'Flash-mobbers' do the rush-hour waltz as new craze of mobile clubbing moves into Britain

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The Independent Online

Rush hour at one of London's busiest stations: Tired commuters jostle for space at the turnstiles while others gaze at the information boards. Is this a typical journey home from the office? Not quite. In the midst of the bustle, something is happening that clearly does not involve commuters waiting morosely for the 7.19pm to Dartford.

Rush hour at one of London's busiest stations: Tired commuters jostle for space at the turnstiles while others gaze at the information boards. Is this a typical journey home from the office? Not quite. In the midst of the bustle, something is happening that clearly does not involve commuters waiting morosely for the 7.19pm to Dartford.

At 6.58pm precisely, dozens of individuals dotted around the concourse at Victoria station, each wearing headphones, begin to dance. Lost in their private musical world, they all bop happily on the spot to their heart's content. Welcome to the world of mobile clubbing, the latest underground, and somewhat surreal, movement taking hold in the capital.

Devised by the artists Emma Davis and Ben Cummins, the movement involves mobilising people with Walkmans to a busy commuter station at rush hour. By dancing alone to their favourite tunes in an unlikely environment, the event aims to challenge perceptions of public space while inspiring people to let their hair down.

"It's a club and it's free and it plays your favourite tunes," Davis, 27, from Epping, Essex, said. "It changes the face of stations and inspires people to dance. It may sound crazy, but it's actually quite liberating."

Preparations for last night's event involved the issuing of anonymous military-style instructions to a growing band of devotees via e-mail. Announcing the setting as Victoria station at 6.58pm, the instructions read: "Turn up at exact time, bring your own personal stereo/radio. Stick on your favourite tunes and dance for as long as you like.

"While dancing, remember you are an individual commuter who fancies a little boogie before heading home, so please refrain from dancing with others. Don't worry clubbers, you will be one of many."

And at precisely two minutes before 7pm, there are signs that the mobile clubbing event is underway. Pink ra-ra skirts, yellow leg-warmers and Hoxton fin haircuts were among the tell-tale signs that something was on the move among the commuters.

"I quite like the idea of dancing outside Burger King," said Ben Cummins, as he prepared to listen to a tape of Bulgarian wedding music.

At the appointed time, the brightly dressed group of several dozen dancers dispersed among the crowd, put their headphones in place and began to dance. The reaction of commuters was mixed. Some stopped and stared, others tapped them on the shoulder to inquire what they thought they were doing, while the minority ignored them.

"I was convinced they were selling something at first - possibly headphones," said the besuited Paul Harding, a 43-year-old network analyst from Camberwell, south London. "I've been commuting through this station for seven years and I've never seen anything like it. I think it's quite amusing, and I've just phoned someone to tell them about it."

Mobile clubbing is the latest in a series of movements involving the seemingly random convergence of strangers in a public location. It follows in the footsteps of the global phenomenon of "flash mobbing", a movement that was pioneered in New York. Mobilised by instructions issued by e-mail and text messages, large numbers of flash mobbers gather at a specific time in a specific location to conduct bizarre and anarchic activities before dispersing.

The mobile clubbing concept came from a passion for dancing shared byDavis and Cummins, 31, from Greenwich. Last night's dance session was the ninth mobile clubbing event to have taken place since the movement was launched nine months ago.

The first attracted mostly the founders' closest friends, resulting in 20 people "feeling a little bit embarrassed" as they danced for 15 minutes at Liverpool Street station. But, as word of the new event spread, the number of devotees snowballed. At a previous event, at London Bridge, about 60 dancers came out, outnumbering the commuters around them, and remained dancing for 90 minutes.

"It's basically spread by word-of-mouth and it's still very much underground," said Davis. "It's great because you get different reactions from people. Some people looking on with their Walkmans seem really unsure about whether they should join in or not. Others have started breakdancing. We have had 50-something ladies dancing away and entire families with young children, too."

Each event has been filmed and the result is being screened in galleries, clubs and festivals across the country.

Like flash mobbing and in contrast to "happenings" in the Sixties, mobile clubbing is not about a specific ideology. The organisers say that the events defy categorisation as either performance art or social engineering, aiming instead to simply provide pleasure.

"It's something we talked about for years during brainstorming sessions in the pub," Davis said. "No one smiles in stations. It's basically a way of getting people to interact and inspiring everyone else to dance. It's not really performance art. It's making people aware of their surroundings. It's actually quite nerve-wracking, dancing on your own for the first time. But it's also quite liberating. It's a real buzz."

Her words were echoed by one anonymous mobile clubber, who posted a graphic description of his first event on the internet. "This was raw. There was no night, no unison (except in self-awareness). No way to defuse one's silent twitching with a laugh/ joke/anecdote/ drink. It was an awkward, slippery affair that made me think about the mechanical factors of a good night out. And watching pop videos with sound off."

While the future of mobile clubbing remains to be seen, the scene at Victoria yesterday made one thing clear: clubbing and commuting may not be mutually exclusive after all.

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