Flash mobs dance out a message
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The flash mob fad has danced its way into Pittsburgh.
Shortly after the lunch hour yesterday, 300 Point Park University students transformed PPG, Oxford and Steel plazas, Downtown, into makeshift dance clubs. At 1:15 p.m., three groups of 100 students sent wishes for a peaceful G-20 Summit through simultaneous, surprise performances -- or flash mobs -- and then dispersed 3 minutes later.
Flash mobs have been popping up across the globe and all over YouTube, giving new meaning to William Shakespeare's comment that "all the world's a stage."
Like the popular "wave" among fans at sports stadiums that starts small and eventually encircles the arena, the flash mob begins spontaneously among a small group of people at a town square or outdoor area. More and more people join in until the whole square is dancing.
In the wake of Michael Jackson's death in June, spontaneous flash mobs of fans performed choreography from the "Thriller" music video in the streets of London, Moscow, Amsterdam and San Francisco.
Shortly afterward Oprah Winfrey kicked off her talk show's 24th season with a 21,000-strong flash mob dancing in the middle of Chicago's Michigan Avenue to the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling."
Although flash mobs today are commonly linked to dancing, they were originally part of an experiment coordinated by Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper's magazine, based in New York City.
"The whole idea of the experiment was to see how many people you could gather from a single call," Mr. Wasik said. "The flash mobs as I originally did them were 10 minutes or less, and they were conceived very much at the last minute through e-mail."
In a Harper's magazine article about the fad in March 2006, Mr. Wasik explained how his interest in technology's power to bring people together inspired him to organize the first flash mob at a Manhattan accessories store in June 2003 -- an attempt that failed when word of the flash mob leaked out to New York police.
Unlike many flash mobs today, the eight flash mobs Mr. Wasik initiated over several months were not meant to send a message or entertain a crowd. Instead, his mobs focused on "using the tricks of social authority to try to get as many people [as possible] to come together and obey."
But some members of the dance community feel flash mobs can be a channel for communication.
"We look at [flash mobs] with a hopeful eye that they can have some political connotations and meanings," said Jens Giersdorf, assistant professor of dance at Marymount Manhattan College.
Downtown yesterday, students performed for global peace and unity to a medley of tunes including Neil Diamond's "America," Kool & the Gang's "Celebration," Sister Sledge's "We are Family" and the Beatles' "All You Need is Love."
Many passersby stopped at the sight of 100young adults removing their jackets to reveal matching orange peace sign T-shirts. Others just smiled as they continued on their way.
"I saw the camera and all the people gathered around," said Sergio Flores, 32, of Beechview, who watched the flash mob at PPG Plaza during his lunch break. "This was definitely something innovative and different to what you're used to seeing here."
Although the flash mobs were a surprise to the public, they've been in the works for several weeks.
In August, John Rohe, vice president of philanthropy of the local Colcom Foundation, which provides financial support to cultural and environmental projects, approached Point Park representatives with the concept.
"We thought it would be an interesting thing for Pittsburgh and an interesting little experiment," said Ronald Allan-Lindblom, dean of Point Park's Conservatory of Performing Arts and artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
Kiesha Lalama-White, Point Park's contemporary jazz and choreography instructor who also is education director for the Pittsburgh City Light Opera, was tapped to choreograph the flash mobs.
"I wanted to do something big to show that large groups of kids can collaborate and send a positive message," Mrs. Lalama-White said.
First Published September 22, 2009 12:00 am