By Jason Laday/Gloucester County Times
PHILADELPHIA – She was only supposed to be celebrating the five-year wedding anniversary of her cousin from West Deptford.
That was before 50 strangers began dancing in unison before her.
Heatherann Hughes didn’t think it too strange, until her boyfriend of eight years, Andy Kowalski, joined in.
And then he got down on one knee.
“It’s called a flash mob,” said Bong Dizon, a producer for Flash Mob America, a company based in Los Angeles that will organize spontaneous dance parties of any size for clients big and small, for any occasion.
Kowalski, 34, who lives in Bucks County, approached Dizon and Flash Mob America two months ago to set up his proposal to Huges, 32, from Blue Bell, Pa. The cover: They would be walking their dog, Rocco, through the park at Front and Fitzwater streets before heading to Tara and Terry Hughes’ wedding anniversary.
Their closest friends and family hid their familiar faces inside a nearby restaurant, while dancers – most of whom signed up without knowing the couple, only wanting to take part in the kind of flash mobs they’ve seen on television – broke from their mundane activities to dance to Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are/Marry Me.”
It took the participants only two practices to learn the moves –the hardest part, as the clock counted down to show time, was waiting for the couple to arrive.
“I’m not nervous; I just have to keep the ring in my pocket,” said Kowalski’s best friend, Chris Leber, minutes before he would be rushing the park to join the dance. “I can’t dance worth a dime, but we had some practices.
“When [Kowalski] told me about this idea, I just called him J.T. – Justin Timberlake.”
Hughes’ mother, Roseanne Greco, found a chair outside, semi-concealed near a shrubbery. She couldn’t keep herself from looking around the corner.
“I’ve never seen two young people who are more dedicated to each other – they’re madly in love,” she said. “When they come up, and this actually happens, she’s going to lose it.”
Greco wasn’t far off the mark.
When Kowalski left Hughes sitting on a park bench, with a very confused pug, to join the dancers under an increasingly darkening sky and wind-whipped trees, all she could do was tear up and silently mouth the word “wow.”
She was only slightly more audible when she said “yes.”
“I needed to wow her – I needed to wow her on her finger and in the presentation,” said Kowalski after the performance. “We’ve been together for eight years, and I need to show everyone and her how I felt.
“During the whole thing, I was just trying to remember my dance moves.”
Hughes, still in a state of shock and beaming from ear to ear, tried to keep the fresh memories in order.
“I was just focused on bringing my dog to the dog park here – nothing dawned on me until he started dancing with them all, and then I saw his friend,” she said, adding that she figured the dancers were merely part of a “Philly thing.”
“He always sings that song to me. It’s amazing. I can’t believe it. It feels amazing.”