Shauna Pratt/Staff Photographer

Wes has a long-standing reputation for promoting social justice, but a brand new student group is putting a fresh spin on this old goal. Members of Economie, founded by Kehan Zhou ’15 and DeNeile Cooper ’15, aim to address this goal through dance. By organizing and choreographing flash mobs centered on social justice issues, Economie is taking the phrase “social justice movement” to a whole new level.

Each semester, Economie plans to coordinate a flash mob that is thematically focused on a specific topic. This semester, the issue at hand is racial equality.

“We are doing our first flash mob on racial equality because in the past year there has been a lot of negative commentary on [the] ACB, and we think negative voices have dominated some of the conversation,” Zhou said. “We want to show support and be a positive voice, so we will dance to songs that promote racial equality.”

Zhou explained the meaning behind Economie’s name, which comes from the French word for “economics.”

“To us, dance is similar to economics,” he said. “For people who don’t understand it, it is deep and intangible, but once you get to know it better, the beauty and the intrinsic logic are very clear. Economics and dance represent the rules that reside in our lives, but we don’t always recognize them and often misunderstand them. By using the name Economie, we target two groups of people—dancers and economists—and try to develop a connection between them.”

The founders of Economie believe that dance is an ideal way to communicate feelings and ideas while serving as an accessible outlet for performers and viewers alike. Zhou, who is a dance major, is especially interested in the concept of dancing for a purpose.

“Last summer, I saw a flash mob by Ohio State University to the song ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’” Zhou said. “You [could] feel the positive energy of what they were doing. I thought we should use that energy to promote a cause we really care about.”

He shared this idea with Cooper, and the two collaborated over Winter Break to bring Economie to life.

“[Zhou] told me about it because he knew that I loved dance, too, and thought it was something I would be interested in,” Cooper said. “Since Winter Break, we’ve held several meetings, trying to recruit people and get our numbers up because obviously, if you have a flash mob, you need as many people as you can get.”

Economie has already done a  number of mini-flash mobs. During one of these events, the group froze simultaneously on the path between the Allbritton Center and Usdan, with each participant striking a pose with an umbrella.

“[Flash mobs like these] are more to just attract initial attention to the group,” Cooper said.

Economie is already generating considerable interest on campus; there are always new students at their weekly meetings. The founders are hoping to get faculty and staff involved as well.

“We’ve got a professor who’s interested already, and we’re trying to get more, because I think that would be really cool,” Cooper said.

Now that the group has begun establishing its presence on campus, the main focus will be on the first large-scale flash mob in April. This event will occur during WesFest and will be staged in a large public space on campus. Cooper said that Economie has yet to put together the song and dance, but when it does, the routine will be readily accessible to anyone who wants to participate. The leaders of Economie emphasized that the moves will be simple and easy to follow.

“We will videotape [Zhou] and me doing the choreography to the song and put it on different places on the Internet so it’s publicly accessible [for people who want to participate],” Cooper said.  “We’ll also hold a couple of choreography sessions [in person].”

Cooper added that because participants have the option of learning the dance from home, they can be as involved (or not) in the process as they want to be.

“You don’t have to come to every meeting and be a super active member,” she said.

Because addressing social justice issues involves many levels of communication, some may wonder how dance can effectively contribute to the conversation. Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio, who oversaw the formation of Economie, commented that the physicality of dance is what makes it powerful.

“It is particularly important at a time when much of our social discourse happens online to keep in mind the distinct potency of physical engagement and action,” Kolcio said.

Zhou agreed that dance has a unique capacity for, quite literally, movement.

“Dance has presence,” he said. “You can’t escape from a dancer and the fact that there’s a body moving…When you see someone falling down you don’t need to experience it yourself to know that it’s painful, so we have this sympathy for each other’s movement. When you see a dancer dancing, you feel the way they feel.”

Zhou added that flash mobs are particularly effective because they are so easily accessible. They have the potential to reach people who might not otherwise actively choose to witness a performance.

“In a theater, you choose certain people to view your dance—usually middle-class people educated enough to go to the theater—but a flash mob has a really broad audience,” he said.

Cooper noted that this accessibility extends to participants as well as audience members.

“It’s not limited to the viewers who would come to a dance performance—people who are willing to pay to watch dance or who particularly like the arts,” she said. “It’s open to everyone, because it’s in public. Participation isn’t just for professional ballet dancers or anything like that; it’s for anyone who wants to join. The movements are simple.”

Zhou and Cooper presented these ideas at this year’s Social Justice Leadership Conference, held on Feb. 23. The conference, held for the fifth time this year, took place in in the Daniel Family Commons and at 41 Wyllys Ave. and focused on the theme “Building Bridges: Connecting Communities Across Difference.”

“Kehan did most of the talking, and I led a movement that reinforced the concept,” Cooper said. “It was really great.”

Students involved in Economie are excited about the upcoming flash mob and hope to generate as much participation as possible. Alex Aviv ’16 finds the medium of dance extremely appealing and is excited about Economie’s potential.

“I just did a flash mob for One Billion Rising, which is a really great cause,” Aviv said. “I know that even though not everyone necessarily understands what the cause is when the dance is happening, many people came up after and asked people who participated. They associated this really fun dance group with a great cause which spread the word fast.”

Economie meets every Sunday at 7 p.m. in 41 Wyllys, room 114.

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