Friday, May 28, 2010
The cover of Boys Like Girls’ “Two Is Better Than One” fills the room as Grayson Villanueva and Kristine Hoang’s voices harmonize to the song’s acoustic melody. The duo’s performance is just as alluring as the version by Boys Like Girls, who originally recorded the song with country-pop star Taylor Swift. After 4 minutes of song, the two finish their performance and with just a click on her laptop, Charlyn Arellano is onto one of Grayson’s next covers to determine what she would like him to request for Open Jam’s next Open Mic Night.
“That’s one of the good things about YouTube, you get to enjoy a customized set list from the comfort of your own bedroom, and I’m glad some of our club’s members are into it” says Charlyn, who is currently Open Jam’s acting President. Open Jam at UC Irvine serves as a stage for UCI students who wish to share their passion for music with others, sponsoring live performances and in some cases promoting UCI musicians on YouTube. “I like to think of us as more of the middle ground—if you’re a local YouTube star and need a place to perform, that’s cool! If this is the first time you’re performing outside you’re bedroom, that’s cool too! It’s all about getting your music out there!”
And out it goes. At the club’s Open Mic Thursday nights, which normally take place at UC Irvine’s Phoenix Grill, you’ll find Grayson Villanueva at the corner of the room strumming his guitar and quietly singing sweet nothings that will soon be amplified once the next act walks off stage. Minutes later, the audience finds out that the sweet nothings they saw Grayson quietly lipping go a little something along the lines of “And when we dance, I stare into your eyes and I can’t, oh I can’t, I just can’t help but smile.” At that moment, the eyes of every second year girl were captivated as Grayson’s lullaby continued to fill the room. The atmosphere of Open Mic nights is more relaxed than not, making it easy for performers to feel comfortable in front of an audience, and allowing spectators to relax, and bask in the melodies of UC Irvine’s hidden talent. “I started attending Open Mic nights to see what kind of talent could come out of our campus. If I hear someone I like, I head straight to YouTube to see if they’ve got anything posted, or come back another time in hopes that they’ll have something new for me to hear” says Raiza Rivera, who some might call a “regular” when it comes to Open Jam’s Open Mic sessions.
“It’s always interesting to see what other musicians at our school have to offer,” says Kristine Huang, a singer and officer in Open Jam. As for Grayson, other than an Open Mic regular, he is also quite the familiar face among YouTube music scene. Controlling his own personal YouTube channel, Grayson has reached 481 subscribers and averages 4,222 views per video upload. He is also one of various UC Irvine based musicians on YouTube, others being Joseph Vincent, Jennifer Chung, and Kris Mark Cardenas, one of the founding members of Open Jam.
Open Jam doesn’t only house YouTube user Grayson Villanueva. Surprisingly enough, Open Jam also caters to a crowd of musicians who more shy than the YouTube crowd. “They just want a more intimate setting so they can feel comfortable sharing their music. And from there, they usually grow,” says Charlyn, who speaks of Open Jam’s musicians like a proud talent agent. Other UC Irvine based musicians such as The Ostentatious Gentlemen, or “The Gents” for short, Jared Fernandez, and Kristine Huang make up the organization as well. “I joined it because I thought it was awesome how they gave people opportunities to perform,” says Kristine, who like Grayson, is also part of Open Jam’s Board of Officers. Established as an official organization at UC Irvine by Dan Steinman in 2007, Open Jam has continued to make a name for itself at UCI by participating in various school-wide events such as the campuses annual Wayzgoose Festival, which is sponsored by the Associated Students of UC Irvine. Open Jam also has gained recognition through its participation in philanthropic events such as the Hearts of Haiti concert, a benefit show sponsored by both Open Jam and UNICEF at UCI to help with relief efforts going towards Haiti after its devastating earthquake in January 2010. As Charlyn took the reigns as President of Open Jam, she looked to further expand Open Jam’s network across the UC Irvine campus. “I also wanted Open Jam to be further integrated into the UCI community, not just a stand alone musicians club. Like now, we’ve worked with groups like UNICEF—we did a concert called Hearts for Haiti, we’ve worked with Circle K, and now we’re working with APSA for their talent show,” she says.
One such activity that Open Jam is known to put on every year is their Spring Concert. Aside from Open Mic Thursday nights, consider the Spring Concert Open Jam’s signature event. “We are doing the concert with the Uncultivated Rabbits,” says Charlyn. Uncultivated Rabbits is a spoken word poetry organization also located on the UC Irvine campus. Last year, the Open Jam Spring Concert donated its profit’s to VH1’s Save the Music Foundation. This year, they are currently in the process of deciding which foundation to donate to.
Open Jam combines music, philanthropy, and a bond founded upon one common passion for performing. For certain members who are new Open Jam however, the passion for performing may be disguised by nerves. This is where Open Jam strives to be the transitional point for UC Irvine musicians, bringing them out of their bedrooms or dorm halls and onto the stage. The YouTube medium serves to be helpful for musicians who would like to get their music out to the entire world. For musicians who are not so comfortable on stage, YouTube gives them the chance to feel like they’re performing in their own bedroom and in fact, they can do exactly that! “YouTube is just the newest thing—it’s instant “celebritydom”—it really is!,” says Charlyn. “People can promote you even through YouTube because it’s so easy to link people to stuff. Over the past few days I must’ve seen 50 different Joseph Vincent links on my Facebook—and it’s from people who don’t even know him!,” she adds.
