A few weeks ago, Cookies Dance Team took first place at the 20th annual VIBE Dance Competition, held at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA. It was an evening packed with mind-blowing choreography, jaw-dropping talent, PG-21 humor, and everything in between. You can relive the night by READING about it or WATCHING performance videos, but you probably saw what Cookies decided to do with the prize money.
As we wrapped up the ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs', congratulations, and thanks, there was still so much buzz surrounding our winners’ set. It felt impossible to get over their performance. Yes, it was nothing short of artistically brilliant - but the real reason we couldn’t shake it, (as people, not just as dancers), was because it stirred something deeper in each of us: the notions of suffering, sacrifice, and selflessness in the message that Cookies delivered using their beautifully crafted set.
― Maya Angelou
The medley was already unforgettable for the way it moved each audience member in that theater, and later the 1 million+ viewers on YouTube. Then, a few days after the competition, the team announced that they would be donating the prize money to World Vision, a non-profit devoted to fighting poverty and injustice across the globe.
“Please help us support this great cause by donating, or simply sharing! Thank you.”
-@CookiesSD, comment on their performance video.
The news was both surprising and touching, but the giving didn’t stop there. Cookies’ generosity inspired the other top-3 placing teams, GRV and The Company, to do the same. All of the prize money from VIBE XX Dance Competition has been donated to World Vision.
“It started as a tiny seed of an idea and grew so unexpectedly. This is such a proud moment for the dance community.”
Curious about and intrigued by their vision, I sat down with Cookies Directors Keone Madrid, Carlo Darang, and Jason Patio to find out more about their intents and processes.
“The philanthropy side wasn’t a part of it initially, actually. We derived the concept from the music itself - then everything came from there.”
The theme of “Orphans” had been on Keone’s mind for a while, but when he discovered the song (“Brother” by Matt Corby), he heard the idea come to life. Keone and his fellow directors committed to making the vision come to life through their VIBE set.
"We wanted to approach the theme in a more realistic manner and less of a theatrical, 'Annie', way. We are representing something very real and very personal.”
As we all saw, the music and their ideas meshed in perfect audio-visual harmony: everything from the use of props, costumes, and voices to the choreography and staging. The medley is consistently impactful throughout, translating an idea and a story through movement and performance. It's even beyond just visually appealing - it's raw and real.
The reason the idea manifested itself so organically, was because the intent behind it was just.. genuine.
“I see children as people in their purest and most honest form. They’re so innocent, and take pleasure in simple things- a toy, a song, the company of a friend. We wanted to take the concept of underprivileged 3rd world children coming together, and dance AS and FOR them.”
Once the medley was introduced, it was upon each member of Cookies to find their intrinsic connection with the theme. They discovered, both individually and as a unit, what it means to be truly selfless.
“We had one rehearsal where we had everyone on the team write down, anonymously, what they were dancing for. Then we each picked out a random one of these papers, and took it upon ourselves to dance for our fellow teammates’ cause. This way, we were taken out of our own minds and invested in the performance for another."
“It made us fight for each other.”
Cookies ran the set 7 times during that rehearsal. Seven. Times. Back. To back. To back.
“I think that was a pivotal rehearsal. When we fully realized our responsibility, our mission to share the message. It starts here, with us. But it’s not about us. It’s about them.”
As the date for VIBE approached, each rehearsal became exponentially more dense with meaning and emotion, as the team continually checked back in with the message, the powerful thesis that tied everything and everyone together.
“Our first objective was simply to share a message. It wasn’t until we were all on stage and the placings were announced, that Jason told me ‘The team wants to donate the prize money to World Vision.' It felt so right - and I was all the more inspired that our whole team thought to do that.”
A few days later, GRV and The Company, sharing the same passion to affect positive change, donated their checks as well.
― Winston S. Churchill
There were so many avant-garde and risky elements to the set, but for any viewer that thought them natural or easy to pull off, think again.
“Blocking was challenging.. Everything took experimentation and patience. Every little detail counts, and had to be methodically planned out.”
From flimsy blankets that add unwanted movement when not held taught, to slippery socks (made dance-able in by cutting holes at the bottoms), to several of the team members getting sick or injured, the medley was far from painless to design or perform.
“The part where we form that shell.. We had made it so that 30+ people, shuffling in baby steps across the stage, dripping sweat, pretty much piled on top of each other, could listen to Kayla’s counts to stop at center stage.”
Seemingly impossible challenges were made workable because the team trusted each other.
“Every single rehearsal was rough. But the struggles ultimately bonded us. It took friendships to a whole new level, from sharing our emotions to navigating through technical hardships.”
According to the directors, there were actually a lot of mistakes during the performance. It wasn’t the cleanest nor the most perfect run-through.
“I think that made it better, actually. As great as cleanliness is, I found it was imperfectly perfect. It showed Cookies being raw and vulnerable.”
The medley became so much more than a competition set. The message touched over a million viewers and some media outlets, and more importantly, seeded in the mind of dancers the idea that we can do things with our talents beyond ourselves.
Has this medley or story inspired you in some way to act? Comment below!
We know that we take pride and joy in sharing our art with the world (especially if it's for a purpose), but here are some small pleasures you can get from dance, too.