The Evolution Of Our Global Dance Community

Dance Culture

The Evolution Of Our Global Dance Community

Jessie Ma
January 23, 2024
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Every team, project, and sub-pocket of the dance scene (around the world) has their own unique culture and style... Yet we can all come together to share the same passion. Our love for dance provides the opportunity for us to connect in a genuine and meaningful manner. Our sense of “community” continues to grow and evolve, along with the events that promote that growth. Body Rock Dance Competition is one of these events – a pivotal one, at that.It was one of the birthplaces of Southern California's dance community, and serves as continuous celebration for its dancers.From its early days as Bust-A-Groove all the way to its present day rendition, the event propels our community's branches higher and higher. How, though, has Body Rock, and our community as a whole, been able to hold its ground... and keep growing? For over 2 decades? The answer lies in the beginnings of our story.

“The deeper the roots, the higher the branches.”

There are so many ideas, events, and once seemingly unimportant interactions that culminated into the rich Urban Dance Community we're in now.We may all dance in different ways, for different reasons...But we all should KNOW what the dance community really is and where it came from – to be able to thrive within it, and inspire beyond it.Now... Ready to hear the story?Let’s start from the beginning.

Dance Community Prologue: The dots

Great minds think alike – so it's no surprise that the pioneers that blazed the trails for our current dance community all started with a similar idea.From this idea, they planted a few unassuming seeds in their respective regions. Little did they know that their passion projects would catch fire and sprout to become a whole cultural movement.

Arnel Calvario

started Kaba Modern 1992, when most of the dance scene revolved around culture nights at colleges. PCN (Pilipino Culture Night) would have hip hop sections along with the traditional dance numbers, but none of the hip hop performers had a group to perform with outside of that one event.So their hunger for dance grew, while opportunities to feed it remained meager.Arnel realized that, even beyond PCN, there was a actually a significant number of dancers that had no real representative identity. He and his friends would battle at parties and session in garages, but didn’t have a space to experience that 'dance high' again.Thus, Kaba Modern was formed to perform at PCN as a hip-hop dance specific crew in '92.In '94, CADC was formed through the Chinese Association at UCI, and "Culture" (later known as Team Millennia) was founded in Fullerton by Danny Batimana. In ’95 PAC Modern was formed at CSU Long Beach, then Samahang Modern at UCLA.

“All these different groups popped up. But we never had a chance to compete together... Until car show promoters noticed the appeal in hip hop crew performances, and took advantage of this by hosting dance competitions at their events.It was a great way to meet other dancers from other areas and watch them dance, but the setting wasn’t very relevant to us. We were a part of a marketing tool for the car show promoters to capitalize on.”

- Arnel Calvario

Chapter 1: The lines

Arnel Calvario’s roommate suggested hosting their own competition, because there was no other arena for these newly formed, aspiring groups to showcase to each other.The inception of VIBE Dance Competition created a domino effect in competition culture as well – we soon saw Prelude, Maxt Out, Ultimate Brawl, and Fusion. It was rapidly becoming clear to car promoters that the dance community was growing far beyond what they knew.

More about how VIBE came to be: What You Should Know About VIBE Dance Competition's 22-Year History

Arnel Calvario moved on to dance with different crews, including Culture Shock Los Angeles in 1998. He created Kaba Modern Legacy in 2002, and took over CSLA as its Executive Director in 2003.With Culture Shock LA, Arnel was intent on creating a mission that had more than to do with dance alone. So, instead of throwing competitions or showcases, the team started hosting benefit shows. Since then, CSLA has been dedicated to using dance to serve, rather than dancing just to dance.

Get to know Culture Shock LA: How CSLA Shocked All People With A Powerful Story

Angie Bunch

started learning jazz at age 15 in San Diego and Los Angeles. In the late 80’s, she converted her studio to a fitness/jazz class, and later got picked up by Nike as 1 of 25 in the entire nation’s Nike Elite as a fitness and dance trainer. She then discovered hip hop dance, at a time when there was no real awareness of hip hop dance  – as in, there was nothing commercial that could connect someone to understanding it.

Still trying to understand it for real? Read: What Is Hip Hop Dance

As Angie started to travel and teach, she met and trained with many people who fed her love. She found the dance community in LA to be empowering, embodying such a supportive spirit.

