It’s 2017, and the sun is shining down on the bustling Third Street Promenade in downtown Santa Monica. We see a man in a yellow bowling shirt, sleeves rolled up, back embroidered in purple: Monterey Park Lions. The beat kicks in, and he snaps and taps as we zoom in on his feet: white Converse high-tops. Dancing shoes. 

As he dance-walks down the street, a crowd has gathered, keeping far enough to be entertained. The horns kick in; he passes a telephone booth. Its user jumps out, and they synchronize moves. This repeats, picking up person after person until a group of ostensible former strangers have now formed in the middle of Promenade, shimmying in unison, with whiffs of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in the shoulder-shrugging, leg-dragging choreography. 

The crowd is delighted. It’s performance art. It’s a dance party. It’s fun. And as we zoom in on the front of the yellow bowling shirt, we see a name embroidered: “Bob.” 

A paradise for self-expression

“Everything I did from childhood through college was ultimately preparing me for what I’m currently doing, which is curating vibes,” says Andrew “Coco” Coconato, who alongside choreographers, dancers, and close pals Lucas Hive, Kameron com K, and Jacob T. Garcia — aka the Bobettes (or Bobs, if you’re being more casual) — created the phenomenon we know today as Bob’s Dance Shop

His devotion to the mob life began in senior year of high school, when he discovered dance through watching Michael Jackson. “I learned ‘Thriller,’ and taught my senior class the ‘Thriller’ dance. And it was like: Oh my gosh, I love this, I’m good at it, I’m passionate about it, and I want to keep doing it,” he says.

In college he choreographed dances for his fraternity, and organized 300-person flash mobs. “Because I had my ‘straightjacket’ on, and I was closeted, I had a lot of sexual energy that I was not using. So I channeled all of it into my creativity and leadership.”

“Bob is an instant energy. I call it the paradise for self-expression. You’re Bob, I’m Bob, we’re all Bob. It represents liberation in space, a carefree spirit.” — Andrew ‘Coco’ Coconato, Bob’s Dance Shop

If we’re being literal, the “Bob” comes from the name stitched into that original yellow bowling shirt, which sparked a fortuitous conversation. “I was doing client service work for this post-production company,” he explains.  “And when I dropped coffee off to a client at an editing bay, he goes, ‘Hello Bob! What’s your story?’ Off the cuff, I just spitballed an improv, and stepped into this character: A gay choreographer from the South.”

Coincidentally, at the time, Coco was also looking to name a flash mob he was developing on the side. And so, a Flash Mob named Bob was born. And with it, an ethos. “Bob is an instant energy,” says Coco. “I call it the paradise for self-expression. You’re Bob, I’m Bob, we’re all Bob. It represents liberation in space, a carefree spirit.”

In addition to designing dance routines for feel-good viral videos, Bob’s Dance Shop organizes participatory flash mobs — or Flash Bobs — with tickets sold through Eventbrite. Purchasing one gets you an address to a rehearsal location where you’ll spend a few hours learning simple and fun choreography, plus the fine art of  implementing the element of surprise.

You’ll perform for unsuspecting spectators, flash mob-style, and be filmed for a video by Coco’s Twisted Oak production crew. Because sure, doing this unique, joyful, and ultimately ephemeral thing is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But if there’s no evidence to show your family and friends, did it really happen?

Flash Bob Miami, Bob’s Dance Shop. Photography by Aram Event Photography.

From a single mob to many

That first 2017 flash mob video led to Coco developing more characters in his arsenal who would ultimately see the spotlight: Rico, Donny, Hans, about 12 in all, each a distinct genre and color palette. “They’re like a diary,” says Coco. 

Creating them allowed Coco to flex his filmmaking muscles, but there was one hitch: they weren’t making money. And to reach the goal of Twisted Oak independently producing short films and videos, they, well, needed money.

Coco decided that Bob, the soft-spoken choreographer and lover of flash mobs, would be the beacon to guide the way forward. He registered the name Bob’s Dance Shop (“because that’s what was available on Instagram and GoDaddy”) and started offering ticketed dance classes in studios.

