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How to reach 55,000 people in a single weekend

Flash mob surprises, entertains at Dulles Town Center

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May 22nd, 2012

It started off small. A few women stepped out in front of the Starbucks in the center court of the Dulles Town Center, in Sterling, Va. Next, a few more women and two men joined them. Within seconds, almost 30 men and women spontaneously began dancing as the music of Outasight s debut single, Tonight Is the Night, filled the air. It was official. A flash mob had begun. The participants all live at Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va. And in the two days following the flash mob, more than 55,000 people viewed a video of the event on YouTube.

A fresh idea

It all began a few months ago, explains Jessica McKay, the public affairs manager at Ashby Ponds. We were discussing ways in which this vibrant and very active community could share what they have and who they are with the local community. And we thought, what about a flash mob? Flash mobs occur when a group of people appears in one location unexpectedly and usually puts on some sort of rehearsed performance. Most flash mobs are recorded and posted on the YouTube website to be viewed by interested parties all over the world. The first flash mobs were created in Manhattan in 2003 by Bill Wasik, senior editor ofHarper s Magazine. More than 130 people converged upon the ninth floor rug department of the Macy s department store, gathering around an expensive rug. Subsequently, 200 people flooded the lobby and mezzanine of the Hyatt hotel in synchronized applause for about 15 seconds, and a shoe boutique in SoHo was invaded by participants pretending to be tourists on a bus trip. In an interview withThe New York Times, Wasik claimed, the mobs started as a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity and big gatherings to temporarily take over commercial and public areas simply to show that they could.

Professional help

To help create their own flash mob, McKay contacted the Arthur Murray Dance Center in Ashburn for help with the choreography. Dance instructor Jade Salazar worked with almost 30 residents for two months in preparation for the event. We are happy to be a part of this fun event, says Salazar. It s a great way to celebrate the people at Ashby Ponds as well as marking the 100th anniversary of Arthur Murray. As soon as I heard about the flash mob, I volunteered, says Ashby Ponds community member Maryann Mintzer. Having seen many on the Internet, I thought it was a great idea, and I wanted to be a participant. I can t wait for my family to see the performance on YouTube.

Supportive community

With the support of the Dulles Town Center, Ashby Ponds prepared for the big day. Many of us feel that by participating we are, in some way, showing the fun we have at Ashby Ponds, says participant Phyllis Lynne. When the day arrived, community members and staff came in droves to support their neighbors. It is very exciting, says Sales Manager Lyn Lubic. I love that we are able to show what this community can do. Even a dead car battery couldn t keep community members Jan and Ron Aronson from coming out to support their friends. This is wonderful and so much fun to watch, says Jan.

Let the fun begin

With the music filling the mall, the Ashby Ponds dancers showcased their practiced moves. The smiles on their faces mirrored those of the many people watching the mob. Mothers with small children, department store employees, and even television video crews spent more than three minutes enthralled by the group s efforts. And then, in typical flash mob tradition, it ended as quickly as it began. I think we showed off the fun-ability and enthusiasm of our community, says Carl Hemmer. We ve been told that the mall would like us to come back and do another flash mob during the holidays, says his wife Pat. You know, I think I will, says Carl. At my age [80], I ll do anything I enjoy again! Note: The Ashby Ponds flash mob performance can be seen on Erickson Living s Facebook page (facebook.com/ericksonliving) or on YouTube (youtube.com/watch?v=OUh9soR_B0k).

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