Software engineer Julien Ray is a dance fiend.
In his spare time, the unassuming techie dances Madonna’s “Vogue” moves and teaches Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” to those who want to participate in a flash mob that will perform the classic 1989 music video.
“It’s a childhood dream to be able to dance this,” Ray says. “It’s such an iconic dance, and it’s really gratifying to learn it and know we will perform it in public as a flash mob.”
Ray is among five founders of Bay Area Flash Mob, which is offering open classes through March 18 in preparation for public performances of “Rhythm Nation”; dates are yet to be announced.
Ray, who was born in France, became interested in dance after his work took him to Japan, where he saw drag queens perform his favorite music videos.
“I learned everything from this Japanese drag queen,” Ray says. “I saw him performing Madonna and Janet, and that was how it started for me. He knew how to break down the moves into sections.”
Working late into the night and watching YouTube, Ray used the technique to memorize the choreography. He even made an Excel spreadsheet allotting musical counts for each move.
“Rhythm Nation” is difficult and intricate, even for a trained dancer, and at 4½ minutes long, it’s nonstop action.
“It’s a huge amount of work and can be frustrating,” Ray says. “The video is heavily edited, and sometimes you just see a face, and you have to improvise. Sometimes you can find live performance footage, and that helps.”
Bay Area Flash Mob first met in 2009 at Oakland’s branch of “Thrill the World,” a worldwide simultaneous performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Inspired by the concept, but wanting to do more performances and routines, Bay Area Flash Mob formed and has since presented dances by Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Janet and Michael Jackson across the Bay Area.
Using social networks and a website to notify dancers about performance locations and times, Bay Area Flash Mob gathers an amorphous group of participants.
While most people who like to dance never get to perform in a professional setting, Bay Area Flash Mob puts pop choreography in the public domain with its open-door policy, free classes and online video tutorials. Organizers have a welcoming attitude, and no prior training is required for participants.
“I learned a lot from the Japanese drag queen, but he was very strict,” says Ray. “He could be mean, and we want people to feel welcome and to know it’s OK if they don’t do it right.”
Bay Area Flash Mob ‘Rhythm Nation’ classes
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays; 4 to 6 p.m. Sundays; through March 18
Where: Studio Gracia, 19 Heron St., San Francisco
Contact: www.bayareaflashmob.com, firstname.lastname@example.org