It's 6 p.m. on a Wednesday. Your train has been delayed again. You stare at the departures board willing the time to move faster, wishing you'd saved the crossword for the ride home.
Something flickers at the edge of your peripheral vision. It's another commuter. She too is staring at the board, waiting for her train -- but instead of stewing in her irritation, she's dancing.
You watch as she silently glides through the crowd, lost to the sounds of her Walkman. She is not alone. Peppered throughout the sea of commuters you begin to pick out others: a head bobber, a bouncy raver, a whirling dervish, each one out of time with the others, but together they form a graceful whole.
You wonder if this is illegal. Looking over to the security guards you see they are asking themselves the same question. But the dancers make no noise, they take up no more space than you. You involuntarily begin to smile. Your irritation bleeds away. You wish you'd brought your Walkman to work.
Welcome to mobile clubbing, the club that travels with you. A club that never lets you down, that always plays your favourite music, where nobody smokes and nobody cares what you're wearing. It comes to town once a month. It might come to your stop tomorrow. So bring your friends, meet your neighbour. Commuting has taken on a whole new cachet.
Mobile clubbing is the brainchild of Emma Davis and Ben Cummins, two young London artists who work in the city's newly reviving East End. Commuters all their lives, their premise was simple: to claim those hours spent in transit with dance. About 150,000 people an hour enter the London Underground. At peak hours it can feel like twice that. When you consider that most Londoners spend an average of up to three hours a day riding public transport, that's three hours a day waiting to be somewhere else.
"It's almost a public service we're doing," Davis says with a laugh.
Every month, shortly before the event, a location is posted on their http://www.mobile-clubbing.com website. It is always a station where rail and subway lines connect. With more than 400 kilometres of track and 12 subway lines in London, choice is ample.
The instructions are simple: "Arrive at location at given time. Start dancing to your personal stereo to the music of your choice. Please utilize the space. Spread out. This will prevent us from being moved on. Don't worry, clubbers. You will be one of many."
That wasn't always the case. The first Mobile Club, held at Liverpool Street station in September, 2003, involved fewer than 10 people. "Just some of our mates really -- whoever we could convince to come with us." It lasted 15 minutes.
Now, thanks to a recent article in The Independent and features in Time Out and Mixmag magazines, the event has gained enough notoriety for Davis to be lampooned on BBC Radio. "The actress playing me had a horrible Northern accent. I'm from Epping." (Epping, in London's East End, is decidedly south.) With the publicity have come the crowds: More than 80 people attended the last club held at Canary Wharf. It lasted for more than two hours, or what Davis calls "a proper night out."
The clubs have often been erroneously linked with the phenomenon known as "flash-mobbing." The most notorious example of that was when 200 people showed up at a sofa warehouse on Tottenham Court Road in central London and, once seated on every available couch, said: "My, that's comfortable," and then quickly dispersed.
Flash-mobbing has certainly helped set a precedent in the public consciousness for the idea of a mobile club, but Davis and Cummins insist they have no links to it: "Flash-mobbing is a group activity. We are about the individual. When you have that mass of people all doing the same task, it becomes a performance."
But isn't 80 people all dancing in the same place a performance?
"Dancing is individual," they say. "It's a personal expression of the dancer. What we're trying to do is connect people with these public spaces. Commuting is a fact of the Londoner's life, so rather then resent it, we're saying, look up, have a dance. The spaces are beautiful. If we are all going to be in our own little bubble anyway, you may as well make it beautiful. Make it worth it."
Davis and Cummins began collaborating when working as cataloguers together at the Royal Society of Arts. The work was dull, but the ideas were plentiful. "We didn't want to be those artists who are always moaning at the pub," Cummins says. "We thought if we didn't do something soon, that's exactly where we were headed."
So the two corralled a small group of friends and, to the sounds of their £1 ($2.40) radios, began to dance. As Davis recalls: "It felt like we were doing something wrong at first. Our hearts were pounding, but after I got through the first song, I didn't care any more. That's when I realized nobody else did either."
In fact, the public reaction has been positive on the whole. Aside from the clubbers, many commuters have joined in for a dance, some even missing their trains, the famous British reserve nowhere to be seen.
The clubs have even begun to migrate across the globe. Three have been held in Shanghai, two in New York and one in Berlin. All met with largely the same mix of bemused curiosity.
"Only in Berlin, I think, were people moved on," Cummins says.