The Gents, who strive to broaden their fan base outside of UC Irvine and into the Orange County music scene, prefer to perform their gigs at local bars such as Hogie Barmichaels. “Personally, I believe that their act is best viewed in person, a simple computer screen is unable to do their sound justice,” says Charlyn. Unlike Grayson’s R&B and acoustic covers that give off a more laid-back and relaxed vibe, The Gents’ performances are fast-paced and full of energy. However, just because The Gents don’t use YouTube as a performance medium doesn’t mean you can’t find them on the web. Search this band name on YouTube and you’ll find fan recordings of The Gents during their gigs – again, instant access to rock heavy music from your own own. Aside from local gigs and performances in front of Orange County’s rock loving community, the Gents have also made efforts to secure a spot in The Warped Tour and have participated in various “Battle of the Bands” type competitions, specifically Open Jam’s competition which took place in February.
So what makes Open Jam different from the cliché garage band jam session? Structure is the answer. Without the established organization and support from Open Jam’s Board of Officers, the members of this group would not be able to network and push their music to further extents. Anyone can play music with their friends in the living room, but Open Jam offers the opportunity to perform live in front of a campus with thousands of students. Whether a musician is stuck on the YouTube stage, or stuck in the bedroom, Open Jam is the middle ground where artists of all levels and experiences can come together to learn, interact, and share their passion for entertaining.
- 1 hour interview with Charlyn Arellano, Open Jam acting President
- Attended 1 Open Mic night at Phoenix Grill
- 1 interview with Open Jam officer Kristine Huang
- 1 interview with Raiza Rivera, regular Open Mic Night attendee
- Grayson Villanueva’s YouTube channel
- Kris Cardenas’ YouTube channel
- New U Article: http://www.newuniversity.org/2010/01/news/haiti%E2%80%99s-effect-in-the-oc/
It was a vibrant day, buzzing with glee and anticipation from people and pets alike. The noise of chattered excitement and clasping handlers to their dogs as the dogs barked vivaciously at one another filled the air with high spirits and hope. It was 11:15, on a Sunday “fun day” morning as I walked into the furry frenzy of the Best Friend’s Annual Spring Adoption Festival located at Westchester Park in Los Angeles, California. The banner that waved friendly in the sky was entitled “find your new best friend,” and people looked determined to do so.
The annual festival’s goal is to place hundreds of homeless animals in loving and caring homes. The animals range from dogs, cats, bunnies and birds with infinite numbers of shapes, sizes, and temperaments included. The shelters come from all over Los Angeles County and some shelters specialize in specific breeds such as the Westside German Sheppard Rescue and others compromise of a mix of animals such as the Pasadena Humane Society. The main advocacy of the shelters is to save animals by petitioning for the establishment of only no-kill shelters. No-kill shelters are defined as “a place where all adoptable and treatable animals are saved and where only unadoptable or non-rehabilitatable animals are euthanized”(Best Friends Animal Society). California has one of the most rigorous and animal-friendly shelter laws in the country. The California legislature passed the “Hayden Law” which states that only animals that are unadoptable or not capable of rehabilitation such as animals eight weeks or younger, animals that pose a health or safety risk which make it unsuitable as a pet, or animals that have manifested a lethal disease should be euthanized. But animal advocates are finding that hundreds of shelters across California are completely disregarding this law and getting away with it due to the lack of initiated regulatory agencies. They would rather euthanize the animals then board them due to expenses such as costs of medical attention, food, water and bathing supplies. This has resulted in one lawsuit so far filed by activists against Kern County, CA but there is still so much more to be done over the killings of an estimated 250,000,000 companions in the last decade in the United States. This event is about bringing shelters together who care about the welfare of homeless animals and reinstating the initial purpose of shelters as being a safe refuge for animals.
The dogs generously panted, with their tongues out and saliva slippery like syrup coming down from their mouths. Their tails wagged high to the sky as potential candidates threw tennis balls and scratched their furry behinds. I met a pooch named Sheba, who was a stray and found by a volunteer at the Pasadena Humane Society. The volunteer holding her, Ginny Mancini (Burbank, CA), said, “I nick named her Sheba because her face kind of looked like one,” referring to the Sheba Cavaliers. Sheba had warm brown eyes with feathered white ears and a beautiful silky hazel brown, black and white curly coat. Her fur coat shined with beauty in the sun and her relaxed manner displayed her calm disposition. She just sat in the volunteer’s arms with her head perched up, looking straight forward as though a performance by the philharmonic had her in deep concentration. “We are a no-kill shelter. We have a ranch where the dogs are kept until they are adopted and we also have foster homes for the dogs until they get adopted,” Ginny explained. She also mentioned that she found a lot of pet owners due to the economy and not being able to support their animal’s needs, such as paying medical bills, were giving their dogs up to shelters. I also found that to be a common theme amongst the stories of where the animals came from such as from my visit with Elena Felix, a board member of the Lange Foundation, a no-kill shelter, remarked, “We have a lot of animals from owners that are suffering from the economic crisis and can no longer support their dogs.” The festival also consisted of high-end boutiques offering samples of the latest pet owner’s flavors of the month. A vendor entitled “the Healthy Spot- for your dog’s mind, body and bowl,” was attended by smiling faces and helpful people as they offered samples of Ziwi Peak, which is a new dog diet that reportedly makes your pet’s poop firm and odorless. The festival was filling up as the day progressed and at around 12:30pm an announcement was made on the loud speaker that a CPR demonstration was being held on the front stage. The demonstration featured a health care expert, whom provided information on what to do if your dog stops breathing. She said to lay your dog on his right side, open his mouth and have his head and neck aligned so air is also going in a straight line and proceed by giving your pet mouth to mouth CPR. The performance was shocking due to the realness of a lady putting her mouth on a sloppy pooch even though the dog was just a stuffed animal.
