Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Make it Happen. Only Then Will Your Dreams Come True

They stood twelve feet apart from each other, looking down in despair. The yells of the students playing Frisbee and announcements about popcorn were drowned out by the whirring of their brains as they tried to confront this ridiculous situation. They had been told to hope for the best and expect the worst, but this predicament had left them dumbfounded. They stood twelve feet apart from each other, on opposite sides of their performance stage, looking down on the carpeted platform that rose two feet above the ground. It was 2pm on Saturday afternoon and the members of the Dreams Come True Crew had five hours to rework their debut routine to fit the tiny area they were given before they would perform at 7pm that same day. “Shit on my dick!” yelled Conrad De Claro, expressing his exasperation.

Today, April 24th, would be the day that the Dreams Come True Crew, established in October of 2009, would make their debut performance in front of their biggest crowd yet. The event, Relay for Life, was being hosted at Aldrich Park with a multitude of volunteers concerned about cancer walked laps around the park in order to raise money. Here, DCTC would be performing in their first big event, making it their debut into the dance community as an established crew. DCTC was composed of ten people. Seven of the members who were current UCI students had been practicing for this performance for a month. These seven representing members consisted of three of the original core six and four new recruits. The core six was Daniel Hua, Patrick Soriano, Saeko Oishi, Alex Le, Aaron Kobayashi and Daniel Kim; however the latter three were based in LA and could not come to practice often. The DCTC members who would be performing were Patrick Soriano, Saeko Oishi, Daniel Hua, Conrad De Claro, Ben Umali, Saharat Pinyo and Andy Ho. For this particular performance, there would also be four guests performing with them, friends of the crewmembers. In the fall quarter of the 2009-2010 academic year, Daniel Hua came up to Patrick Soriano with the idea to form a dance crew. Although it had been on his mind for a year or two now, he decided to pitch the idea to Patrick in September. “Daniel just wanted to do his own thing and decided to ask me to be a part of it because we had the same passions,” said Patrick. “In all honesty, it really is his crew.”

Daniel Hua had finished his last quarter at UCI after winter of 2009. As a Biological Sciences major, he plans on attending medical school after graduation. Because of his 10+ years of dancing experience, he was referred to by the freshmen as “Bboy God” and was strictly devoted to dance form of “bboying”. Patrick, a third year, on the other hand, focused more on hip hop choreography. Fusing jazz, hip-hop and popping, he can always be seen at the ARC improvising to the latest popular song. Often rushing to the ARC after a day of classes and work, he is usually seen in a dress shirt and tie, establishing his dominance as an upperclassman even more. Saeko Oishi, a literary journalism major, was the training partner of Daniel, learning to become a bgirl. With the stylish blonde patch in her black hair, 5’ petite figure, and sweet voice, Saeko was the combination of cool and adorable at the same time.

DCTC was originally formed with the intent to try out and possibly compete on the TV show America’s Best Dance Crew. “We formed DCTC to be a long-term goal and wanted to try out [for ABDC] in terms of determining our dancing level,” said Patrick. However, this goal would have to be pushed much farther in the future than they had anticipated. DCTC had taken in four new members, all first years, based on their dancing potential rather than dancing skill. Because they were young and inexperienced, it would take a lot of time and patience to train these new members up to the status that would allow DCTC to reach its original goal. This unconventional criterion for recruitment was part of DCTC’s philosophy: that hard work was the key to making dreams come true.

It would definitely take hard work to alter their rehearsed routine, or dance “set”, in order to fit onto the tiny stage they were given on the day of the performance. Although they had been told in advance the dimensions of the stage, it hadn’t really sunken in exactly how small it would be. Even with only eleven people, a 12 by 12 square foot stage just wasn’t enough.

For Andy, the stage didn’t look sturdy at all. It might even collapse when they did some of their tricks. “Dude. There’s no way we can launch Ben. He’d be thrown completely off the stage,” said Andy.

“Well, I mean, it’s grass, so it wouldn’t be too bad if I landed there….” said Ben.

“What if we launched him from off-stage in the back?” suggested Andy.

