As the Class of 2014 experiences reading period for the first time, many students find themselves struggling with the stresses of impending finals. Cognizant of the generally tense atmosphere, members of Freshman Seminar 36s: “Movement and Meaning: Dance, Culture, and Identity in the 20th Century” decided to take a unique approach to their final project. All 15 members collaborated in putting together a surprise flash mob dance in Annenberg Hall yesterday at 12:20pm in the hopes of “[using] creativity as a medium to reach out to people around us,” says Akshay M. Sharma ’14, one student in the class. “I hope that our message to break out of the monotony of studying that is bogging all of us down not only reaches the people who we asked to participate, but those who were able to gain a smile out of our shenanigans.”
This is the first time that an entire class taking the “Movement and Meaning” seminar decided to work together on a creative final project. Professor Jessica C. Berson finds this initiative thrilling. “It's exactly the sort of risky, innovative learning that the Freshman Seminar Program seeks to encourage,” she says. “Flash mobs are a relatively recent underground community performance form, and have been used for social and political activism as well as inciting general good will. It's great to see Harvard students use this new idiom to stake a claim for dance in such a visible public forum.”
Throughout the seminar, the students explored a variety of dance genres ranging from ballet to break dance to contact improvisation. Simpler elements were taken from these dance forms in the creation of the flash mob choreography. “We wanted to send a message of relaxation and having fun during reading period, and having that direction was key in—and very helpful for—our choreography,” says Shira B. Kogan ’14. “Another important consideration was making sure that the moves are full of energy, and are easy enough for people, especially non-dancers, to learn in a short period of time… We also wanted to make it so that if people wanted to, they could potentially catch on and join the flash mob even if they were not originally a part of it.”
In fact, not only did approximately 100 freshmen gather together in this surprise flash mob, several Annenberg staff workers even joined in on the creative project. Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 and other university officials were also in attendance. Dingman seemed impressed with the performance; he “thought the student organizers did an awesome job (as did the Annenberg staff) and was glad that the freshmen had a chance to kick back and appreciate one another,” he wrote in an email.
Support from outside the class helped to encourage the students. Paula M. Maouyo ’14 says, “I was initially concerned about how feasible it would be, but thankfully we've gotten really encouraging responses both from the administration and from participating students.”
Planning the flash mob, however, was not completely smooth sailing. In addition to recruiting all of the flash mob participants and creating accessible choreography, the class had to make several attempts to receive permission from the Freshman Dean’s Office (FDO) to use Annenberg for their project and legitimize it as an academic endeavor. “I feel unbelievably privileged to have the opportunity to use Annenberg as a venue, because the FDO does not allow any student groups to perform there,” says Michael Lai ’14. “In terms of getting FDO permission... Dean Dingman said the FDO senior staff had brought up the flash mob in a meeting and loved the idea but decided against giving us permission, because they were afraid it would open a Pandora's box for other student organizations to perform in Annenberg. I was adamant that Annenberg would be the ideal venue; he asked me to submit a proposal if I really thought I had a case to make. The rest is history.”
Members of the freshman seminar hope that the flash mob will bring a happier, lighter mood to reading period this year. They believe that this flash mob will also serve as an illustration of how dance can serve a greater purpose in uniting students from all backgrounds through art.
—Staff writer Soyoung Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.