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What is a Flashmob? History and Meaning Behind the Movement

by David Fox

Historically speaking, the word "mob" has been associated with acts of violence, or at the very least, social upheaval.

You've probably heard of an "angry mob" before, in reference to a group of angry people toting pitchforks and torches, usually motivated to march based on some socio-political injustice or another, perceived or real.

A "flashmob" is essentially a reclamation of the term "mob" by putting a much more positive spin on it in the form of performance art.

Angry Mobs
Angry Mobs

Introduction to Flashmob

Generally speaking, a "flashmob" is a gathering of a certain number of people that takes place in a public space that happens seemingly mysteriously and lasts for ten minutes or perhaps less, with the intention of surprising, delighting, and sometimes confusing onlookers.

These gatherings came to be popular as the age of social media and smart technology grew, allowing for people to more easily connect, and more easily organize such a spontaneous and exciting event as a flashmob by way of Facebook group, or a flurry of texts.

During flashmobs, people dance, sing or just freeze in place, not moving for a couple of minutes. As such, flash mobs do have some connection to the idea of musical theatre, in their exuberance and choreography.

This gives the general impression to anyone watching that these flash-mobbers showed up out of nowhere, almost like magic, and then disappear without any trace.

Flash mobs can be for artistic sake, for fun, or they can be for the purpose of advertising some event or product. They can even be political.

Generally, however, flashmobs capture the spirit of fun in any populated location and change the whole atmosphere of that place, which may otherwise be mundane, into something exciting and unifying.

Here is a video example of a flashmob in action.

What Is a Flashmob and How Did It Start?

History Of The Flashmob
History Of The Flashmob

Officially, the first known flashmob happened in 2003, when a senior editor of Harper's Magazine - Bill Wasik - anonymously organized one in Manhattan, New York.

Here is Bill speaking on his idea of what flashmobs are all about.

That first Manhattan flashmob turned out to be a well-executed event, that attracted participants to come before any action occurred to a few different bars, located near the place where the flashmob occurred, where they got more information about what to do just before the start of an event.

Around 130 people spread through the Macy's store by looking for a "love rug" for their suburban commune.

According to Wasik, he just wanted to create a type of social experiment that lampooned the next "hot new thing", in a very American way of always looking for the next big event or cultural change.

As a result, flashmobs became a rather powerful for people in the US because the tradition of public space in the country was seeming to be lost, and, if nothing else, flashmobs expressed a way to reclaim public space, if only for a short time. In some ways, this could seen as a "fight the power", "stick it to the man", anti-corporate move.

Here is a popular flashmob production that has made the rounds on Youtube - maybe you've seen this.

While this flashmob happened outside, and has been inspiring people since it was performed and uploaded, many flashmobs occur indoors.

As you know if you are from an urban area, cities are known for their many shopping malls, where modern consumer people spend their leisure time. To some, this is fine, and acceptable, while others take some issue with the concept of malls in one way or another, with one major reason being that a mall is a "public space" that is not actually public, and very limited in terms of how one might express themselves there. It is typically not a place to be "free".

For example if you were to try to express yourself in that public space, you would realize very quickly how non-public that space actually is. In fact, it is completely corporate and under strict control.

Inside A Shopping Center
Inside A Shopping Center

Yet, at the same time as a mall is a very controlled place, it in and of itself has the perfect characteristics to become a stage for performers to perform in. The only problem is that malls typically do not allow for performances of dancing and music to just suddenly appear. This is where flashmobs come into play.

Back in 2003, Bill Wasik was interested in what you can and can not do in regular public spaces in this day and age. He organized eight flashmobs that summer and what was astonished to find that by the end of that summer, the idea of flashmobs spread not only through the whole country, but abroad too!

Bill Wasik's initiative evolved into something that he couldn't control anymore - the cat was out of the bag, so to speak! - and so then transformed him into an observer of subsequent flashmobs.

What Are Some of the Most Famous Flashmobs in History?