The green grass was pervasive as people paraded around on it to different sections of the park. The wind fluttered the white tents while the dogs under them paced back and fourth in cages and others strutted around on leashes. A cage of small terrier looking dogs was positioned in the center of the park and contained a dog that would not stop barking. Although when it was given attention, it attracted the gang of puppies that accompanied it in the cage got up and they joined in it’s barking with fierce demand. The little dogs’ vivacious barks were more intimidating then the bigger dogs as they appeared in their formation as one giant creature. There was a friendly woman sitting by dogs in the cage and I stated, “Wow what energy these little dogs have.” And she replied, “You, know I’m sorry they have to be shown this way because I had all four of these guys in my house and they were terrible. And then I said I can’t have all four of these guys, so we took the boys elsewhere and the girls are much better at home. So I know when people see them all together they are really not like that.” The woman’s name is Barbra Saunders (Sherman Oaks, CA), and she said that a lot of the volunteers from the organizations and shelters actually board the dogs at their own homes. The volunteers were very generous in that they were people opening their private lives to animals who really have a shot in the dark at their own. Barbara’s organization is called Lhasa Apso Happy Homes, and they are a no boarding shelter, which means that unless the dogs need training or special assistance they stay with volunteers in their own home until they can find the dogs a home. This organization’s commitment to their animals by allowing them to stay at their home showed true dedication to saving the lives of deprived endangered dogs.
At around 1 the highlight of the event occurred when the Dancing with the Dogs Competition hosted by the Four Legged Friend Foundation was announced to begin. The Competition was located at the Northeast section of the park and the small arena was overrun with cheering fans. The “just for fun” competition is a celebration of dogs of all shapes, colors, sizes, ages and personalities showcasing their loving capabilities. The bright eyed and busy-tailed creatures smiled with glee as they pranced around proud and noble. The first group routine included Tillie and Linda Brown and they performed a “sport dance.” The sport dance is based on a type of free-style rendition where no treats or toys are used and only obedience is applied. The dog’s motivation and desire to dance showed true motivation and impressed the crowd greatly. The routine began with two trainers and two dogs, in opposite corners of the arena. As an upbeat folk tango music track began to blare from the loud speaker, the trainers signaled the dogs to sit and stay as they circled around them a few times. Then the dogs were given another signal to disperse into a starburst formation and they began to trot around the arena with their heads high and their trainer’s face engulfed with a smile. It made in turn the whole audience of people smile. All these dogs were representing a sad story that did not have to have a sad ending. Their hopes and dreams were resonating in this dance and they gained a sense of belonging and conviction that not even being homeless can take away from them. The question that remains to be answered by all the animal shelters out there that are completely disregarding the Hayden Law and killing perfectly adoptable pets, “Why put these animals down when they hold a type of unsurpassed hope that even we humans can even from?” There is one lesson that people took away from this event which is “every dog must have its day” and that day was the Best Friend’s Annual Spring Adoption Festival.
To follow up on the event, which placed close to 400 dogs, cats, bunnies and birds in safe homes over the course of five hours it was without doubt a huge success. Only two out of seventy dogs that were present at the event were adopted or placed in local rescue groups. The two that are still not rescued are at the Harbor Shelter because there simply was not enough room in recues but are on the radar of many rescues and should be taken care of very shortly. They were chosen because they are in the most stable condition and are most likely to be adopted soon. The outstanding shelters that took the most animals for the team, in which gave a chance to a lot of helpless animals were Karma Rescue, Nancy Heigl, Katherine Heigl’s mother who runs the Heigl’s Hound of Hope rescue and Pnina Gerston, a so called “local legend” in dog rescue. The Spring Adoption Festival was a hit and they could not be happier with the outcome, in which exceeded their goals of saving animal’s lives. The Hayden law remains below funds because although California is good at passing liberal laws there is not enough money to back them up. The key debate now lies in requiring people to spray and neuter their pets to prevent the epidemic of stray animals and save funds without resorting to euthanizing.
-Interview with board member of Lange Foundation
-Volunteered/observed for one hour twice a month
-Attended Annual Spring Adoption Festival in Westchester Park on May 23,1010 from 11am-4pm
--Pictures from the event
-Spring Adoption Festival Flyer
-PDF of Hayden Law
-PDF of lawsuit filed against Kern County, CA testing the Hayden Law and Vincent Law
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!”
“Dude we killed it!”
“I’M SO HYPED!”
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!”
“I can’t believe we hit everything on time.”
“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
“My hidden talent would be, I guess being a lesbian,” quips a female voice from the back of the room, the person the voice belongs to hidden behind the people sitting in front of her.
“Which means you can do what really well?” jokingly, suggestively, asks another girl to the amusement of everyone in the room.
Amid the laughs, Anabelle, who has been directing tonight’s meeting, yells out “This is not a dating service people!”
No, this is not a dating service, it is Irvine Queers. Irvine Queers, or IQ as its members call it, is an undergraduate student club at the University of California Irvine which caters to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and ally students of UCI. According to one of their pamphlets, the aim of IQ is “to provide a safe space for queer and ally students, education about queer issues, and opportunities for political participation.” For that purpose, Irvine Queers holds weekly meetings. This spring quarter, the meetings have been taking place on Tuesday nights at the Student Center on the UCI campus. These meetings are “a mixture of social, educational, and political activities.” On the agenda for tonight’s meeting? Project Rungay.
The last person in the room is done revealing her name, school year, major and hidden talent. Anabelle proceeds to move things on and asks that people divide into teams so Project Rungay can get started. Several of the members leave because they have things to prepare for the upcoming Drag Show that is being put up by IQ. After the commotion of hugs and farewells and see you’s there are only twelve of us left in the room, and somehow one group has only three members while the other has six. The three judges sit at the front of the room and give the group the task: design an outfit with newspapers and flyers. The groups are given tape, several copies of The New U, and flyers; some of which announce the OMG (Oh My Gender): a Drag Show event while others advertise the Queer Culture Festival. I am in the six-person group; we have chosen our model and proceed to dress him up. Turns out we are not a very coherent group: someone put a skirt on him; someone else put a peacock tail while I added epaulets and a long braided tail. Someone else puts two cones on his chest and we all laugh at his new, big, pointy boobs. Anabelle makes a pharaoh style headdress, complete with a snake rising from it. She crowns our model with it.