“Instead of the critical nature of technique dance, the [hip hop] culture is so free and accepting. It’s based on guidance and growth rather than mastering the perfect way to do something. I think that this actually changed my own leadership style a lot.”

- Angie Bunch

The hip hop dance scene in San Diego was still very much “underground,” until Angie asked Nike to sponsor a hip hop dance company in 1993 – a company called Culture Shock San Diego.

“A community means a group, with public presence and awareness. We never even dreamed we’d be where we are today.”

- Angie Bunch

In ’94, Culture Shock Los Angeles was formed. Currently, Culture Shock International is represented in Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Ottawa, San Diego, Toronto, and Washington DC.

“In San Diego, other than Culture Shock, Formality and high school all-male teams started to turn the scene more serious. The same sort of thing was happening in the collegiate scene in Irvine, with Arnel. It was around then that our underground dance community blew up, a lot of it thanks to the internet and social media.”

- Angie

Keone Madrid

, a younger but comparably innovative pioneer, started dancing at “Airbands,” a showcase in San Diego where many dancers from his generation started dancing.

“Vinh [Nguyen] took me to my first KJ [Gonzales] class and I just fell in love with dancing… I later joined Future Shock San Diego, then Formality, then Culture Shock SD for 3+ years. My Culture Shock family is where I derived a lot of my early inspiration from.”

- Keone Madrid

Chapter 2: The changes

Obviously, the dance community has made strides since the time our pioneers started dancing.But with these changes also came challenges – on local and global scales.

i. The Technology

YouTube wasn't created until 2005, more than 10 years after our dance community started. We had no mirrors in practice, and were lucky to have a video camera. You had to just rehearse your butt off and rely on each other... Although the luxury of watching yourself would’ve been nice, there was a beauty in that rawness and interdependence.And there were much fewer options for dance groups, which in turn bred loyalty. And an apparent distinction in style between different groups, especially in music taste. Technology provides access, so now people can connect socially and artistically.”

- Arnel Calvario

“Social Media and YouTube changed everything. Everyone is connected so quickly, whereas before, connection was solely based on physical proximity. In the early years, the Boogiezone forum was the closest thing to what we see now.”

- Keone Madrid

“It's a tool to promote and connect. I love how it bred fusions of styles within hip hop.”

- Angie Bunch

Tech is getting so advanced we can make things we've never made before! Keone & Mari's E-Book Opens Up A New Chapter For Dance

ii. The Style

“YouTube gave dance visibility, which created danger in saturation. A lot of teams’ styles became homogenized as they imitated trends that were winning. The caliber of talent was increasing because kids have so many more opportunities at a way younger age, but the originality was lost. So we were seeing groups that are larger and cleaner, with amazing quality in their movement, but without as much novelty.But in the recent few years, a lot of projects sprang up. And people started making concept videos – which encouraged more originality. That competitive sense shifted more toward being authentic. Leaders even came together in forums and judge panels, and started asking for more originality from their dancers. People started being more outspoken in interviews about not wanting to see the same stuff anymore, which I think pushed artists to think outside of the box again.”

- Arnel Calvario

“Movement wise, choreography has gotten a lot more intricate. Grooving to whole counts evolved into hitting high hats and striking heavy beats. And we are also starting to do a lot more storytelling with our movement, which is an artistic direction I really love. Choreographers are pushing the boundaries beyond dance.Now it’s about taking a mix of our experiences from the older days and teaching younger generations to love dance in a way that’s more than a fad.”

- Keone Madrid

“Dancers are training more for strength and body awareness. There are so many idols that came in and brought new styles to the scene, or styles that started years ago and resurfaced. A lot of its virality has to do with the internet.”

- Angie Bunch

All the pioneers can agree that It's More Important For Dance To FEEL Good, Than Look Good

iii. The Dance Community Culture

“When I started dancing, training was 'up there.' Everyone was in classes, no matter what class. It wasn't about picking and choosing who to learn from, we just wanted to train. There were so few resources that we made the most of it. Now, it doesn’t take that much for someone to teach a class, which makes the quality of training not as refined.Also, the focus now is on the choreographer: who’s creating the next big thing. Whereas, before, the focus was on the dancer. It was about watching someone move and think, “I wanna dance like that person.”
On a social level, dancers know a lot more dancers, but we aren’t as close with as many as we were back then. When there was a spring-up of a bunch of teams, of course it feels slightly threatening, but it never seemed wrong. Everyone should and needs to follow their own path. It’s great to see different teams and projects supporting each other. There’s a lot more acceptance, and we’re definitely more bridged in our social spheres.”

