How dancing made us human

I have the invaluable blessing of working beside my wife, Sandra.  Although we both are certified EFL teachers, in our morning jobs we work in different departments (I am a Math teacher, while she teaches History) for the same high school.  Luckily, however, we get to see each other at work a lot. We usually share ideas, and now that our school is into technology application as a resource for teaching, we have found that our subjects can be even more related than we thought, for we can use the same technological aids to enhance our practice. This is how everything got started.

It was just an idea. Nothing more. Once, in the midst of recess, while I was browsing Youtube videos in the teachers’ lounge, waiting for my next class to come, I bumped into one of those Flash Mobs that have been made most famous on the net. I have to say I do not remember which video it was that I saw first. It could have been the one where Oprah gets all surprised by both the crowd and the Black Eyed Peas, or the one in which another crowd at an airport gets all jiggly after a bunch of people start dancing out of nowhere. I’m not sure. The most likely one must have been The Big Bang Theory’s Flash Mob. But from there, I kept on browsing a bit more from the related videos that the Youtube App suggested, and it was then that the idea came to me, and that a simple utterance of it would unchain its incredible way to further completion. “We should do this some day,” I said softly to Sandra, handing her the iPad for her to take a look at the videos. As she watched, she asked what I meant with we. “We, teachers.” I replied.  “We should do it before this generation leaves.”  It was the end of April, and classes would come to a closing at the end of May.

The idea remained in my wife’s mind.  And so much did it stay, that after a brief, almost unplanned Harlem Shake video that some teachers and administrative staff (including us) made just for kicks, she brought up the idea to two of them (good friends of ours) when I was not present.  So, now the idea had spread.  And they wanted it carried out immediately.  So, they later made me go with the director of the school to tell her what was in our minds.  And it was right then, when we made it somewhat formal, that I really thought it had to be done.  For it was good.

Now, I must repeat this:  I am both a Math and an EFL teacher.  This would usually mean that the best of my abilities stand out while on a sedentary fashion inside a classroom.  And, regarding our little project, well…  I have to say the best of my dancing literally blossoms only while I am sitting.  For real!  My wife loves watching me dance specially when my butt is attached to a seat, since, from the waist up, I do have my moves.  However, when I stand to dance, my full body coordination goes right through the drain.  Dancing is just one of those things that I will barely be able to perform with a glimpse of grace, even after a lot of practice.

Nevertheless, the seed had been planted, and my very own hidden enterprising person came out thanks to it.  And I knew what had to be done.  And the word was simple:  Resources.  Being our high school inside a university campus, we did have dance teachers, we did have spaces where we could practice without getting spotted by students, and there always was the internet where we could easily obtain choreography tutorials to the songs we would choose.  So, first of all, I talked to the person in charge of the Cultural Diffusion Department of our school, so she would contact her teachers to find out who could support us.

Once this was done, a general email to all the teachers in our high school was in place.  I thought this would be the tricky part, since ages, likes and convictions as for what good education really is varies from one head to the next.  Fortunately, we got a great response.  Teachers got genuinely involved, and, in a matter of only a few days, the teachers’ lounge became a gleeful conspiracy haven.  Many wanted to contribute.  Many others gave ideas, and shared what they had seen on the net.  Some of them would not dance, but they definitely would support.  At least they would not tell our secret to students.

From then on, I had only one meeting with the initial team.  We chose the songs we would dance, we even chose the tutorials from internet for everyone to see them at home, we gathered ideas we had heard, set a rehearsal schedule with the dance teachers and sent it to every teacher in our school, and set a date for our flash mob to be carried out.  It got even more official, and got to be 24/7, when we created the Facebook closed group (with a non-dancing related name) that would unite our efforts.  We knew there would probably be some changes to every part of the plan, since there are no plans that go unchanged along the way, but we knew that it would be worth doing.

The first rehearsal was more than challenging.  However, our dance teachers (we had two!  One on Fridays and one on Saturdays.) were graceful enough to enlarge their patience to probably the greatest extent.  You would have to consider that, with some exceptions, regular teachers, who are taking Master’s Degrees, or are fond of academic research, or are just too busy developing curricula, or just preparing their classes, are not necessarily fit for heavy dancing workout.  There were complaints, there were expressions of muscular pain, but, believe me, after a bit of endorphin release, everyone was happy.  It was hard.  But the challenge had been accepted.

There was a major issue going on too: Our numbers.  Despite the great response, we were too few at first.  Some teachers were not really pleased with that.  Luckily, word spread out, and we heard that other departments wanted in:  The IT Department (Yes, the ones that are behind computers), and most administrative staff.  So they were welcome.  I sent them the tutorials, they were added to the closed group, and we even recorded ourselves dancing, so that they could see what we were doing.  And the spirit carried on.  

Now, here comes the real magic of the whole concept:  It made us happy.  And it did so, because we were learning something totally new to some, but definitely, to all of us, transcendent in many ways.  English teachers, Spanish teachers, Math teachers, administrative staff, IT service staff, department chiefs, Science teachers, people from all departments were working together, with a single purpose, rehearsing with a unified objective.  Most of us were driven by the idea of giving our students a memory that would stand out from our day-to-day contact in the classroom.  Some of us took it also as the exercise we neglected during the semester.  Some of us did it just to dance.  There was one English teacher, Jill, who said participating in a flash mob and dancing Michael Jackson’s Thriller were two things she had long ago written down on her bucket list.  She could now cross those two out!  And, as we sweat while we learned our steps, we became ready.

Secrecy made it even more fun, and the logistics of the whole process were now on everyone’s minds.  One of our dance teachers, George, came up with the idea of bringing props for the last two songs.  So, we had to wear masks to Thriller, and sunglasses to PSY’s Gangnam Style.  Sunglasses were easy to get, so this meant we had to get masks if we didn’t have any, in late May, still far away from Halloween.  So, some of us had to build our own, once again, seeing tutorials from Youtube on how to make gory masks.  As if learning the steps was not hard enough, now we had to make our costumes.  And as happily we did so, we realized that the most interesting angle of this was that, in fact, we were learning.  Personally, I can say that I got to admire what actual professional artists go through as they develop their creative designs.  

I have to admit the first time we did it didn’t go as well as we thought it would.  It was really good, but there was a problem with the sound system, and the music didn’t come out right which brought some confusion upon us dancers, and a full stop between songs.  Nonetheless, everyone was so devoted to the idea, that even with that setback on top of us, we all stayed put while the sound was getting fixed.  In the end, the main objective was attained:  To surprise our students.  To let them see their teachers and service providers at school as something other than that.  Students got so excited, that later on that day the president of the Student Board asked us to do it again, with a fully-functional sound system, on the following day, which was the last day of classes.  So, I contacted everyone through our facebook group, and EVERYONE was ready to go, once again.  That last time came out just right.

I must say that this simple experience changed us.  It changed our views upon what teaching and learning are, for we became learners inasmuch as we were preparing for our final presentation.  It brought us together.  It made us human, not only to students’ eyes, but to our very own.  If happiness had wrapped the teachers’ lounge before the event happened, you can imagine what it was like after it was finally completed.  Big smiles, laughter, radiant looks, and shiny people.  Some of us were left thinking what life would be like if students had permanent access to this type of joy when achieving their own assignments and tasks.  Even in meetings now, two months later, our Flash Mob keeps on being brought up by teachers when innovation and entrepreneurship are in the order of the day.