Thursday, December 17, 2009

More Than One: The UC Irvine Dance Scene

The dance community is strong and thriving at UC Irvine. Since the early 1990s, the college hip hop choreo team scene has been burgeoning in Orange County. And much it has been sparked by the wealth of teams originating on the UC Irvine campus. Most of America outside southern California was unaware of this phenomenon until the Kaba Modern six debuted on MTV's America's Best Dance Crew during first season in spring 2008. Now, a year later, the collegiate scene continues to grow to an even bigger scale as more young aspiring dancers try out for teams as well as attend local classes. What makes this college campus a breeding ground for so much talent and dance enthusiasm? (Photo above is from a Google Images Search of UC Irvine.)

Academics are aware of UC Irvine's strong departments in various fields. But very few people outside of the local dance scene knew about its dance culture. While it's noted that Kaba Modern was formed in 1992 as part of the Kababayan showcase at UCI, there have been other teams that have sprouted in its wake: CADC, MCIA, Common Ground, and the spunky BBoys Anonymous. For many young college students, hip hop dance has become a part of exploring their identities. It has been a means of personal expression, a way to relate, and a basis for forming an intimate community. Living the college life can be hard on a 17-year old freshman. So the collegiate dance community has a lot of attraction for someone who wants to connect, be known, and to have friends with a common interest. It's amazing how the past seventeen years have led to a vibrant collegiate dance culture that is unmatched anywhere else in the U.S. Yes, other southern California campuses have strong dance scenes including Cal State Long Beach and Cal State Fullerton. But none can rival UC Irvine. Take a look at the annual VIBE showcase competition, which usually happens at the end of January. This past year's VIBE XIV was buzzing with anticipation as San Diego's Choreo Cookies took first place among competing teams. There were cyphers going on the floor right in front of the stage during intermission. Anyone at VIBE XIV can tell you that it was a celebration - a celebration of youth, energy, a love for hip hop dance, and a joie de vivre of the present moment. Kaba Modern, CADC, BBoys Anonymous and many other teams took the stage through the evening. It was clear that these UCI teams were celebrating with their home town audience.

You can see a website for Kaba Modern here:

You can see a website for CADC here:

You can see a myspace site for MCIA here:

You can see a myspace site for Common Ground here:

And you can see a myspace site for BBoys Anonymous here:

UCI has set the stage for this growth because of competitions like VIBE. It attracts aspiring dancers to form teams and to gain recognition by participating on stage. Kaba Modern, CADC, and other UCI teams have grown in stature due to the genuine peer community formed by the dancers. If some college kids go for fraternities and sororities, then these college kids are forming dance crews. People inherently want to belong to something bigger than themselves. So why not be part of a dance family? College is a time to try things that maybe outside of your comfort zone. It's a time of personal freedom from boundaries that were set in your home life with immediate family. For many incoming freshman, the dance life holds much promise and opportunities for starting a new chapter in their lives. And now, with the increased media exposure of hip hop dance, there is an undercurrent of recognition and fame that may attract newcomers.

What seems to be lacking from the collegiate scene is the presence of OG dancers with years of experience. While the underground street dance scene has OGs from the early days of bboying, popping and locking interacting with newcomers; this is less of the case with the collegiate scene. And it seems that few OGs from the underground scene cross over to mentor those in the collegiate scene. But, change may be coming. The collegiate scene is still young compared to the street dance scene. As we continue on this journey, our hope is that more of the original generation of collegiate hip hop dancers will reach back to the newest generation and mentor them. Also, there is a segment of the collegiate community who are fascinated with street dance and are making moves to train with established OG dancers. Let's hope the next decade will see an explosion of talent from UC Irvine and other college campuses.

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