- Keone Madrid

iv. The Spotlight

“It’s good to have people watch, but we must also be apprehensive about this much visibility. You need to be mindful of the messages you’re sending out. “Dance celebrities” have such a huge following, so it’s important for them to use their voice well, share knowledge of the art forms they perform, and be positive role models for the dancers who follow and support them."

- Arnel Calvario

Arnel's right – when you have a base of dancers who look up to you, you must be mindful of what you stand for and how you work for it.That's why we love working with our STEEZY Studio choreographers – each of them are dedicated dancers, choreographers, educators, and positive influences on the community.

Danny Batimana

is a man of many talents: dancer, host, emcee, studio manager, competition producer, the list goes on. But he is most commonly known as the creator of Team Millennia and Happiness Is NOW, Inc.He explains that the team culture of TM used to be very top-down, “my way or the high way.” But that that leadership style is outdated – and the current mentality is much more focused on the synergy between teammates and directors.

“The community has grown to be a lot more collaborative. We see more overlap between projects and teams, and there is a sense of collective growth, rather than competition. It’s [the dance community] is a lot more intimate than it seems online, actually.”

- Danny Batimana

Wanna help bridge your community, too? Keep these in mind: How To Cultivate Positive Relationships In The Dance Community

Chapter 3: The web

“Everyone has this individuality that needs to be expressed, and I think this is what makes our culture so powerful.We’re all groups who want to pioneer our own movements through dance.”

- Angie Bunch

Body Rock Dance Competition is, obviously, an international competition, and its lineup stays true to this description. With teams from Canada, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, we are able to witness dance in a larger perspective than ever before.

“Body Rock is doing a great job at making our dance community connect globally. And everyone appreciates this competition in particular because it stays so true to dance. Yes, our community is very young and we’re still figuring things out, but I see us growing closer.

- Danny Batimana

“I think our dance community is going to occupy more of the entertainment industry. I just imagine more opportunities for us dancers to reflect the true influence of hip hop. There is such a huge supply of amazing dancers who will, no doubt, pave the future of our community and beyond.”

- Angie Bunch

Keone Madrid’s experiences teaching internationally gives him a chance to experience, more intimately, the different dance communities around the globe.

“People are paying more attention to foundation. We’re realizing that everyone’s trying to do advanced choreography without building upon something first. I see a lot of us going back to what we lost, or didn’t take the time to gain.Yes, there is a huge focus on the scene in SoCal. But there are people out there working their butts off and advancing like crazy, too. International choreographers are also gaining more attention and popularity, and a lot of their success stems from them using their resources wisely and gratefully, while we sometimes take our opportunities for granted.”

- Keone Madrid

“We’re at a turning point in the dance community.Urban dance, Hip Hop Dance has always been tied to social movements in history and its power and relevance will only continue to grow if we educate ourselves on its legitimacy as a collective o brilliantly unique and powerful dance art forms.When I taught in the Philippines, I was reminded of our dance community in its early years. There are so many other communities going through their dog years as well. So what we’re doing here is definitely going to influence what they do as their culture develops.But I know for a fact that the artistic brilliance in the global dance community is definitely going to have more of a presence if we do all we can now to preserve it and progress it together with our increased visibility.”

- Arnel Calvario

Chapter 4: The winds

As Arnel said, we’re at a pivotal point in the dance community.We’ve grown a lot, changed a lot, but it’s time to take note of our trajectory from here on out.Our whole Urban Dance Community has so many different moving parts within it. But where are we moving? How do we get there?

