CORVALLIS, Ore. - One minute, it was just another Friday afternoon with students milling around the Memorial Union Quad on the Oregon State University campus.
Then, Neha Neelwarne started dancing.
While the title music from the Bollywood film "Salaam-E-Ishq" boomed through the air, first one, and then another dancer stepped out of the crowd to join in the energetic choreography.
In all, more than 70 Oregon State University students and staff -- co-conspirators in the surprise event, which had been months in the making -- shed jackets and sweatshirts to reveal bright orange T-shirts and join in the synchronized dance moves.
It lasted about three and a half minutes. As it ended with the dancers striking a final pose, the crowd that had gathered to watch burst into cheers. Then the dancers quickly drifted back into the crowd.
"I thought a flash mob would be a really fun idea," Neelwarne said. She worked all summer to recruit dancers in person and via e-mail, preferring not to ruin the surprise by putting up posters or making a group on Facebook.
"I wanted to have 100 people, but the space wasn't quite big enough. In the end, we had about 75 people."
Neelwarne teaches a Bollywood dance class for faculty and staff at OSU and is a native of Mysore, India. She is also an intern with OSU University Marketing and developed the idea for the dance as part of the university's "Powered By Orange" campaign.
Most of the dancers who participated Friday had not been in Neelwarne's classes before. In fact, some had never heard of Bollywood-style dancing before getting recruited by Neelwarne this summer. ("Bollywood," by the way, refers to the lavish musicals turned out by the booming movie industry in India.)
"There was a good mix of ages, cultures and different life experiences in the group," she said.
The most rewarding part of the project for Neelwarne was getting people to come together to learn the dance and watching the dancers help and learn from each other.
Environmental Engineering student Simone Fobi heard about the idea through Neelwarne. Fobi had done some dancing for OSU's annual Africa Night event but never tried anything like the style in Friday's flash mob.
"The practices weren't really practices because Neha made it so much fun," Fobi said. "She made up names for all the dance moves to help us."
"She did a great job," agreed Sandi Cleveland, a student in public health at OSU who participated in the dance.
"I was nervous at the beginning," Fobi said. "But once the music started and we all got out there, I was fine."
Afterward, several of the dancers sought out Neelwarne in the crowd to give her hugs.
"That took me like three months of planning for three and half minutes," Neelwarne laughed.
The event took place during the annual "Where It's (At)" fair for students. The event featured food and goodies from businesses and groups around Corvallis, as well as many campus organizations.
"Since October is Diversity Awareness Month, I wanted to do something to celebrate diversity on campus, but also to encourage individuals to put some effort into learning something new about other experiences," Neelwarne said. "I hope that every individual at OSU and the community will take an interest in learning about diversity after watching the flash mob visiting the cultural and resource centers is a great first start!"
In fact, OSU administrators say they have made honoring and increasing diversity on campus a high priority. In spring 2010, 3,274 Oregon State students identified themselves as U.S. minorities, an increase of 8.5 percent from the previous year. And international student numbers rose 30.7 percent, to 1,180 students.