shows ‘Flash mobs’ appear in are 500 Days of Summer (2009), Friends with Benefits (2011), Step Up Revolution (2012), Modern Family, Glee, Superstore, and The Office.
The first ‘Flash mob’ was created by Bill Wasik in 2003. He was the senior editor of Harper’s Magazine at the time and organised this gathering in Manhattan, New York outside a Macy’s store. Wasik said, “the mobs started as a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity and big gatherings to temporarily take over commercial and public areas simply to show that they could”. They continued to be used for all different kinds of reasons, like advertising for companies, proposals and weddings.
These organised performances weren’t all that easy to put together, there were lots of risks that came with it. Due to the dances being choreographed mainly over the internet, it was important that everyone actually showed up to do their bit. You had to put your trust in an absolute stranger. Although ‘Flash mobs’ were originally designed for entertainment and attention, some have turned into creating distractions in order to steal from stores, be used to disguise organised violent attacks and a way to protest.
Ultimately, Flash mobs are a positive invention that bring people together in dance for entertainment. They’re not so popular these days, and COVID is probably the one the blame for that. They are a great use for artistic expression, sharing a message and advertising for companies. ‘Flash mobs’ should be used more often as it brings strangers together, makes you feel like you’re part of something ‘bigger’ and who doesn’t love a spontaneous, big romantic gesture?
Written by Mel Maltby