“What was that Egyptian queen’s name?” asks Anabelle
“Yes! You are Queerpatra!” Anabelle tells the model.
Anabelle Vo is a second-year undergraduate student at UCI and the Social Chair of Irvine Queers. As social chair, Anabelle gives herself the task of “mak[ing] everyone feel welcome when they first step foot inside IQ.” Her desire to run for social chair grew out of her own experience in joining IQ. “I am not the most social person,” she claims, “I felt very shy the first time I came here.” Now, as social chair, Anabelle tries to make IQ welcoming to people who might be as shy as she was, “most people […], they are not quiet by choice and they are not lonely by choice, you know. So I try making the breaking into the club a little bit easier.” As she speaks, Anabelle twists and arranges pipe cleaners into the outline of a cartoonish little chubby human body, with short arms and short legs, its head a perfect circle. She takes a pipe cleaner and loops it around a side of the circular head, leaving part of it extending outwards, the head is no longer an O, it is now a capital Q. Anabelle just made a Qu Person. Qu Person is something of the mascot of Irvine Queers. It appears on their website, and it is the Qu Person that you see on IQ’s Facebook profile picture. In fact, Qu Person has a Facebook page of its own: its activities? Irvine Queers, and one of its favorite movies is Zoolander. The people in the room tonight take a moment away from their own crafts to admire Anabelle’s Qu Person, then go back to their own Converse decorating, beading, coloring, and button making. There was a lot of arts-and-crafts material left over from the past Saturday’s Queer Culture Festival, so this Tuesday the week’s meeting was an arts-and-crafts night. Besides providing left over materials with which to make crafts with at tonight’s IQ meeting, the Queer Culture Festival, which took place on May 15th at UCI’s Phoenix Grill, also provided a day of socializing, fun, emotions, and community. In a flier that announces Irvine Queer’s events, the Queer Culture Festival is described as “activities and performances, arts and crafts and student art galleries, skill-sharing and ‘talentless’ shows.” The shows and performances, however, were far from “talentless.” Towards the end of the event, which was scheduled to end at 10pm, there was an open mic. Several people went on stage to read out their poetry, Anabelle did a monologue in which she talked about the women in her life throughout the years. At one point, a girl was playing the guitar, singing. The lighting was dim, blackness peeked in through the windows, the stage glowed yellow-orange. There were some couples in the audience holding hands or with their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. “Sophie and I are gay together…,” the lyrics filled the room with the tale of a girl who had hope for happiness now that she was announcing to the world that Sophie and she were gay together. All eyes were fixed on the siren with the guitar and the bright green tank top, when she finished her song, all hands clapped in unison; together.
It is now time for the judges to evaluate the impromptu outfits we have designed. The two models are standing next to each other ready to walk on the runway, which in this case is the open space in the middle of the room. The other group’s model goes first. He is wearing a dress made out entirely of OMG: A Drag Show posters that looks nothing at all like an impromptu dress. In fact “thought-out” would be the best word to describe it. To make matters more worrisome for our team, the model, Chris, can walk! He walks up to the judges and back with as much style as Tyra Banks. He even strikes a few poses, complete with a coquettish, dimpled smile. His name is Cristobal Escobar Marin; he is a fourth year undergraduate student and has been in Irvine Queers for almost two years. For him, IQ is a place that, particularly in a time when he was coming out, “help[ed] [him] be more comfortable with being gay.” Indeed, this comfort he has with himself is so palpable in him; he is standing there, wearing a paper dress that has been taped together over his bare torso and purple jeans, and he looks happy, and regal. For a moment I think that I would want to wear the dress he is wearing, I would buy it. So, he is a good model through and through: he has the walk, and he sells.
He can also work and audience. Chris was one of the performers in the OMG: A Drag Show that was put up by IQ on May 13th. The drag show took place in HIB 100, one of UCI’s Humanities lecture halls. The hall seats three-hundred and forty five; the night of the drag show about two thirds of the seats are filled. I overhear one of the performers and IQ member say that they weren’t expecting so many people. As people settled into their seats, pre-recorded voices, the kind one would expect to hear at a mall or airport or train station, chime in a monotone drone “please be on alert of suspicious looking men and women. For your safety, security measures have been taken…” Chris performed twice in the Drag Show. The first time he was wearing leopard print high heeled shoes and he stripped until he was left with nothing but the shoes and spandex short shorts. He danced around the stage, a strip tease. He brought out a whip and wielded it as the audience cheered and whistled. His second performance was less risqué. He was in drag, sporting a short white cocktail dress, still wearing the leopard print high heeled shoes. The lights were dimmed. “I was five and he was six, we rode on horses made of sticks, he wore black and I wore white…” Nancy Sinatra’s voice sang while Chris gracefully moved on the stage, his movement expressing sorrow. There was no coquetry in his face this time, no playfulness. He twists and turns and lies down on the stage floor. The audience is quiet. “…baby shot me down,” Chris lies still on the ground, shot down. The audience comes out of the trance and claps and cheers.
Anabelle also performed in the Show. She did a number in which she was in drag, wearing baggy jeans, a hoodie, and a baseball call in the fashion of any MTV worthy rapper; which is what she was, a rapper. After her rap and while the next performers were readying themselves, Anabelle appeared back on stage wearing a pink dress, her painted on mustache and beard still on her face. She walked about and twirled around as she sang out acapella “I feel pretty, I feel pretty and witty and…queer,” people laughed and clapped and cheered, “and I pity any girl who isn’t me this year.” The rest of the show continued on such note, fun. By the end however, the mood became serious. A slide show showing names and dates of individuals who had been victimized, some even murdered apparently for being transgender flashes on the screen. One of the performers reminds the audience that the profits from the night’s donations will be used to help the medical bill of a trans male student in California State University Long Beach who was attacked in a campus bathroom this past April 15th , his attacker had carved the word “it” on his chest. The victim had been hospitalized, however he didn’t have medical insurance and now had to pay the bill, the audience’s donations would help him pay.
