Sept. 16 was just another typical day in Stav Hall: Friends were sitting down before the final stretch of weekend homework and happily chatting about the new panini presses. Around 6 p.m., however, the cafeteria was suddenly filled with music. Right on cue, a few students jumped up from their seats and began to dance in the aisle to the song “Gangam Style.” The precision of their movements tied with a seemingly random incident could only mean one thing: a flash mob at St. Olaf College.
Flash mobs are a recent phenomenon where a large group plans to simultaneously break into a coordinated activity at a predetermined time. They have been done to bring awareness to certain groups and causes as well as to simply break the monotony of people’s everyday lives.
These groups of organized spontaneity range from actors singing a song through a grocery store or food court to a group simply freezing for a few minutes to random choreographed dances. They have tested the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior and promoted liberation from worrying about outside judgment.
Flash mobs are heavily influenced by pop culture. Mobs with catchy new songs that are familiar to onlookers have a more personal feel; audience members will not hear the song without being reminded of “that one time.” In this way, the mob has had an effect on the viewer.
“Gangam Style” has gone, to say the least, viral. It has a fan base that includes T-Pain, Katy Perry, Britney Spears and even Tom Cruise. The Korean Pop K-Pop song’s YouTube video has over 49 million views. It has inspired many flash mobs besides St. Olaf’s.
On Sept. 12, a flash mob gathered in Times Square during Good Morning America to perform their version of the dance. “Gangam Style” flash mobs have appeared in Norway, Poland, Germany, Thailand, Sweden, Paraguay, Argentina, Scotland and the Philippines.
The Sept. 16 flash mob was performed by about thirty first-year international students, as well as International Student Counselors, including Bradley Sancken ’15.
The planning process began when a fellow counselor played a catchy song: “Gangam Style.” After briefly mentioning the idea of doing a flash mob to the song, everyone became very excited. They decided to make it work, planning the dance for about three hours in Larson and practicing twice with the international students.
“We thought doing a flash mob with the incoming international students would be a fun activity us counselors could do with them before school got into full swing,” Sancken said. “Also, we wanted to show them how awesome St. Olaf is and what they have to look forward to in the next four years!”
Not only did the flash mob excite new students, but it also promoted a sense of unity. The work that was put in to preparing the dance, as well as practicing and anticipating together, allowed the group of new people to work toward a common goal.
When the day finally came, many of the participants were nervous to dance in front of the entire cafeteria, especially during the rush.
“It felt awesome being able to do an international song/dance in our Caf with the students and counselors,” Sancken said. “I think everyone was a little nervous in the minutes leading up to the moment the music began playing. However, once we started dancing we all just soaked it all up and had a blast with it.”
Of course, the performers weren’t the only ones who had a good time. A video of the event captures some interesting initial reactions of dinner-goers: confusion, whispering to friends, enthusiasm and dropped jaws. When the dance was over, the crowd went wild.
Immediately following the event, the social media networks exploded. Facebook posts excitedly explained what had just transpired for those who weren’t there. iPhone videos of the event describing the “awesome” thing that had just taken place were included. Twitter was abuzz with the opinions of witnesses. The YouTube video of the flash mob received 10,000 views within 48 hours of being posted, and currently has over 23,000 views. It received an enormous amount of positive feedback, including congratulations and even administration excitement.