“Ohhh my gosh,” vents Patrick, pacing on the side of the stage, still incredulous that this would happen to them on the big day.

Although in reality, the small stage would serve as a problem for only once piece out of the entire set, the main issue was the lack of prestige this tiny platform had. For a debut, the crewmembers were hoping for stature and glamour. This was probably the biggest disappointment of the day. The gray, carpeted wooden platform that rose 2 feet off of the grass just did not give them the height that they had hoped for.

However, the crew had to get through many disappointments together before reaching this day. Because of their limited experience in both dancing and being on a team, the new recruits not only had to work on their skills, but also learn how to function as a group. “Sometimes people would skip practices for personal reasons and sometimes I don’t think these reasons were appropriate,” said Patrick. Another issue during practice times would be the loss of focus from one member that would spread to other members, making the entire group get off track.
“Conrad. Focus,” chided Ben again to Conrad who was busy pretending to beat up Saharat as the group got into their positions for the third piece. Because each of the pieces pertained to a specific style of dance, only a few of the performers would be onstage at a given time.
In correspondence to Relay for Life, Patrick decided to form the set to tie in with the theme of cancer. The performance would tell the story of a cancer patient who finds out he has cancer and how is life is affected by it. For the first piece, a slow Korean song, the main character that is played by Patrick receives his diagnosis. The depressing song shows the mood that comes over him and how he is treated in society, with pity and neglect. However, with the next song, “Magic” by Robin Thicke, six breakdancers come out to heal Patrick, making his “pain disappear”. The third song, a popping piece, portrays Patrick coming back to a normal life, with a transition from robotic-like movements to smooth ones. In the end, all of the dancers come onstage and freestyle to “Harder, Faster, Stronger” by Kanye West to show revival and survival.

At 5:00 PM, the crewmembers disperse to freshen up and change into their performance outfits. After a few hours of contemplation, they had decided that they would work with what they had and just try their best to not fall off the stage. Space would be used efficiently, with people starting from on the grass and going up only when necessary. “It’s okay. I have faith in our team. It’s gonna work. It’s gonna work. It’s gonna work,” said Andy. They would regroup again at 6:30 PM before the performance at 7:00 PM.

Although this would be DCTC’s first big performance, they have also done two small-scale performances in the past. At tailgate parties before a big basketball game at UCI, DCTC would come and do a short set, just to get a feel of performing in front of a crowd. For their first performance in February, rainy weather had a heavy impact for them. “There weren’t that many people and crowd was quiet, but honestly I could care less about what people think about this crew. As long as I know that everyone is working hard and showing that they’re dedicated, it doesn’t matter what happens,” said Patrick. “We kind of rushed them because we wanted to give the freshman a taste of what it was like to perform in front of a crowd,” Patrick adds, “because obviously dancing with your friends and crewmembers is a lot more comfortable.”

This comfort level sometimes got in the way of the crew as a structure as well. Because they had all been friends prior to the formation of DCTC, as well as the fact that they had become closer through all of the practices and weekly dance sessions, DCTC became an extended family for its members. “When Daniel and I started this thing, we both said there shouldn’t be coordinators or choreographers or whatnot. This crew was created in the fact that everyone had a fair say and everyone could put in their ideas. People are free to express themselves,” said Patrick. However, with Patrick, Daniel and Saeko being upperclassmen, the freshmen naturally looked up to them for advice and leading. Within the group, Patrick was known as “Boss”or “Dad” because of his more paternal role in caring for the crewmembers, while Daniel was referred to as “God” due to his dance skill that was held in awe by the newcomers.

Their friendship exceeded the bounds of dance, with Patrick, Daniel and Saeko often giving advice in outside matters, such as family and school. “Since we are older, we do have a responsibility to part onto the freshmen at least some sort of knowledge because when I came to this college, I didn’t have anyone to look up to. I understand exactly what the freshmen are going through so I just want to be there, not just for dancing but also for everything in general,” revealed Patrick. Besides advice on dance training, the freshman go to their upperclassmen for tips on which classes are easy, suggestions on what major they should change to, and to rant on family issues. He even goes as far as to calling the freshmen his children, teaching them Clubbing 101: what eye contact means in a club, when to approach a girl, etc., keeping their grades in check, and taking them to the mall to buy clothes for prom date with their high school girlfriends. “I felt that I was obligated to make sure I’m watching over them and making sure they’re taking care of their stuff. In that sense, it’s good because we’re a very close-knit group but at the same time, it gets kind of distracting because we’re so comfortable. We tend to do goof around but I think that Daniel and I are responsible for making sure everyone is on track,” said Patrick.

