Puzzled passengers in the Duty Free section of Dubai International Airport were treated to more than a few shopping bargains when a group of women who looked like flight attendants descended an escalator and burst into dance.
Music came over the loudspeakers, bystanders snapped photos, 50 people joined in the dance, and then all of them dispersed in a classic example of a “flash mob”.
“The faces on everyone when we came out, it was absolutely priceless,” said Victoria Shirran, one of the fake flight attendants. “Obviously a lot of them didn’t know what was happening.”
While it may have seemed spontaneous, the performance on October 26 involved four days of rehearsals, months of logistical preparations and corporate sponsorship.
The airport funded the event to promote a new pre-paid credit card, DXB Connect, said James Magee, owner of Global Event Management, a Dubai communications agency. An official video of the performance in Terminal 1 was posted on YouTube on Saturday, and had been viewed more than 7,500 times by last night.
“It was really a teaser campaign to get people talking,” said Mr Magee, who worked with Diverse Choreography, a performing arts agency and school in Dubai, to organise the event.
A flash mob is a seemingly impromptu gathering of people doing unexpected things in public such as freezing in place, pillow-fighting and dancing.
In recent years, corporations have harnessed the phenomenon, planning flash mobs as viral advertising. The Dubai promotion echoed a similar stunt in the Beirut airport this year, when dancers performed a hip-hop version of Lebanon’s national dance to advertise Beirut Duty Free.
The Dubai event took months to plan, partly because of the logistical difficulty of getting 50 dancers past airport security. The organisers had to hold auditions, select music and obtain numerous permissions, Mr Magee said.
“The common misconception with flash mobs is that they just happen,” Mr Magee said. “The successful ones, of course, a huge amount of work goes into them.”
Scott and Lisa Marshall, the husband and wife team behind Diverse Choreography, recruited professional dancers, plus some children from their school.
The performers were almost all based in the UAE, though they come from different countries including the UK, Spain, Lebanon, Morocco and Hungary.
“A lot of them were not actually professional dancers at all,” said Ms Shirran, 29, from Scotland, who teaches at Diverse Choreography. “There were people who do promotions, some models. One of them was a civil engineer. It was all walks of life, and that’s what made it better, because otherwise it looks too staged.”
Scott Marshall choreographed the moves and the dancers did multiple performances on the day of the video.
Despite the long hours, the process was “really good fun”, said Cherry Thurgill, 24, from the UK, who was one of the dancers.
“Flash mobs are my favourite form of gig,” she said. “The energy is always great.”
Ms Thurgill said she was happy with the video, particularly because it captured an audience of men in kanduras holding up mobile phones, confused travellers and smiling pilots.
“It was really nice to have a live reaction,” she said.
To view the video on YouTube go to