Have you ever seen students wearing underwear in Olin, raiding the lawn of the President’s house, or dancing fiercely in a random space only to disperse abruptly minutes later? If so, you are one of the lucky ones to have witnessed the outward signs of the long-standing University tradition known as flash parties.
What exactly constitutes a “flash party” is subject to debate, particularly among seniors who experienced the phenomenon during its heyday their freshman year.
“A flash party is a party that lasts from 10 to 15 minutes at a designated location, and then disperses,” said Kate Heller ’09, who participated in the parties several years ago.
Emily House ’09, a long-standing advocate of and participant in the tradition, has a different definition.
“We call them flash experiences,” she said. “A party or a dance can happen anytime. Flash is something bigger. It comes from within.”
Flash parties, by House’s definition, have happened anytime—and anywhere.
The first flash party Xue Sun ’08 heard of was held in September 2003 at the intersection of High Street and Lawn Avenue.
“It was either wildly successful or wildly disastrous, because the cops came and a bunch of kids got arrested,” Sun said.
In 2007, the flash party contingent struck again—this time in the backyard of former University President Doug Bennett. The participants received an email giving them the time and place from a group known as the Lightening Society.
“Right as we showed up a shadowy guy dove through the bushes, dropped off a 60-rack of PBR and a stereo, and ran away,” Sun said. “Not that many people came out but we got some free beer out of it.”
The Lightening Society, the spelling of which intentionally deviates from lightning—allegedly to convey a desire to “lighten” up the campus—began in the fall of 2006 in response to a chalking ban enacting by the administration. Inspiring student rebellion against this ban, not organizing flash parties, was the primary focus of the group.
It was two groups, the Boogie Club and Salad Club, which took the lead in orchestrating the flash parties.
House and Aliza Simons ’09 were both recruited to Salad Club prior to their freshman year after they expressed interest in dance on a Wesleyan Live Journal. In 2005, they were the only two students to be members of both flash party organizations. They both recognize that the two clubs—which shared a bitter rivalry—were distinctly different.
“Boogie Club was a public dance club that met every Saturday at three for cookies and milk and would go out and dance publicly around campus, but Salad Club was a secret flash dance society,” Simons said.
She recalls participating in Boogie dances, which were advertised by open e-mails and text messages, in front of Davenport, the old campus center, in Zilkha Gallery and on Andrus field. The Boogie events often had a dual purpose: to bring together students to dance and to unite around a common cause.
“We had protests against really important things, like the fact that they’re digging up all these dinosaur burial sites and putting what they find in museums,” said Simons.
The Salad Club was a closed group of twenty-five to thirty students in 2005 and 2006. They advertised covertly, leaving coded messages in chalk on certain sidewalks, and performed ritualistic salad sacrifices before their dances. Their meetings occurred in enclosed locations such as the basement of Olin and the top of Downey House.
“Once we hid in the stacks in the library, and when all the lights were turned off, we came downstairs and flashed hardcore for five minutes,” recalled House. “That’s why it was more of a secret society status. We were doing it for us, because we were the only ones that mattered.”
According to Simons and House, membership to both clubs began to decline in 2007. Neither club exists today.
“We let in a couple people [to Salad Club] who didn’t take it seriously enough and that swayed the entire vibe of the group,” House said. “The Boogie Club kind of just died off.”
This year, the two seniors have been trying to resurrect the lost tradition of flash parties. Simons has organized three dancing events that blend the styles of The Boogie Club and Salad Club.
“I decided to revoke the secrecy of Salad Club, so people know who I am, but I think because there are less people and it’s just me, it’s harder to organize a lot of people,” Simons said.
Nick Petrie ’12 was one of the recipients of Simons’ text in December of 2008 that read “WesShop—Dancing.” For ten minutes, he and about 25 other students danced along to 90’s music hits in the small hallway adjoining WestCo 1 and WeShop.
“A friend described it as a sexual-free dance party,” Petrie said. “It put me in a good mood for the rest of that day and the next day.”
With Simons and House graduating this May, however, other students will have to take the initiative if these dance parties are going to continue.
“Anybody can make a flash dance happen,” Simmons said. “That’s the beauty and the wonder of this thing we call flash.”