When 6:30 PM came around, everyone had already assembled by the tent that belonged to a friend who was participating in Relay for Life’s stay overnight event. With some people sitting on the grass, some in fold-up chairs, and some jamming to a guitar with some friends, everyone was trying their excitement and nervousness in check. For Ben however, his love for performing automatically gave him an adrenaline rush. “I’m getting really hyped up,” he said, “and I want to try to get everyone hyped up with me.” For the friends who had come out to support DCTC, girlfriends from other schools included, they also were really excited to see the debut. Diana Park, a hallmate of some of the performers, said, “I’m so proud to have these dancers as my friends and want to support them. Also, who doesn’t enjoy a good performance?” With twenty minutes left, most of the dancers started their warm-ups.

The group had come a long way from when they first started back in fall of 2009. Upon their arrival at college, UCI served as a center for expansion in dance. Prior to this opportunity, most of them didn’t really have a group of friends to dance with and learn from. “I felt that really was what dance was all about: to come together with a group of people and do what you love to do. I was so caught up in learning new things and bothering Daniel to teach me,” said Andy. Although the founders of DCTC didn’t intend on recruiting all freshmen until they saw the passion they had for dance.

The audition process for DCTC did not follow the conventional audition process for dance crews, which was coming up with an audition set and teaching it to those who were trying out and later would be judged by performance on this piece. “We felt that if we did give them an audition piece, it was easy for them to just audition and once they make it, oh, its no big deal because there were so many talented dancers at UCI already,” said Patrick. Instead, Patrick and Daniel observed Conrad, Ben, Andy and Saharat during dance sessions, often putting them in a line and having them freestyle to different songs, one by one. These songs could be anything from the Mulan soundtrack to Christmas music. “I wanted to see how they would respond to types of music and how they respond under pressure and their musicality. These were the things we would consider in recruiting people to be part of this crew,” said Patrick.

At 6:45 PM, the performers got together for a quick pep talk. Everyone was really starting to feel the excitement now. The other group of dancers who would be performing on the same stage had also just arrived. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a subgroup of one of UCI’s prominently established dance teams, the Moderately Crazy Insane Anteaters, would be representative of the UCI dance community tonight, witnessing DCTC’s debut. Because of the skill level and strength of this group, DCTC was feeling especially nervous, knowing fellow dancers would judge them.
“No matter what happens tonight, just know that we put in all this hard work and it’s our time to show it, okay guys? It doesn’t matter what they think; it’s about us. Let’s kill it out there!” encouraged Patrick.

Practice for this set had begun in March. With only one month, DCT went from sessioning together twice a week to practice 4-5 times a week. In the unseasonably cold April nights, the crew gathered at 10 PM in one of the most random places to dance. The average loading dock by day on the UCI campus turns into a makeshift studio by night. Despite the cold wind and rough concrete, the dancers are in their t-shirts and wife beaters sweating as they scrape their shoulders in attempt to compete a complicated power move. In an undiscovered, underappreciated corner of the campus, they are separated from the rest of society, doing what they love in the secret dead of the night. This environment of grey, black and white is urban dance at its greatest.

The first group, those dancing to the Korean sad song, run through their piece not once, not twice, but fifteen times. In the background, the breakdancers work on their mini subgroup sets, trying to come up with original choreography. On the stairs, Saeko can be seen with her laptop, trying to finish up a homework assignment. The dancers are tired, hungry, cold and terribly bored with the music, but with only two weeks left, they stick to it.

At 6:55 PM, the dancers take their places by the stage. In one last huddle, each performer sticks out his/her hand one by one.

“Everybody 1-2-3, DCT!” yelled Conrad.