This mixture of fun and seriousness of the Drag Show attests to the broad area that Irvine Queers encompasses as a club. “There’s not necessarily like a ton of groups [at UCI]. Like some schools that have […] larger involvement and bigger queer populations […] will have like really active groups; will have a political group, will have like an ally-focused group, will have the social group, you know. And each club will have that as its focus. IQ has tried to fulfill all of those things as best they can,” stated Emily Steelhammer, a fourth year student and Chair of the Board of IQ. However, Emily also declared that in IQ there is definitely a focus on being a social group, “it usually comes down to initially things social because that’s what brings people in and that’s the number one thing that people who know they are LGBT and are ready to be in the community need. They need the opportunity to be social.” Emily knows of this need to be social from personal experience. “I knew that of I was going to be […] gay, if I was going to be in the LGBT community, I had to go and be in the LGBT community.” for her, joining Irvine Queers offered her that opportunity to be in the queer community. And by community, Emily means “not just people around you but, like, cohesion and support.” Which is also what Anabelle has found in Irvine Queers, “a community to stand behind you because, you know, the world is a hateful place sometimes, you need to know that there are people out there who support you and are here for you if you need anything like emotional support.”
Now it is our model’s turn to walk the runway. He moves slowly, the skirt only allows him to take small steps. He moves carefully, the epaulets and his headdress could come off if his movements are too sudden, and the skirt could rip if his stride is too wide. He manages to strike a pose once he is directly in front of the judges. Finally both models have walked, now the groups have to explain their outfits. Our group tells them of Queerpatra, and that we aimed for an outfit that would show multiculturalism and was Lady Gaga inspired. Judging form their faces, the judges aren’t buying it. They deliberate. Meanwhile some of us seat on the tables or chairs, others stand or lean against walls. The two models are standing at what would be the foot of the runway. The judges arrive at a decision, they call the models forth. They say they like the concept of our outfit. They like that we incorporated the idea of multiculturalism into it. They like that it’s crazy and fun. One of the judges says the protruding boobs of our outfit disturb her. They like the other team’s outfit too. They like that it’s well put together. They like the detailing of it. It was a hard decision, they say. The other team wins. Everybody in the room claps. We are not disappointed that we lost, we had fun. Anabelle has made a halo out of newspaper pages, she takes one of the cones that would have been our model’s right boob had it been bigger and attaches it to her halo. She puts the concoction on her head, “I’m a unicorn!” She trots around, laughing, “I’m a unicorn!”
Irvine Queers is not just a social place. “Not just socializing for the sake of socializing. But people who share the same interests, wanna fight for the same rights, and yes, emotional support. So, that’s what I treasure the most about this club,” said Anabelle. “there are people here who are just good people, it’s nice to get to know them […] it’s an entire community that you never thought you would get.”
-Observation of all 6 meetings attended
-Observation of Drag Show and Queer Culture Fest
-Interview with Emily Steelhammer, about 20 minutes
-Interview with Cristobal Escobar, about 10 minutes
-Interview with Anabelle Vo, about 10 minutes
-Irvine Queers website
-Irvine Queers’ and Qu Person’s Facebook page
-three fliers handed out by IQ about IQ
You could compare swing dancing to improvisational jazz. In both there's no set "curriculum" or a set dance routine (or song in the jazz example) that one needs to memorize in order to be successful. You just need to know many of the basic steps (or melodies & chords) and then string them together adding a dash of your own personality to make the dance your own. Sometimes mistakes can lead to the coolest moves you've ever done. As well swing dancing advertises itself as a dance that almost anyone at any age can learn. You don't have to be dancing your whole life just to get into swing. Tracy started when she was eighteen and she's already competing; I started when I was twenty and I have a few of the moves committed to memory; there are 50+ year olds who are in the beginner's classes at Atomic Ballroom (a local swing and ballroom dance club) who have just started and are getting used to it. Ben Morris, one of the performance team's choreographers and a professional swing dancer (a national and international swing dance champion), summed up what swing is, it's "very relaxed and fun".
The term “swing dance” is actually the umbrella name of a group of dances that have all evolved from a dance called the Lindy Hop. On May 20, 1927 Charles Lindbergh successfully flew The Spirit of St. Louis over the Atlantic. Newspaper headlines read “Lindy Hops the Atlantic” which inspired Shorty Snowden, a well-known and popular dancer at the time, to coin the name Lindy Hop. The Lindy Hop, “America’s national dance” as Life magazine called it in 1943, is a social dance; it is done with many couples on the dance floor dancing to a big band playing jazz music.
Unlike other variations of swing dance, Lindy Hop is played to music with a fast beat, typically music that has more than 180 beats per minute (bpm). The fast music and dancing to that music just as fast is equivalent to an aerobic exercise. As Lindy spread throughout the nation, different variations of it sprouted up in different areas for example in California Lindy was slowed down considerably (to about 80-180 bpm) and became a new type of swing dance called West Coast Swing. West Coast evolved in the OC area and has ultimately become “the heart, the soul of West Coast swing.” West Coast is so ingrained in Californian culture that it became California’s state dance in 1988.
Unlike Lindy, which typically needs to be played to very fast and upbeat swing music, West Coast can be played to many contemporary songs and artists (like Lady Gaga or Kei$ha). As well unlike Lindy, which is typically danced in a circular style, West Coast is done in a linear style. Both of these styles are known as types of touch dancing, touch dancing is a type of dance where the partners touch each other. After World War II nontouch dancing became popular and big bands became expensive, both of which contributed to Lindy’s decline in popularity.