“I think it’s important for teachers to recognize and internalize that their legacy carries on. We need to educate our students in the correct ways, while keeping the lessons as enjoyable experiences. Not just leaders, but any dancer has to know that PEOPLE ARE WATCHING! What you say, what you post (especially because this generation puts so much emphasis on social media), this is all going to dictate how certain people think about things later on.Aside from that, we have to continue to learn and grow and participate. Be a student, always. Lead by example. Remember that everything evolves, so you have to grow along with it. I don’t do things the same way I did the year before, or any year before that – because we are a part of the generational changes, and I strive to teach and express in a way that people are yearning for.”

- Keone Madrid

“We’re at a turning point right now.With all our dance competitions and events, we need to use our voice well – legitimize what we are doing as an art form. This comes with professionalism and true dedication to your craft.And we need to talk about it in more depth, rather than to promote yourself within the dance community. People focus so much on their own brand while neglecting the whole web they are a part of."

- Arnel Calvario

“Yeah, don’t get so wrapped up in only your influence. Encourage education and training. The evolution of what we are doing in the present is going to set everything else on its path. We need to encourage artistic growth, innovative ideas, diversified training, we need to support choreographers, leaders, everyone, everything.”

- Angie Bunch

“Know who you are and what you stand for, so that when you do embrace change – you still preserve what makes you unique and different.”

- J Vaughn

Chapter 5: The culmination

Anna Sarao, the creator of Body Rock, tells the story of the show from its beginnings.

“Culture Shock [San Diego] was my dance community. But when we started going to import show offs, we realized that there are other dance families out there. People started telling me to host a dance competition for all the groups. But… I didn’t have any experience event planning or anything! I just knew that it felt necessary and made sense to do. Honestly, I never anticipated it [the first Bust-A-Groove] to grow into what it is now.”

- Anna Sarao

Perhaps this innocence is what made, and still makes, Body Rock so remarkable. How authentic it was and remains.Angie, Keone, Arnel, Danny, and the rest of the dance community's consistent excitement, support, and appreciation for the event can be attribute this to Anna’s organic approach to hosting a competition because it felt right to serve the dance community.

“At the very first Bust-A-Groove, the makeshift stage broke mid-show. And the dancers from Kaba Modern physically held the stage together so that everyone else could perform. It was so raw and amazing… I think that was such a literal representation of what we grew to embody: protecting a platform for all of us to express ourselves and be our best."

- Arnel Calvario

"After the first show, it was evident to all involved that the dance community was something to take pride in. A dance show with an intent simply to show that our dance community is relevant, pushed us to gain a lot of respect from people even outside of the immediate community."

- Anna Sarao

The explosion of dace through YouTube contributed to a new motivation as well. Body Rock gained respect from communities in other countries – so much so, that they were willing to fundraise their own money to get to San Diego and compete.

“We started to realize that, through productions like these, we were shaping the culture of dance.”

- Anna Sarao

Anna encountered a number of challenges throughout the years, but always stayed true to the show’s original mission.

“Producers have tried to take over the show, but I couldn’t trust anyone else. I was even told it’d be a good business move to raise the prices or registration fees.. but that’s not what Body Rock is for. It’s for dance. It’s for community. It’s a movement in itself. We are beyond any profit.”

- Anna Sarao

“Body Rock is the Super Bowl of all competitions. Everyone brings their most innovative and creative and sometimes risky work to Body Rock. I want to give acknowledgment to Anna, on how she’s kept the integrity of Body Rock so pure over the years.”

- Keone Madrid

It’s inspiring how everyone in the dance community works so selflessly.Dancers who dedicate the majority of their nights to rehearsals. Directors who plan and plan and sacrifice. Event vendors. Show volunteers. Everyone from music mixers to team shirt designers, those who contribute to the craft with no trace of expectation. We all have an important role in this intricate web of connection.We dedicate ourselves to this role because we understand that our intents and practices make us what we are – collaborating with your team, learning about each other, reaching out to others in the niche – this creates families and communities.

“But now, because the dance community has grown so huge,and the new people turn over so quickly, the closeness is diluted. I mean, nothing will be like it was in the beginning. There are thousands of new faces introduced to the community. But a lot of these new kids don’t even know why they got into dancing, whereas before you had to have grown into it.”

- Anna Sarao

Julian Sena,

founder and past director of San Diego’s i.A.M. (a junior team), and current dancer on 220 Second To None, (and a STEEZY Studio choreographer!) shares his experience and insight.