“1-2-3, DEE CEE TEE!!”

The set begins with a scene at the waiting room of a doctor’s office, where Patrick would go for a checkup. When he is called in to see the doctor, played by Ben, he is confronted with the news that he has cancer. The short, pre-recorded dialogue is played on the track while the characters mouth their lines onstage. The music hits and the first set of dancers take their queue onstage. Dressed in all black, the dancers convey the sense of sadness and despair that has come over Patrick’s life. They exit offstage with looks of pity towards Patrick, who is on his knees at the front of the stage.

Queue breakdancers. In a bowling pin formation, they come onstage dressed in white. The song has drastically changed to an upbeat, inspirational tone. Everyone is pumped, and when it came time to throw Ben up in the air, the excess energy from Conrad and Andy shoot Ben straight up, giving him height that was never experienced during practice. The cheers and shouts from the friends in the crowd further fueled their energy, boosting their self-esteem along with it.
By the time the popping piece came along, the crowd was already impressed with what they had scene. However, DCTC wasn’t done yet. The quirky, original choreography combined with comical expressions from the robotic dancers appealed to the crowd’s sense of humor, adding laughter to the cheering. When it came time for the freestyling, the dancers themselves cheered on their teammates as they stood in a half-circle around whoever had the spotlight. In the last few counts of the song, Patrick reemerges dressed in white, symbolizing his survival and ends the performance with a set performed with Daniel. For the cherry on top, Daniel does his hollo back, a handstand that bends the body backwards about 75 degrees in a pose that leaves his hands onstage but his body offstage in midair. And the dancers go wild.

Exiting offstage was met by a bombardment of hugs from all around.

“You were amazing!”

“Great job!”

“Dude we killed it!”


DCTC had really pulled it off. It was an astounding performance that was met with congratulatory remarks from not only the audience of friends, but also Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themselves. This was a huge ego boost for DCTC. “It felt really great because we just came out and there was another crew there to recognize and appreciate us,” said Saharat.

For the fanbase of supporters, they couldn’t have been more proud. “Fuck yeah! You guys killed it. You guys killed it. You guys KILLED IT!” said Joe Kang. Danielle Delos Reyes, Ben’s girlfriend who had come from Pomona to support him, also felt the same way. “It was a really great experience to watch him perform for the first time myself. It was awesome to see the passion in his eyes for his performance. It really shows that he loves what he does,” she said.
It was this passion that got them on that stage in the first place. They made it work, and the entire set went smoothly. It wasn’t until afterwards that they realized the DJ had sped up the entire set of songs.

“Did it feel kind of fast for you?” Andy reflected.

“Yeah. I didn’t even notice until the end. I was so pumped and had so much energy,” said Conrad.

“Dude, you guys hit everything on the right beat for the first time. Good job guys,” laughed Patrick. “You’re lucky the DJ sped it up for you.”

Despite the potential obstacles that presented themselves that day, DCTC was able to pull through. “I was really happy for my fellow crewmembers because they gained respect for themselves from their peers that day. Because they are freshman, their image really matters. They showed the world that they’re legitimate dancers and that they have a passion for dancing,” said Patrick.

Afterwards, the group moved base to the University Town Center for dinner with the team and some of the supporters, but energy was still running high. All throughout dinner, the video recording of the performance was played over and over, with the dancers still “oohing” and “aahhing” over the same parts.

With a bowl of Yogurtland in one hand, a camcorder in the other, and a crowd of people looking over his shoulder, Andy studied the performance again and again.

“Shiiiiit look how high we threw Ben!”

“Conrad your waves suck!”

“Helllll yeah!”

“I can’t believe we hit everything on time.”

“Hollo backkkkkkk!”

“Look at that bboy and his new move.”

“Dude did you see…..”

Daily attendance of practice two weeks prior to event
Attendance of performance and after-performance get-together

Patrick Soriano - Main interview - 45 minutes
Andy Ho - Mini interview - 30 minutes
Various quotes from people during and after performance

Recordings of "audition" process
Recording of performance video
Facebook group for DCTC
www.bboy.org forum

No comments:

Post a Comment