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Gulf View Square mall squashes flash mob proposal

Marlene Acosta loves to dance. She spends her days shaking her hips and burning off calories while teaching others to do the same in a Latin-infused, high-energy dance workout known as Zumba.

She had an idea about a month ago to share her passion with the community and celebrate the second annual National Dance Day, promoted by the TV show So You Think You Can Dance?. She started to set her plan in action, which was supposed to play out at 1 p.m. today at Gulf View Square mall in the form of a flash mob.

Only mall management said no.

"Something so good and so nice became so miserable for me," Acosta, of New Port Richey, said Friday.

Flash mobs are phenomena that have become popular in recent years. A group of people — sometimes hundreds — assemble in a mall or other public place and at set time, unbeknownst to passersby, start singing the same song — or, as with Acosta's plan, start dancing a choreographed routine.

When the moment is over, members of the group walk away in different directions without looking back, leaving their audience sometimes clapping and sometimes with jaws still dropped.

So why wouldn't Gulf View Square officials give their blessing?

"We remain committed to providing the best shopping experience at Gulf View Square," said mall manager Luke Aeschliman in a prepared statement. "To ensure the safety of our shoppers and employees, we maintain a no tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct."

He declined to elaborate or answer any questions. But the mall made a similar argument last year, when security guards removed a group of Girl Scouts who started a scavenger hunt without the mall's permission. Store owners said the girls were well behaved, but a mall spokesman said scavenger hunts can be disruptive to others.

Acosta, a local dance instructor for five years, started teaching people the three dance routines the television show had choreographed for National Dance Day, and lined up the suggested songs, including Pause by Pitbull, mixed professionally by a local DJ. Knowing that hundreds of people might participate, she did her due diligence and asked mall management for permission in person. She figured, who would say no?

At first, she said, she tried to meet the right person face-to-face, but was told they weren't available. Then she made phone calls. They went unanswered. So she went to the last resort of e-mail. Finally, days later, she said, she got a short e-mail saying she did not have permission for the flash mob. She asked them to reconsider, and mall officials declined.

Acosta said she accepted the decision and began looking for another location. Then she got a letter dated July 27 from mall owner Simon Property Group Inc. warning her she could be arrested and prosecuted under the trespassing statute if dancers showed up.

On top of that, she said, a Pasco sheriff's deputy visited her at a dance studio to question the 39-year-old instructor about the planned flash mob. She was stunned.

"I never even had a parking ticket," she said. "I just wanted to get into bed, pull the covers up and make it all go away."

Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin confirmed that a deputy visited Dance Extreme Academy in Trinity to talk to a woman he couldn't name, after a complaint about a possible flash mob at the Port Richey mall.

"It's a legitimate concern that businesses have," Tobin said. "Sometimes these flash mobs can turn violent."

In recent months, some such events have made national headlines after some participants were arrested, including one arranged as a senior prank at a high school in San Antonio, Texas.

"This is not a prank I was pulling," said Acosta, who pointed out she was had participants from ages 4 to over 60.

She just wanted to give back to the community. In fact, she planned to make a video of the event and submit it to a Zumba contest. If her event won, she planned to donate the $5,000 prize to a local charity.

Cherryl Gleghorn, 54, a New Port Richey mother of three and grandmother of two, is outraged by the mall's actions. She was looking for something fun to do and thought a flash mob had all the elements: A little music, a lot of people, a big surprise.

"This is harmless fun. It's a good thing," Gleghorn said. "… They just really overacted. It would've been a good thing and brought a lot of business to the mall, which is dying anyway."

But all is not lost. The show will go on today, just at a different location in New Port Richey where Acosta has permission.

"It's still happening," said Acosta, who expects about 70 participants.

Of course it wouldn't be a real flash mob if we told you when and where.

Gulf View Square mall squashes flash mob proposal 07/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 8:29pm]
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