Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone magazine gave it 3.5 stars and deemed it an ‘instant contender’ for the year’s song of the summer. It was nominated for Best Original Song at the 86th Academy Awards, plays for 3 minutes and 53 seconds at 160 beats per minute, and it just plain makes people feel good. “Happy” is the infectious song performed, written and produced by singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams but, more than just another pop offering, “Happy” has cut through this year’s landscape of bland radio play to successfully become one of those songs that just makes people want to dance. And one of the places it’s made people get happy has been at the Barnes & Noble at RIT bookstore.
Le Nguyen, a senior at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), likes the experience of working at the bookstore as part of the school’s cooperative program. “Our bookstore is really open to developing a lot of new opportunities and student ideas,” she says. As part of the co-op program, Nguyen was charged with coming up with some ideas of her own to market the bookstore. “Each semester, our co-op student is charged with helping us get our brand out there and help drive additional interest in the store,” explains Assistant General Manager, Cory Cedeño, “and it was Le’s idea to put together a great network of students to stage a flash mob here,” he adds.
Nguyen turned to dancer and friend Ejaz Lawal to help with the choreography and prepare for an event she hoped would showcase the bookstore in a decidedly lively way. “Le and Lauren, another dancer in the video, contacted me about four weeks before the event, and we managed to come up with some easy choreos; dance moves that would be easy enough to teach other people,” he says. Although the dancers couldn’t rehearse in the store prior to the event, Lawal had previous experience with a flash mob last year, staging an event for Imagine RIT, a campus-wide event that showcases the college’s innovative and creative spirit. “I had also performed ‘Happy’ numerous times, on and off campus, but it’s still a fun song to dance to,” he says.
Right up to the day of the event, Cedeño admits to having feelings of nervousness about staging a flash mob in the store. “There was some thought about whether we should notify our regulars who always come in for coffee or some quiet study time, but in the end we decided to just let it be spontaneous,” he says. Lawal, meanwhile, had concerns of his own. “The hardest part was really making sure the dancers were all where we needed to be for the start of the video, and when the music started, I was upstairs coming down the escalator,” he recalls, laughing.
Despite those concerns, the live result was a seamless celebration of both the store and the school’s spirit. “Besides the dancers, we also contacted the media faculty, and we had four videographers shooting from different angles,” Nguyen says, adding, “I think one of the reasons the video was a success was because the editing was done so well — and every aspect of the event was executed by our students,” she adds proudly. And for all his nervousness, Cedeño was pleasantly surprised by the results. “It was a great success for the store too,” Cedeño says. “The customers who weren’t involved in the flash mob were really caught by surprise and crowded around to watch. There was also a great response from the administration and many came to watch it happen live.”
The event also highlighted one of the many advantages of the store partnering with the school to help students develop their skill sets with connections like the co-op program. “I think we’re building a deeper network on campus because of it,” says Cedeño, “and we’re also helping students get that real-life experience they’re going to need going forward.” That kind of connectivity includes using the store as a venue for a variety of community events. Last year the store became an art gallery, converting a conference room to display a student’s work, and the greater Rochester community is welcomed too, with monthly children’s events held in the children’s department.
Since the in-store flash mob, the dance video has been posted over and over again, and while neither Nguyen nor Lawal aren’t exactly basking in their fame, both are pleased with the results. Student choreographer Lawal, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, says dancing is really an escape and he’s already planning the next flash mob event for his dance group. Nuygen is pleased to add the planning and execution of the flash mob experience to her resume. “The co-op program requires a lot of organization, leadership, creativity and communications skills — it’s really like managing your own business,” she says. Assistant Manager Cedeño is also managing his business. “We’re really proud of our store, and we’re making a huge effort to build connections with RIT and the Rochester community,” he says. “We’re constantly thinking of ways to get our message out — that we’re more than a bookstore and we’re able to provide services that customers might not typically think of,” he adds.