“I would just pop up at a location, and I announced it on my Instagram,” he says. And he would teach whoever showed up an original dance routine. He then posted irreverent, easily replicable dance moves from the classes to his Instagram: the “candle wick,” the “airplane,” always with the hashtag  #goodvibesonly. Anyone was invited to join, regardless of talent. In fact Coco doesn’t actually have any formal dance training himself — the moves come from a desire to  express where the music takes him. However, a positive attitude was a must. “It was a very unique experience,” he says. “It looks a lot like what I’m doing right now, but at the time when I first started, it was just me. That was December of 2019, for perspective.” 

And then the pandemic hit.

A phenomenon born in streaming

Lockdown understandably put a damper on the in-person classes. “I thought: Okay, well I can’t pop up in a studio. I need to take this virtual,” said Coco. He enlisted his roommates at the time, Jake and Lucas, and in March 2020, they produced their first class on Instagram Live. “It was fun, it was lighthearted. It was free.” And most importantly, everyone involved was smitten.

They started teaching weekly, and in between classes made dance videos of their own, pouring resources into slick productions. One of them, Tondo, caught the eye of none other than Google, who used it in an ad. “That gave me a confidence boost,” says Coco. “And confidence goes a long way.”

Then came viral hits. About a month after their big Google break, the Bobs re-made a dance challenge to “Pump Up the Jam.”

“It was so viral people thought we created the dance,” says Coco. Then a Mean Girls remake in Beverly Hills. The audience grew exponentially — people recreated their dances all around the world, from restaurant staff to flight crews to weddings, and there was even one request for them to flash mob a funeral. And then in June of 2021, the mask mandate was lifted in LA.

A return to their roots

The game was on. After months of being cooped up it was time to do another flash mob in person. “I put out an invite on Eventbrite, told a bunch of friends about it, and posted it on social,” said Coco. “Fathers got in free.” Fifty people showed up to mob Ocean View Park in Santa Monica.

On the gentle slope of the park, on a warm solstice day, it came together like a scene out of a movie. Spectators on picnic blankets clapped, mimicked hand gestures, and some even got up and joined in. “It wasn’t just us performing. Now these random people who didn’t even know who we were are now dancing with us,” says Coco.“It was pure joy. We were outside. And it just felt like the love was in the air.”

Coco posted the video and checked it before he went to bed. Within a few hours, it had a couple million views. The next morning it was up to eight or nine million. “It was everywhere,” he said. “I think it was just this perfect ingredient of people finally feeling free to just be social and to dance again, and to see it emanating so purely on a screen. They could feel the energy, even through an iPhone.” 

The future of flash

Since then, Bob’s Dance Shop has taken their flash mobs from San Francisco to San Diego and Venice Beach to New York. They’ve mobbed red carpets (commissioned, don’t worry), and traveled around the UK on a sponsored tour, though they’ve learned that next time, they won’t give tickets away for free (“I learned it  isn’t actually that effective because people don’t fully commit when there’s a free ticket”).  They’ve even mobbed Buckingham Palace — but sadly got no outward acknowledgement from the guards (they were probably delighted though).

 “Bob is the sun to my solar system. It’s the main source of energy and light that gives life to all the other planets.” — Coco

And people can’t get enough. They’ve now moved into a new dimension: flash mobbing concerts and festivals, enlisted to create a “flash mob inception” for the band Sophie Tukker (being “pulled” from the audience on stage, then flash mobbing the crowd). Lollapalooza gave them their own stage, as did Austin City Limits. There are more on the horizon — just check their website. They plan to eventually incorporate a live band and original music.

But they will always return to their roots: a Flash Mob named Bob. 

“Bob is the sun to my solar system. It’s the main source of energy and light that gives life to all the other planets,” says Coco. Next up, the plan is to build their own studios for dance classes. But until then, you can find them on the Internet. Or maybe on stage at your next music festival.

Interested in joining one of Coco’s flash mobs? Follow Bob’s Dance Shop on Eventbrite to be alerted when new events are added.

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