What Are Some of the Most Famous Flashmobs in History?
What Are Some of the Most Famous Flashmobs in History?

1. The "Million Man Flash Mob" in Philadelphia, PA in 2006

The "Million Man Flash Mob" was a gathering of African-American men in Philadelphia, PA in 2006. The event was organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and drew over one thousand participants. The purpose of the event was to promote peace and unity within the black community.

The flash mob was held on October 15th, 2006 at Love Park. Participants met at noon and then walked to City Hall where they held a rally. After the rally, the group marched back to Love Park where they dispersed.

There were no incidents or arrests reported during the event. Police presence was heavy throughout downtown Philadelphia during the event. NAACP officials praised the police for their handling of the event.

The "Million Man Flash Mob" was one of the largest gathering of African-American men in Philadelphia's history. The event was peaceful and successful in promoting its message of peace and unity.

2. The "Flash Mob Dance Party" in New York City's Central Park in 2009

It was a warm summer day in New York City's Central Park when the "Flash Mob Dance Party" occurred. People of all ages and backgrounds came together to enjoy the moment and dance their cares away. It was an event that brought people together and showed the power of music and dance to bring people joy.

This event was organized by Dance Party NYC, a group that throws dance parties in public places around the city. They choose locations that are normally not associated with dancing, such as parks or plazas, and turn them into impromptu dance floors. The group's goal is to get people moving and to show them that dancing can be fun, no matter where you are or what you're doing.

The "Flash Mob Dance Party" in Central Park was just one of the many events that Dance Party NYC has organized. Others have included the "Disco Ball Drop" in Times Square on New Year's Eve and the "Silent Disco" in Washington Square Park. Each event is different, but they all have one thing in common: they get people dancing!

If you're ever in New York City and see a group of people dancing in an unexpected place, chances are it's Dance Party NYC. So, put on your dancing shoes and join the fun!

3. The "Flash Mob Wedding" in Times Square in 2010

In 2010, a flash mob wedding took place in New York City's Times Square. The event was organized by a company called Marry Me New York, which arranges weddings for couples who want to get married in unique locations around the city.

The flash mob wedding was officiated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The bride and groom, both clad in white, exchanged vows in front of the iconic Times Square billboards. As they were pronounced husband and wife, confetti cannons went off and the crowd cheered. The couple then rode off in a horse-drawn carriage.

This flash mob wedding was just one of the many unique weddings that Marry Me New York has arranged. The company has also organized weddings at the top of the Empire State Building, in Central Park, and on a ferry boat. If you're looking for a truly unique wedding experience, check out Marry Me New York.

4. The "Flash Mob Proposal" at the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park in 2013

When San Francisco Giants fan, Matt Hershberger, proposed to his girlfriend, Leah Pritchett, during a game at AT&T Park in 2013, he had no idea that his flash mob proposal would go viral.

Hershberger had planned the entire proposal with the help of friends and family. As Pritchett sat in her seat, thinking she was just enjoying a baseball game with her boyfriend, a group of people began to gather around her. Hershberger then got down on one knee and popped the question.

Pritchett said yes, and the crowd erupted into cheers. The video of the proposal quickly went viral, racking up millions of views on YouTube.

This heartwarming story is proof that flash mob proposals can be a huge success! If you're thinking of proposing to your significant other in a unique and public way, a flash mob proposal could be the perfect way to do it.

5. The "Flash Mob Funeral" for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013

The "Flash Mob Funeral" for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013 was one of the most memorable and heartwarming moments in recent history. It was a beautiful tribute to a man who had dedicated his life to making the world a better place.

The funeral procession was led by a traditional African drumming troupe, and as they made their way through the streets, they were joined by more and more people, until the whole city was dancing and singing in honor of Mandela. It was an incredible display of love and respect for a man who had inspired so many.

This momentous occasion was captured on film by award-winning documentary filmmaker Darryl Roberts, and it is sure to be remembered as one of the most moving moments in Nelson Mandela's legacy.

