Late last June Julie saw an article in the local afternoon paper about a group organising a Flash Mob to appear as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival in September and October. The article showed about 20 people from Yarra Trams rehearsing a dance. We really enjoyed video of the Sound of Music Flash Mob at Central Station Antwerp so we decided to get involved.
Called Crowd Play, it is the Fringe Festival’s large-scale arts project for people of all ages, types, sizes and inclinations. We both fitted into one or more of those categories, so we went along to our first rehearsal the following Saturday. I dialyse Saturday mornings’ from 6:45am until around 10am, and after it, I usually meet Julie for coffee, have a quiet lunch and maybe do a little shopping in the afternoon. Nothing strenuous.
All that changed. Our first rehearsal was in the auditorium of 3RRR, a community radio station in bohemian Brunswick. There were about 30 people there, mostly young, energetic and flexible, and there was us, over 50, enthusiastic but creaky. The dance goes for seven minutes and involves lots of arm swinging, leg kicking, chicken walking, wiggling, falling down and getting up again and even a Mexican Wave.
They began by working through each step, showing how it is done, then practicing it, then showing the transition to the next step, practicing that, then the next step and so on. After about 5 steps, we would rehearse what we learned so far; have a break and move on. It was great fun. I realised two things very early. Coordinated movement was not my strong point and it takes me a lot longer than I thought to turn through 360 degrees.
But who cares? The idea of Crowd play is to have all kinds dancing. It’s not a professional group, it’s just a crowd of people suddenly bursting into dance! Not quite making the turn, or forgetting that first leg kick is half the fun.
By the end of the 1.5hr practice, we were hot, thirsty, tired and well on the way to knowing the first third of the dance. It only struck me after the session that I had completely forgotten that I had dialysed just 3 hrs before.
For the next three months, we practiced every Saturday: a couple more times at the radio station, once in a breakout room at the Melbourne Museum in Carlton and then at the Blue Circus Studios in Fitzroy, below the ropes and trapeze. The venues were an adventure in themselves.
Meanwhile, other groups were practicing on other days, at similar public venues or at their workplaces (like Yarra Trams), where a Crowd Play ambassador would go to them to teach the dance. In all about 500 people signed up.
Eventually, we learned all the steps (sort of), and at about the same time it was all of a sudden only a week to go before our first performance. Three were planned, all on Wednesdays at 1:30pm in inner city locations, kept secret until the day before.
Our practices then became Large Group Rehearsals, held in the evening at the old Meat Market in North Melbourne. About 80 turned up when we went on the Monday before our first Wednesday outing, and it was a real buzz with so many people dancing together.
In addition to the dance, there’s singing. At the start of each performance a band called The Bandits, formed from people with intellectual disabilities, gradually gathers together and sings Dancing in the Dark. Neither of us can sing for nuts, so we didn’t go to those practices.
Now all we had to do was wait until Tuesday when we would receive an email with the first location. It arrived just after lunch. Our first appearance was at Flagstaff Gardens, right on the edge of the CBD to the north of the city. There were also instructions:
On the day, arrive no more than a few minutes before the performance. Dress inconspicuously, but comfortably for dancing and singing, and only bring a bag if you can dance with it! We won’t have anywhere to store bags and we’d hate you to lose track of it.
There will be a “busker” with a guitar who will start singing with The Bandits – when they get to that first chorus, then everybody else join in! The dance will follow the song.
At the end, remember to hold the final pose for a few seconds.
There will be media – both photos and video cameras there. Afterwards, some might approach you to get your thoughts on being a part of this great event.
Naturally, we messaged everyone we knew and invited them along. So much for an unsuspecting public.
Wednesday afternoon arrived and Julie and I met around 1pm near the Gardens. We walked up to where it was happening to check out the lay of the land. We saw a few other familiar faces, then left. In the interim, a range of our relatives and friends arrived and set up camp.
About 15 minutes before “D” minute, we went back to the gardens and nonchalantly stood around, in direct contravention to the rules. It’s hard to look casual when you are nervous.
Finally, the singing started and we moved forward. Within 5 minutes about 200 of us became a genuine Flash Mob, dancing in front of a (mostly) astonished crowd. We moved as one, more or less – I remembered most moves, but still couldn’t get those 360 turns right. But it was great fun – what a buzz! The audience clapped and hooted when we finished and Julie and I and every other dancer couldn’t stop smiling.
Our next performance was outside the Melbourne Museum during school holidays. There were about 250 of us there, and a bigger crowd. It was just as big a buzz.
Our last appearance is next Wednesday. It will be a bitter-sweet moment, at least until next year!
Who says you can’t enjoy life on BigD?