The annual Built on Stilts festival has always been an inclusive event, presenting a wide variety of dance and movement arts for free over two weekends in August at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs.

With the chapel closed and the 24-year-old festival canceled due to Covid-19, Built on Stilts founder Abby Bender is planning a different kind of dance celebration this month: virtual dance videos for the month of August and a socially-distanced flash mob on August 22, with everyone on the Vineyard — and beyond — invited to take part.

“It’s something I’d actually been thinking about for quite a long time before the pandemic,” Ms. Bender said. “I had always wanted to do an Islandwide thing.”

To create the flash mob dance, titled BeHereNow, Ms. Bender asked more than a dozen dancers and choreographers to submit individual movements, which she then tied together to accompany new music written by Brian Hughes of Oak Bluffs.

“It’s a two-minute phrase, repeated as many times as the dancer feels comfortable (with) over the course of half an hour,” Ms. Bender said.

With modern, hip-hop and even belly dance moves, the piece requires some practice but is not technically challenging, she said.

Abby Bender and Laura Sargent Hall rehearse. — Maria Thibodeau

“Anyone can do it, but they’re going to have to practice,” Ms. Bender said. There is also a seated version of the dance for people with limited mobility, she added.

“We have a lot of seniors who are part of Built on Stilts,” she said.

Ms. Bender is leading rehearsals on Zoom for the August 22 event, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. at locations of the dancers’ choosing. In the event of rain, the flash mob will move to August 23 at 3 p.m.

She also has posted an instructional video for both versions of the dance, but cautions that it is a last resort for those who are not able to practice with her on Zoom.

Ms. Bender is asking flash mobbers to wear red and to maintain about 25 feet of distance from others if they are dancing with a group or in a public space such as a park or beach.

She also encourages dancers to record their flash mob performances on video and send the recordings to Built on Stilts.

“I want to string them all together and create a video documenting our shared experience,” she said.

Off-Island dancers may also submit flash mob videos, Ms. Bender added.

“They could be on a Brooklyn rooftop or in a back yard in Dubai,” she said.

“The idea is just for us to get into the spirit of being together, even though we’re not together.”

While Ms. Bender envisions red-clad dancers all over the Island on flash mob day, she has no idea what to expect.

“It all depends on the numbers,” she said.

“But even if it fails, that kind of doesn’t matter. This is kind of the summer of failing,” Ms. Bender continued.

“Nothing’s wildly successful, but we all have to forgive ourselves because it’s a really weird time.”

To see the dance videos and learn more about the flash mob and take part in BeHereNow rehearsals, email Ms. Bender at or visit