Flash mob delights shoppers and diners in downtown Silver Spring
Montgomery students learn managerial, organizational skills while arranging performance
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This story was corrected on April 6, 2011. An explanation follows the story.
The young couple stopped abruptly in the middle of Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring, twisting angrily to face one another head-on.
Their quarreling words swelled to such a volume that passersby slowed to stare at the intensely public personal affair best suited for the privacy of closed doors.
And then the beat dropped.
Hip-hop music blared from downtown speakers while the disputing pair broke apart and began to dance. Other duos who moments ago seemed to number among the Friday evening dinner crowd hopped up from benches and swayed into the mix, until about 50 bodies moved in nearly perfect unison among confused and delighted bystanders.
The flash mob, a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place to perform briefly and then disperse, was organized by students in the Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent's Leadership Program. The competitively selected students participating in the program demonstrate outstanding leadership, academic excellence, and uncommon maturity within their schools and communities, and participate in a 15-hour-per-week internship.
Students were asked to organize the flash mob because it teaches managerial and leadership skills, as well as the art of persuasion, said Kim Jones, program director. The 16 students in the program needed to rally friends together to participate in the event.
"It's not easy to get people to sign on to do something so public," Jones said. "One of the things that I wanted to see was whether they could motivate each other to do something a little bit fun and out in public, but also motivate others that they knew to come and do something that they would get no reward for."
Students in the program hail from 14 different county high schools, and take only three or four classes instead of seven, Jones said. They spend the remaining time participating in an internship and seminars, for which they receive credit, she said. All of the 150 students who have gone through the program over its 10-year existence went to college, she said. Only two needed to withdraw for financial reasons, she said.
Two seniors, Ruth Vassilas, 18, who attends Rockville High School in Rockville, and Ted Sim, 17, who attends Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, took the helm of organizing the flash mob.
"[Ted] pretty much became the team leader and helped to bring in other volunteers who could help with the steps," Jones said. "He worked pretty closely with the folks in downtown Silver Spring to get access to the [public address] system."
And the two worked together to formulate a story line for the flash mob and decide on staging a fight.
"We both clicked on this idea," Vassilas said. "Ted and I just decided we'd make a huge scene to get everyone's attention."
Having never danced before, Vassilas recruited her three best friends from the Rockville High School cheerleading team to put together some dance moves and help teach participants. Organizing everyone's schedules for practice and teaching the dance moves proved the biggest challenge, Vassilas said.
And Sim said he went to great lengths to insure all the dancers knew the moves, noting that because participants live all over the county, not all could make every practice.
"I'd drive to wherever they were and I'd meet them at the nearest parking lot," Sim said.
A sight to behold: two teenagers in the IHOP parking lot in Rockville, moving and grooving to a car radio. All to guarantee a successful flash mob.
One practice in Sim's basement resulted in a visit from the police who thought the students were having a party, Sim said. The police said party, Sim said flash mob, and the law enforcement officials cracked up. Another rehearsal involved 20 students learning dance moves in a field.
"People driving by see a bunch of people dancing badly," Sim said.
But the final result of two months of practice made the event worth it, both Vassilas and Sim agreed.
When the mix of four hip- hop songs ended Friday, the students dispersed among the shoppers and diners on Ellsworth Avenue, disappearing into the evening as quickly as they'd come.
And then exhausted and exuberant, the students regrouped, sharing hugs, laughs and congratulatory high-fives after drawing smiles and applause from people who witnessed the unexpected and delightful event.
"It felt fantastic," Sim said.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly spelled Ruth Vassilas's last name.