Produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications
How Maryland Athletics Made a Two-Minute In-Game Student Dance a Decade-long Viral Tradition
Photos courtesy of Maryland Athletics
You can’t predict when it’s coming. But when Testudo steps onto the court in a crazy costume, the music starts pumping and the Xfinity Center’s student section suddenly moves in unison, Terp fans know: It’s time for the annual flash mob.
In the space of one thrilling time-out of a men’s basketball game, students pull off stunning visuals, like a ripple reveal of gold T-shirts under jackets across the arena, and send energy pulsing through the crowd as they dance, clap and throw their hands in the air.
The first iteration a decade ago went viral, garnering more than 10 million views on YouTube and receiving national television coverage. Since then, the Maryland Athletics marketing team and a dedicated duo of choreographers have worked every year to make each new version more exciting and memorable than the last.
Former University of Maryland Dance Team member Megan Piluk ’13 has choreographed the flash mob since its inception, and she brought on Jen Miller, her partner in Out of the Blue Dance Productions (which kicked off with the first flash mob and now focuses on viral marketing), starting the second year. Jordan Looby, senior assistant athletic director for marketing strategy and fan experience, has overseen overall production since 2017.
In an interview with Maryland Today, the three discussed what it was like to pull off that initial surprise, how they create choreography for thousands of students who have little time to prepare and the perils of using the trendiest music—and hint at what this year’s flash mob could entail.
Piluk: In 2013, Carrie (Blankenship, senior associate athletic director for external operations) first came up with the idea and reached out to the Dance Team coach. Our coach knew I had done them in the past, and it was an incredible opportunity, so I said yes immediately. As a senior, I thought it would be such a cool thing for my last year!
It was nerve-wracking to teach it to 4,000 students, who didn’t know why they were showing up three hours early. We didn’t know if people would really follow along and do the dance. But from the first move, everyone started cheering and doing it.
Looby: The (ESPN broadcaster) Scott Van Pelt ’88 factor was a huge thing. His surprise on camera was funny. And then we beat Duke, which was No. 2 in the country at the time. “Good Morning America” even played our video on air!
It’s not every day you try to implement a tradition and it actually sticks. A lot of them have to be born organically from students. We’ve been fortunate that this and the flag reveal have become traditions we do every year.
Miller: We start before Thanksgiving, meeting with the marketing team to see if there’s a theme. We work on the music and choreography throughout November and December, then try to have everything hammered out by January.
Looby: One challenge is that we don’t know how long in-game breaks will be until a few days prior to the game. It’s up to the television networks. They have different formats depending on the matchup, time of day and how many commercials they’ve sold. This year, we don’t have any breaks shorter than two minutes, so we can use that to make sure the flash mob fits during the time-out.
Piluk: We try to use a mix of five to six songs from different genres, throw a karaoke song in, and end with something that crowd will go wild to, so everyone can freestyle. We’ll go to games to scout out how people are reacting to certain songs, then work with the DJ to put the mix together. We go through a lot of rounds!
Looby: We’ve tried to be super relevant, but the planning process starts so many months in advance. We once picked “Cash Me Outside,” but it just wasn’t a thing anymore by the time we got to the game. You have to find songs with staying power, so we use some throwbacks.
Miller: We’ve learned over the years that big, simple dance moves that are visually stunning are better than trying to teach students complicated dance moves.
Piluk: We’ve also moved away from stomping and clapping. One year, we tried to do a remix of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” but since the music was sped up, people were clapping and stomping at different speeds. Now we focus on the push and pull, people moving back and forth. Anything with hands up and down, playing with the different levels up the student wall, or having people in different sections do different things. In 2015, we had students take off their jackets to reveal the game day shirt, and that ripple across the student section created a really great effect.
We couldn’t do it without our dance team and cheerleaders. The week before the game, we’ll do a rehearsal with them, so they can stand in front of each of the student sections for them to follow along.
Looby: One year, students kept showing up to games in storm trooper costumes, so we bought Testudo a light saber and asked them to join us on the court to help us start the flash mob. Or sometimes, we’ll plant an intern in the crowd to get the dance started, like the guitar player dressed in Maryland flag gear. Section 114 is really, really helpful. They’re the first section to come into the arena, so they’re our most fanatical students.
It’s not a complete secret like it was the first year. We let students know when they’re claiming tickets that they should come three hours early for a special surprise. We offer food, T-shirts and other incentives. We normally practice for about 45 minutes—we wait until the lower bowl student sections look more or less full—so we can finish before the general public comes in.
Miller: At 10 minutes (remaining on the game clock), we tell the dance team to start going to their spots. And Megan and I will go up and down the wall, talking to students, getting them excited and ready.
Looby: But sometimes you don’t get a time-out for a while. Last year, we didn’t get that break until under four minutes of game time. So we were waiting for 15 minutes in real time, with everyone ready and in place, to get started.
PIluk: It’s so nerve-wracking. There’s another level of stress because many students aren’t at the rehearsal, so we don’t know if all the moves will translate. But then once it happens, it’s so cool to see everyone with their phones out and saying it’s so much fun.
Looby: Video is a big component. Other schools have done it, but they haven’t captured it well. Our first video got more than 10 million views, and now we have a minimum of five or six cameras covering every angle of the court.
One thing that’s fun for me is seeing the visiting team’s reaction. You’re human—even if you’re supposed to be focusing on your coach, it’s hard not to be distracted by something out of the ordinary like this.
We’re just really proud of what it’s become. When you’re actually in the student section, doing the dance moves, it becomes a next-level experience you can’t get anywhere else.
Piluk: Every year, we try to bring something special—we treat it like our last one. This year, we’re bringing more on-court elements to it, so we’re really excited for students to see what we have planned.
This is part of a monthly series that looks behind the scenes at “what it takes” to keep the University of Maryland humming and create a vibrant campus experience. Got an idea for a future installment? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.
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