Swing received a boost in popularity in the 1980s-1990s when touch dancing came back into style. This revitalization of swing, called neo (or retro) swing, is now done by a generation of swing dancers who don’t really have any connections to it (since their parents may have been part of the 60s-70s when swing wasn’t as popular). It has now transitioned into the mainstream with big bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy getting hits on the Billboard charts and playing in major venues (in this case the 1999 Super Bowl). According to the International Encyclopedia of Dance there are currently more than three hundred and fifty swing dance organizations in the US and Europe promoting swing dancing in this new generation. Out of many of these official organizations, there are also many smaller ones doing the same thing. One in particular is at UCI doing this exact thing, Swing Dance @ UCI.
Every Monday night Swing Dance @ UCI has a free beginner's class where the club brings in an instructor and for about ninety minutes everyone in the room learns the basics of swing. The club tries it's best to balance both Lindy and West Coast, promoting a healthy competition between both styles since the officers of the club came from different backgrounds in swing dancing. One way they do this is by alternating the beginner's classes by teach Lindy and West Coast every other week. "People try to advertise their styles and they try to do well in their styles...these people are open...to learn both," observed Tracy. When you go to one of their meetings, you'll be very surprised to find that there's not that many people in the dance major (nor people who have had a lot of dancing experience) at these meetings. Rather you'll meet people of various backgrounds that range from hard sciences (such as physics and biology), social sciences (like sociology and political science), and the arts (drama and photography).
Swing Dance @ UCI is a relatively new club on campus. The club “officially” started Winter 2010, but its roots can be traced at the Anteater Recreation Center (ARC) parking lot Fall 2009. Matt Hoss, second-year graduate in the chemistry PhD program, and Chloè-Agathe Azencott, a fifth-year graduate student in computer science, began as small group of Lindy Hoppers dancing at the ARC parking lot on Saturdays. According to Matt the reason they danced at the ARC parking lot rather than inside one of the dance rooms at the ARC was because 3-4 people had to pay $5 each time they wanted to get into the ARC since they weren’t UCI students (these people were either non-UCI student friends or . So they decided to go down the free route instead. Matt would bring his amplifier from his place in Verano to the ARC each time the group wanted to dance. They would plug in their iPods into the amps and start Lindy Hopping right there in the parking lot. At the same time they were dancing, another swinger was planning to do a swing dance club as well.
Ben approached Tracy in wanting to teach college students West Coast Swing to the swing or ballroom clubs on campus at that time (at which there were only two). However a majority of the seniors in these clubs graduated last year (in 2009), it was these seniors that made the club and when they left, the clubs disappeared as well. With no official clubs on campus, Tracy and Ben decided to create a one. When Tracy heard that there was an unofficial club meeting outside the ARC, she attended one of their Saturday meetings. At the end of that meeting Tracy told Matt, "I'm starting a club, do you wanna join?" Matt accepted and the club officially started up Winter 2010. With her connections, Tracy would bring in the instructors while Matt took care of the club's logistics (planning meetings, fundraising, ect.). It was during these club meetings/lessons that the idea of a performance team came about.
Tracy and Matt noticed that after the Monday night beginner’s lessons, about twelve to fourteen people would stay afterward and just continue dancing (regardless of whether they were dancing the steps they had learned that night). After receiving a few invitations from other clubs to perform, Tracy came up with the idea to create a swing dance performance team. After two to three weeks of try-outs and coaching sessions, the team was finalized with 12 performers and 4 alternates. The performers would be the first ones to perform a routine and had just their own steps to memorize. While the alternates learned almost all of the positions, being ready to become a substitute if a performer couldn’t make it to a choreography session. If a performer graduated or couldn’t be part of the team, Tracy and the choreographers would pick someone from the alternate pool to become a performer. According to Tracy every “member of the team [is a part] of one single large team”. Members of the team included (but not limited to):
Jenny Compton, second year Spanish, plays the trumpet and sings in an acapella group on campus called Clair de Lune.
Nate Directo, first year History and Engineering, also sings in a chamber choir.
Melanie Elvena, third year Art History, loves vintage clothes and can speak French.
Clint Foley, first year Drama, is part of the Rouge Artists Ensemble and is preparing to be in a show called Hyperbole: Origins.
Kevin Horan, first year International Studies and French, danced the Charleston (an early variation of Lindy) at a rave in Santa Barbra, the ravers left the dance floor.
Matt Hoss co-founded the club and was working on his PhD advancement while the team is preparing for their first public performance.
Melissa Matlock, third year Anthropology, has been a vegetarian for eleven years.
Michelle Mattson, first year graduate in Cellular Molecular Biology, is half Scandinavian & Japanese and hula danced throughout high school.
Colleen Moody, forth year graduate in Molecular Biology, is 5’11” and has played volleyball for ten years.
Sri Puranum, forth year graduate in Aerospace Engineering, is also part of the Salsa club on campus, UCI Salseros.
Philip Thomas, second year graduate in Bio-Med Engineering, is also 5’11” and loves research.
Justin Wang, UC San Diego graduate, is a competitive dancer and the only graduate not in school.
Julie West, third year Biology, has a yellow belt in karate. She started swing dancing and karate at the same time.
Rachelle Young, second year (who will go into) Psychology and Social Behavior, has played the piano for fourteen years and is also in Clair De Lune.
This eclectic group of people of different ages and different backgrounds, may have never have met in a college of 17,000 students. If anything they would have simply passed by each other on Ring Road or have the same general education class. No matter how different all of these people are, they are just “as passionate about being on the team as [the club’s officers and team’s choreographers are in] creating it.” They weren’t only just passionate about swing, but through that passion they began to develop fast friendships and companionships. One of the best examples of this passion from my own accounts happened during the choreography session that immediately followed Tracy’s announcement of who was on the performance team.
