August 6, 2013

Dancing mob catches Saco campers by surprise

By Karen Antonacci kantonacci@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

SACO — Kayla Stewart, 25, ducked lower behind a yellow school bus and laughed nervously as the opening notes of a Fall Out Boy song blared over the speakers Monday.

click image to enlarge

Flash mob volunteers perform a dance at Funtown in Saco on Monday, August 5, 2013 for campers from Camp Modin, which is in Belgrade. The flash mob performance was part of the camp's "Color War," where campers divide into red and blue teams for various competitions during the last week of camp.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Then, on her cue, the Windham resident and 125 other volunteers sprang from their hiding places, joining in on a surprise mass dance performance for about 385 summer campers.

Camp Modin, located in Belgrade, is a Jewish summer camp for children ages 7 to 16. Co-owner and director Howard Salzburg said every summer the camp staff tries to come up with an extravagant and unexpected way to celebrate the beginning of Color War, a summer camp tradition in which the children are divided into red and blue teams and compete against each other in sports and other events.

Campers know the official Color War kickoff can happen at any time and that it will be a big event, but not much else. To announce the beginning of Color War in past years, Camp Modin has employed ice skaters, professional jousters and, last year, a circus.

This year, the campers spent the day at Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco, unaware that more than 120 people were rehearsing a dance for them at XL Sports World Saco.

"The kids are just going to be so shocked and they are not going to be expecting it at all," Salzburg said. "The other night we even had a fireworks event that served as a sort of fake break or false start, just to kind of fake them out."

As the 385 campers and 180 staff members exited Funtown and headed back toward the parking lot, a small group of professional dancers dressed as security guards intercepted them and started dancing to The Black Eyed Peas song "Pump It." More professional dancers and volunteer Mainers joined in until there were about 30 dancers.

But as the song wound down, the campers were in for yet another surprise. The dancers led them to a grassy area where another group of professional dancers started performing a routine to Fall Out Boy's "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)," including back flips and break dancing.

But the surprises still weren't over. A third of the way through the song, Stewart and the other volunteer dancers poured out from their hiding places, performing the choreography they had been rehearsing since Sunday.

"It was awesome," Stewart said after participating in the flash mob. "It was absolutely worth it, every second of it was fun."

While the performance lasted about three minutes, the flash mob took months of planning on the part of Camp Modin and the California-based Flash Mob America, a for-profit company that organizes the volunteers and professional dancers.

Camp Modin staff started contacting the necessary companies, including Flash Mob America, Funtown and transportation and production firms, about five months ago, Salzburg said.

A flash mob of the scale of Monday's costs anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000, said Conroe Brooks, co-owner of Flash Mob America. While Salzburg declined to give the exact price of Monday's entire production, he put the cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. A summer session at Camp Modin costs $10,950 per child.

"(The event production) costs a lot of money but it makes people happy, and the camping industry brings people and money into Maine," Salzburg said. "The sound, the lighting, the transportation is all handled by Portland companies."

One of Flash Mob America's biggest responsibilities is gathering the volunteer dancers who fill out the background of a mob and give it a feeling of epic proportions both in person and on camera. It starts by getting the word out, through email blasts and social media.

Stewart found out about the Saco event from a Flash Mob America email. She had signed up for the emails more than a year ago after seeing videos of the company's work online.

"I just thought 'I need to be a part of that,'" said Stewart, a pharmaceutical student at the University of New England. "And then it was just waiting and waiting. I saw them do one in San Francisco and in D.C. ... Then I saw they were doing one in Maine, so I called my sister and my mom and said, 'We're doing this.'"

Karen Antonacci can be contacted at 791-6377 or at:

kantonacci@pressherald.com

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