6. The "Flash Mob Lip-Sync" in front of the White House in 2014

In 2014, a group of dancers performed a flash mob lip-sync in front of the White House. The performance was in response to then-President Barack Obama's call for more Americans to get involved in their communities.

The dancers, who were all members of the group "Dance For Change", lip-synced to the song "American Girl" by Tom Petty. The performance quickly went viral, and has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

After the performance, Obama praised the dancers, saying that they were "showing us what it means to be an American". He also encouraged more Americans to get involved in their communities, and said that he hoped the dancers would inspire others to do the same.

The "Flash Mob Lip-Sync" was just one of many performances by Dance For Change. The group has also performed at other major events, including the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

7. The "Flash Mob Dance Party" at the Grand Canyon in 2016

In 2016, a group of tourists decided to turn their vacation into a dance party when they spontaneously started break dancing at the Grand Canyon. The impromptu routine was caught on camera by another tourist and quickly went viral, with many people calling it the best thing they'd ever seen.

The flash mob consisted of about 20 people, who suddenly started break dancing to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" in the middle of the Grand Canyon. They were surrounded by onlookers who were clearly enjoying the show, as they can be seen cheering and clapping along in the video.

At one point, one of the dancers even did a back flip off of a rock, much to the delight of the crowd. After their routine was over, the group received a round of applause from everyone who witnessed it.

This isn't the first time that a group of tourists has decided to turn their vacation into a dance party. In 2015, a group of friends went to Jamaica and surprised locals with an impromptu dance performance to Sean Paul's "Temperature." The video of their routine quickly went viral, with many people lauding them for their creative way of enjoying their vacation.

8. The "Flash Mob Wedding" at the Eiffel Tower in 2017

When it comes to getting married in style, there are few places more iconic than the Eiffel Tower. So, it's no surprise that one couple decided to have their wedding at the top of the famed structure.

In 2017, a couple from Ohio tied the knot in a flash mob wedding at the Eiffel Tower. The bride and groom, along with their wedding party and guests, surprised onlookers when they suddenly started dancing to "Can't Help Falling in Love" by Elvis Presley.

The impromptu wedding reception continued as the group made their way down the stairs of the Eiffel Tower, stopping to take photos and dance along the way.

It was a truly unique and memorable way to get married, and it's sure to be a day that the couple will never forget!

9. The "Flash Mob Proposal" at Niagara Falls in 2018

The "Flash Mob Proposal" at Niagara Falls was an event that took place on September 9th, 2018. The proposal was organized by Matt Haney, and it involved a group of people who came together to propose to their significant others at the same time.

The event was a surprise for both the participants and their loved ones, and it was captured on video. The footage of the proposal went viral, and it has been viewed millions of times online.

The "Flash Mob Proposal" was a unique and heartwarming event that brought joy to many people. It is an example of the power of love, and it shows that Niagara Falls is a place where love can blossom.

10. The "Flash Mob Dance Party" at the Great Wall of China in 2019

In 2019, a group of people decided to have a flash mob dance party at the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of China is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and it seemed like the perfect place to have a little fun.

The dancers were all dressed in brightly colored clothes and they danced to some catchy pop music. The whole thing was caught on video and it quickly went viral.

The flash mob dance party at the Great Wall of China was definitely a sight to behold. It's not every day that you see something like this!

Flashmobs in Advertising

After that fateful summer of 2003, the idea of flashmobs via the internet has spread throughout the whole world, becoming a true viral sensation.

What began partly as a bit of a prank and partly as a social experiment in New York City had now become part of popular culture, and the idea was being related via the internet and word of mouth, becoming a "thing", as it were.

From school performances to political protests to advertising and promotional events - flashmobs as a creative way to express people's ideas have become popular all around the globe.