Now that the roster for who is on the performance team has been set, the performance team is now practicing half an hour after the beginner's classes. On most nights, the team has to be asked to leave the student center at midnight, so that the room can be reset for the next day. Tonight is no exception. It’s forty-five minutes before eleven on April 26th and the performance team has been working hard since eight thirty, learning West Coast in the beginner’s classes earlier. Three team members are lying on the wooden dance floor trying to catch their breath and for good reason. After about two hours of practicing West Coast moves, they then spent another hour doing the Lindy portion of their performance, which wore them out. As Tracy, Ben, and another choreographer, Malia San Nicolas (aside from Ben and Malia, there's also two other choreographers working with the team for a total of four), work out what the next set of steps for the performance are; the three lying on the floor find solace in relaxing from all that dancing. As those three are lying down, Rachelle and a few others are talking about how to celebrate her birthday. They agreed that they would go down to Atomic Ballroom, a local swing dance & ballroom club, to celebrate her birthday on Thursday. Since she and ten of her friends can get in there for free and also she got a free lesson and a free cake as well. As they planned, Tracy and the choreographers were finished and rushed everyone to get back to their spots. Just like clockwork, the people laying down jump back up ready to dance, the people planning Rachelle's party run to their spots. And for the next half hour they run through the whole Lindy routine of their dance.
It's the end of the coaching session, a quarter of an hour before the stroke of midnight. As everyone is getting ready to leave and (probably) immediately go to bed, the voices of three girls singing in unison can be heard:
"Happy Birthday to you..."
The doors swing open and the three girls continue singing while one of them holds a box of three small cakes. As they continue singing the whole room (including myself) disregard the fact that they've been dancing for nearly four hours and join the girls in another chorus:
"Happy Birthday dear Rachelle..."
As she blows out her candles everyone cheers and claps for in the next fifteen minutes it won't be Rachelle's birthday anymore, but will just become another run-of-the-mill Tuesday. However the cake will have to wait, as three student workers from the Student Center politely stand by the door, subtly letting on that they want to go home as well. Everyone thanks these three as they leave and rejoin the small group party out in the hall. Making use of a few tables set up previously that day for a conference, Rachelle, Melanie, and their friends lay out the small cakes still in the Wholesome Foods box and the 20 chocolate cupcakes Rachelle's been saving for the whole team (and me). Everyone is a little bit more upbeat now, wishing Rachelle a (at this point) happy belated birthday and continuing their different conversations from before (some talking about their weekends, others about the merits of re-purposing old running shoes as their new dance shoes). Somehow one always forgets how tired or what time it is or what they're doing tomorrow when around good friends. Also the cupcakes helped as well.
The smell of incense fills Engineering Hall 1200 on April 30th seven minutes before the 4:30pm memorial began. There is a hectic rush to finish preparing as the organizers of the memorial continue to burn some more incense, place a few candles on the whiteboard railing and floor of the pit at the bottom of the room, and fix the laptop that will play the memorial videos. The memorial is for Mahesh Mahadevan, a 2nd year graduate in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and a member of the swing club and prospective performance team dancer. On April 10th, 2010 Mahesh went missing hours prior to his birthday. After being declared missing, his closest friends put up a website called findmahesh.com and started a Facebook group called “Missing Person—Please Help Find Mahesh Mahadevan”. Sadly his body was found near the UCI Observatory, five days later, on April 15th at 7:40pm. Police declared his death a suicide. His death sent shockwaves throughout the school, but his closest friends and colleges were affected most by it. The memorial that is happening is not to simply mourn Mahesh's loss but rather to celebrate his many accomplishments in his life.
There is a rare breed of genius who could socialize with others. Mahesh was a part of this breed. He was a foreign transfer student from Thrissur, India. According to Sri Puranum, one of Mahesh’s close friends and a member of the performance team, he loved wordplay. The word “sri” in all Indian dialects is used as a title for dignitaries or people of higher standing. Mahesh told Sri that he was respecting him just by saying his name. He could carry a conversation with just wordplay for half an hour, even though it would become “tedious”. Within their department, Sri recalled, that a question was only impossible if “Mahesh couldn’t solve it”. Within the first year of his graduate studies, Mahesh had published two papers. The astounding thing about this wasn’t the fact that he published two papers, but rather he was able to conduct two experiments and get through the six-to-eight month peer-review process all within a year. Sri recalled that Mahesh was “nice...that he never wanted to inconvenience others...that he thought of all of the consequences of his actions before doing them”. What was even more amazing about Mahesh was that amidst his research, he still embraced his creative side.
Mahesh could sing, act, and dance; the epitome the triple threat. He sang at his undergrad university, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and was part of an a cappella group on campus. His improvisational skills were top tier. When he was forced to change his lines at the ring of a bell in the middle of a skit (in an improvisational game called "change"), he came up with a line (in about 1-2 seconds) that still made the audience laugh. For Tracy, Sri, and the other members of the swing dance club & team; Mahesh will always be known for his dancing.
When you enter Atomic Ballroom, opened since 2004, the art deco décor of the place brings you back to the late 1930s. However there are also many anachronisms that show that you're still in the 21st century. When you enter, both people at the counter collecting names and money are on 20+ inch iMacs protruding from the top of the counter. To the far right of a refrigerator unit cooling and showing off bottles of soda, energy drinks, and various types of water almost all of them being sold for a dollar. Next to that is a large wood cabinet showing off a college of black & white photographs of swing dances past, modern day articles about a few charity benefits held at Atomic, and trophies. Tons of trophies from many of the instructors at Atomic. Across from the cabinets is a large Vizio LCD TV advertising events and classes happening in the next few months at Atomic. Upstairs is a single maroon room with a wood floor and mirrors covering one whole wall. This is the practice room that the performance team is using to practice the routine they've been doing for the last six weeks for their first public performance in front of the OC swing dance community.
