Friday, August 24, 2012

Dancin' on the lawn: University of Pittsburgh freshmen set a world record - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

More than 3,000 black umbrellas dotted the green outside the University of Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center Thursday even though it wasn't raining.

Pitt's freshman class descended on the lawn, popped up umbrellas and performed a six-minute dance in unison -- both to break a world record and to honor dancer and actor Gene Kelly, a Pittsburgh native and 1933 Pitt graduate who would have turned 100 Thursday.

The freshmen channeled Kelly's performance in the classic film "Singin' in the Rain," in which he dances while twirling an umbrella in pouring rain. If more than 1,461 students showed up, the school would also earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

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Instead of stepping back to yesteryear for this event, Pitt chose the "Cupid Shuffle," essentially Generation Y's "Electric Slide."

"It's like any school dance you go to, this always plays at least once," said 18-year-old Anna Brewer.

What would Gene Kelly have thought of this selection?

"I think really it goes beyond the selection of the song," his widow, Patricia Ward Kelly said in a telephone interview. "It's really about young people gathering [with] some kind of spirit and the attempt to come together in some form."

Still, the "Cupid Shuffle" had little to do with Kelly and more with an effort to gather thousands of students for the choreographed dance. And trying to round up a freshman class of 3,700 to rehearse Kelly's frolic from the 1952 musical wasn't really feasible.

"We wouldn't have known how to dance to it," said Alyson Landis, 18.

Ms. Ward Kelly did encourage that, though. The "Cupid Shuffle," she said, "wouldn't have been my first choice."

Kenyon Bonner, associate dean and director of student life, said the university chose the "Cupid Shuffle" because so many students are familiar with the song, and those that aren't can follow the directions in the lyrics.

The freshmen seemed to be having fun at this pep rally of sorts. A line of cheerleaders pumped up the crowd before the dance started, while Top 40 hip-hop songs blared on loudspeakers.

Ms. Ward Kelly said she received text and Facebook messages throughout the day -- also the 60th anniversary of "Singin' in the Rain"-- including one from a Pitt freshman and former Gene Kelly award winner, who texted from the lawn mid-dance.

Most of the students said they'd heard of Kelly -- probably because of an earlier presentation on the actor and his connection to Pittsburgh during orientation. A few admitted they hadn't recognized the name before today.

Mr. Bonner made little to no mention of Gene Kelly during the actual event, but the umbrellas were adorned with "Singin' and Dancin' in the Rain" and Kelly's name.

"Once again, we're here to break the record for the largest umbrella dance in one venue," Mr. Bonner said to the crowd.

They did -- the count came in Thursday night: 3,524 participants.

Pitt students previously set new Guinness World Records at new student orientation: "World's Largest Torch-lit Logo" in 2010 and the "World's Largest Glow Stick Design" in 2011.

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