“One thing my generation had to struggle with is not having enough people pass down this knowledge to us. Some of us had mentors, but most of us didn’t recognize that we needed mentors.I was introduced to dance at the cusp of the YouTube Dance scene, where wider audiences see a narrower scope of the culture – the product, and just the product. They want to start dancing, but their “why” is only explained through a few styles they saw on YouTube. Even those who knew their “why” are susceptible to losing it, if they’re not re-calibrating themselves. There is a lot of noise to get lost in.It’s especially important for Junior Team leaders to place less importance on winning, and more on empowering their kids. We don’t want a bunch of robots in the next generation. We want those with a passion to impact those around them.”

- Julian "Juju" Sena

Chapter 6: Epilogue

The Southern California dance community is abundant with opportunities for training, teams, personal projects, networks, etc.Aside from all these perks, we boast such a supportive and eager culture.Now, it’s just a matter of reminding ourselves how we got there, to stay on the “right” path.

“I’m just honored to be a part of it. It had more to do with the timing and place where I was born, and the people I was blessed to meet.”

- Keone Madrid

“I got to cultivate a whole other career alongside my dance career, through the community. There are so many opportunities – just to be in an environment that embraces artistic excellence, and emphasizes sharing and giving back... It’s an unusual culture, really. But we are blessed with it. We’re blessed with a giant loving family to spend our lives with.”

- Angie Bunch

“Dance encouraged my personal transformation. I’ve made so many mistakes, but also have a lot of achievements to be proud of. I went from someone who didn’t feel good enough to dance, to becoming a leader who found the strength to validate others. I don’t remember any trophies, but I remember so many moments where I saw the possibility of what I or the people around me could be, and I was compelled to foster that growth.”

- Arnel Calvario

My friend Ryan Leanno, TM alumni, based hisEthnic Studies Ph.D thesis on the dance community. He noted that, when you spend long hours rehearsing, making decisions together, overcoming obstacles, and building sets, you're building relationships. At and after rehearsal, you're forming bonds. That in itself is community, and that's the reason Body Rock is so valuable to me, and that's why I still do it.

- Anna Sarao

Our dance community's teams on a napkin

Chapter 7: Pages yet to be written

Body Rock emphasizes creating the best, most enjoyable and welcoming experiences for dancers.

A Filipino value is extended family... which is a huge reason why the "Modern" dance teams are impactful, as well as crews (street crews value loyalty and respect), and Culture Shock valued the diversity and respect for all people. Those values all influence our dance community and are present at Body Rock.

- Anna Sarao

Body Rock Dance Competition recognizes that there is so much more to the dance community than the 5 minutes each team has on stage.The staff engages the teams with the community as much as they can, from assisting with access to studios for rehearsals, hotel reservations, sightseeing suggestions, encouraging them to take classes from local choreographers, etc.They communicate in a way that says “Welcome, thank you, we got you.”After all, isn’t that what our community is all about?

Note from the author:

I'm well aware that, even with a whopping 4,000+ word count, this article doesn't even begin to cover all the stories that were involved in the community's making. There's the Norcal origins. East Coast origins. Stories from Asia, Europe, AHH! Not to mention, even deeper than the "Urban Dance" roots are the ACTUAL roots of Hip Hop and street styles...  It'd take encyclopedias. Multiple volumes of 'em. (Working on it...)

The purpose of this article wasn't to be the be-all-end-all account of every single aspect of our history. I simply wanted to give a peek into how rich and interesting it all is, even just from the "Socal/Collegiate" lens. I hope this article sparks discussion, encourages more storytelling, and even welcome you to critique or correction in the comments.

Aside from being a naturally curious (or nosy?) person, I truly believe that the best way to ensure we keep moving forward as a community is if we ask and learn about our past. The more we educate ourselves, the more we can positively influence our future generations with integrity and merit. Lucky for us, there are so many pioneers and OGs of our community who are still active, outspoken, and willing to share – so this was one way to say "Hi, I'm Jessie. I'm new. Can you help me?"

On that note – huge shoutout to Anna, Arnel, Danny, Angie, J, Keone, Juju for interviewing with me! And Jerould Jorge for the graphics in the post! This article was sponsored  by Body Rock Dance Competition and originally published June 2, 2015.