The performance team still didn’t have a name. It is April 20th, 8:50pm, the performance team will be performing in eighty-five minutes and Ben doesn’t know how to introduce them. Clint had an idea, name the team after a group in a cartoon. Two days ago Clint and Nate did a quick introductory skit they wanted to do before the performance at the end of practice that they wanted to do for the performance. It was a swinger's twist to the introduction speech of Team Rocket, the antagonists of the anime series Pokèmon (which was popular in the US in the late 1990s). Nate and Clint stood back to back and alternated speaking the lines:
"Prepare for trouble," Clint begins as he crosses his arms.
"And make it double," Nate continues crossing his arms as well.
"To protect the world from devastation..."
"To unite all swingers within our nation..."
"To denounce the evil of truth and love," Clint says pointing up to the sky.
"To extend our reach to the stars above," Nate follows suit.
"UCI Swing blast off at the speed of light."
"Stomp off! Let's go!" Both say in unison.
It is 8:51pm and they are no longer a nameless UCI Swing performance team. They named themselves as a pun from the characters from Nate & Clint's speech, they became Swing Rock'It.
As Swing Rock'It practices their introduction and dance one final time, I wish them luck and walk downstairs to find a place to sit on the dance floor. When I got there, it was standing room only. As I wadded through the crowd of college students, young adults, middle-aged people, dating couples, married couples, single men trying to hit on single women, until I found a nice spot to stand. Ten minutes later Nate and Clint coolly walk out and begin their introduction, doing it the exact same way they did two days ago. As they introduced the team, the rest of the team came onto the dance floor and into dance formation. Nate and Clint finished and walked back to their respected partners. It was silent, but not for long a second later the speakers above the dance floor break the silence with three simple words, "Let's do it".
The song You Got It by Lucus Grabeel began to play. Five beats after those first three words, the West Coast portion of the dance begins. As they continue dancing in formation, everyone in the room was excited as they clapped their hands to the beat. The whoops and hollers of the college students seemed to energize the team. Many of the older people watching seemed entertained and fascinated that such a young group can dance so well. When the team's male members started showing off their fancy footwork while keeping the rest of their body in place, everyone cheered. As the song ended, everyone in the room cheered. But that was simply the midway point. Suddenly the song changed, it was no longer a modern day song sung by someone from High School Musical, it became classic big band.
The Lindy/Charleston part of the performance has just begun. The group was now in a V-shaped formation with the women in the front, while the men were behind them. The classic song Stomp Off! Let's Go! (a classic song for big bands to play, but made famous by Louis Armstrong) began to play as everyone began doing an organized Charleston performance. Again the crowd energized the team with cheers throughout the performance. Then came one of the biggest moments the team has been waiting for, the aerials. By this point of the performance, the team was in a circle, the two couples on the left and right side did the aerials while the couples at the direct front and back had the females fall into the arms of their male partners. In the aerial, the female is held by their male partner as they jump up. The male then directs the direction the female is going (in this case the females went to the right from the audience's point of view) only to be stopped in mid-air to then go back downwards. After this, the audience went crazy cheering and whooping. At the end of the performance all the members struck a pose and a few seconds later bowed towards the audience to the sound of applause.
At the end of the performance, as the night continued with everyone going on the dance floor, Team Rock'It is still being complimented by almost everyone in the audience on their performance. A few members go back on the dance floor dancing with a few friends and a few friendly strangers while others are huddled around their friends (who have never even tried swing dancing before) and a few are resting up on the cornucopia of seats now available. Michelle and I are talking while sitting in the most comfortable seats in Atomic, an ivory-colored leather couch in the northeast corner of the dance floor.
"Oh I better go interview a few of you guys and ask how you feel now that your first performance is over," I tell her as I get up with notepad in hand.
"Oh I can tell you what we'll all say. There's a universal sigh of relief," Michelle answered. I look over at a few of the members who just nod in agreement. I look at the far end of the dance floor and see a more set of relaxed members dancing or talking to their friends. Looks like Michelle was right on the money.
It's surprising how much a small group of people who may never have met can bond in the span of a month and a half. A lot has happened over Spring quarter 2010: a club still trying to find its feet, the creation of a brand new performance team, choir concerts for the singers, preparing to graduate (to either go into the world or into graduate school), the death of a close friend and fellow club member, and being hounded by an over-eager student journalist. For Team Rock'It they've been welcomed into the swing community with open arms and applause. Yet no matter how many troubles each individual member might face, somehow these problems are all left behind as they begin to dance and be together with a community of people just as enthusiastic in swing as they are.
75 minute group interview with Swing Dance @ UCI officers: Matt Hoss, Michelle Mattson, and Tracy Wang
30 minute interview with Swing Rock'It member Sri Puranum
Online survey and 3-5 minute interviews with Swing Rock'It members
10 minute interview with Frances Chance, Swing Dance @ UCI’s faculty advisor
Online interview with Ben Morris
11 hours, 35 minutes observing choreography, coaching, and try-out sessions
Participated in 5 Swing Dance @ UCI beginner’s lessons (2 hours per lesson)
5 hours, 30 minutes of observing Swing Rock'It members at Atomic Ballroom
Attended Swing Rock'It first public performance at Atomic Ballroom
Attended Mahesh Mahadevan’s memorial
International Encyclopedia of Dance, Lindy Hop entry
"UCI Swing" Facebook Group
Video of Swing Rock'It first public performance at Atomic Ballroom
"Missing Person—Please Help Find Mahesh Mahadevan” Facebook Group
New University article “Found Body Identified”, April 20th, 2010