Flashmob Advertising
Flashmob Advertising

One of the main reasons why flashmobs become popular around the world is that they are unexpected and catchy. It affects the viewer in a positive way - he becomes not only an observer but also a participant too.

Because of the flashmob's tendency to be quite memorable due to their surprising nature, they are a great way to promote something in advertising.

T-Mobile, a german communications company supported a flashmob that took place in Liverpool Street Station in 2009.

Suddenly people from the crowd started to dance to popular music hits by involving more and more people. It brought joy for people and was a unique way to promote a company's brand.

Train stations are also very suitable places for flashmobs because they are spacious and always have an audience. Another huge flashmob was created the same year, 2009, this time in Antwerp, Belgium central station when 200 people danced according to legendary musical "The Sound of Music" song "Do Re Mi". This performance succeeded and became very popular on the internet.

In 2013 April in a shopping mall of Breda, Netherlands the famous painting of Rembrandt The Night Watch was recreated of a theatrical action of people dressed in 17th-century clothes. The main idea was to announce that Rijksmuseum, a Dutch national museum in Amsterdam is reopening after 10 years of renovation.

What started as a social experiment later become an important tool to express social, political, and cultural ideas, and gave an opportunity to everyone who is interested to participate in this vital global movement.

Flashmob as a Political Act

Since flash mobs had spread through different countries, various initiatives took the idea and used it for their purposes.

In 2013 Members of the European Parliament together with an activist Eve Ensler initiated a flash mob, which was dedicated to ending violence against women. This particular flashmob encouraged others to organize flash mobs not only in Brussels but in other places too.

Another famous flashmob also appeared in 2015 in Kyiv, when a crowd of Ukrainian people together at the same moment fall down and lay on the ground for one minute.

The idea was to show how many people suffer and died during the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Both countries are still participating in the military actions against each other, so peaceful reflection of those events could send a very powerful message to the world.

In 2019, during the protests in Hong Kong, demonstrators used a flashmob technique - they popped in different locations in small groups because that allowed them to disappear quickly when police came to act against the protesters. They also made flashmobs during which they sang symbolic resistance songs.

How Do Flashmobs Make People Feel ?
How Do Flashmobs Make People Feel ?

Flashmobs have become increasingly popular in recent years, due to their ability to create an intense feeling of community and togetherness. In a world that is often filled with negativity and division, flashmobs provide a moment of positivity and unity that can be truly exhilarating. For many people, taking part in a flashmob is an opportunity to let loose and have fun without worrying about the judgement of others. It is also a way to connect with complete strangers in a meaningful way.

While some people may see flashmobs as "annoying" or "disruptive," there is no doubt that they can also be powerful experiences that leave participants feeling happy and connected. In a time when so many of us are feeling isolated and alone, flashmobs offer a moment of joy and community that is hard to come by.

What Are Some of the Risks Associated With Participating in or Organizing a Flashmob?

While flashmobs can be great fun and a creative way to bring people together, there are some risks associated with them. First and foremost, because they are often unplanned and spontaneous, it can be difficult to control the size and makeup of the group. This can lead to problems if the crowd becomes too large or unmanageable, or if participants become rowdy or disruptive. Additionally, flashmobs can sometimes cause public property damage if things get out of hand. Finally, because they are often organized online and through social media, there is always the possibility that someone with malicious intent could use a flashmob as a cover for criminal activity.

How can these be mitigated or avoided altogether?

To avoid these risks, it is important to plan ahead as much as possible and to be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want the flashmob to accomplish, and be sure to choose a safe location that will not be disruptive to others. If possible, try to limit the size of the group by asking people to RSVP in advance. Finally, make sure to have a designated leader or organizers who can keep an eye on things and make sure everything stays under control.

Thank you for reading this article about flashmobs. If you have seen or been a part of any flashmobs and you'd like to share your experience, please mention it in the comments below.


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About David Fox

David Fox is an artist who created to talk about art and creativity. He loves to write, paint, and take pictures. David is also a big fan of spending time with his family and friends.

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