In STEEZY's recent visit to Toronto, we remarked on how different dance communities may have subtle cultural or stylistic differences, but we are all, for the most part, on what feels like parallel dance journeys. In a similar fashion, Prelude East Coast was another competition that showcased just how much we're in this together. The event, hosted by Project D Dance Company, was held on December 5, 2015 at the Arthur F. Couch Performing Arts Center in Secaucus, New Jersey.
The stars of the lobby were the Baonana pudding vendor (nom) and the "What's Your Why" wall, where dancers could share what their personal motivations behind what keeps 'em moving. The sense of familiarity was in the familiarity itself: The performers and attendees were, even just upon entering, tight-knit and welcoming as any community can get. But of course there's more to the story of the East Coast Community than can fit on a post-it or a 5 minute performance video. Luckily - the placing teams of the competition were generous enough to share it with us.
We know that a number of collegiate teams in the West Coast started from cultural organizations, and PUSO Modern's story follows a similar script. Its original name was PDC (PUSO Dance crew) in 2004, founded by a group of friends who wanted to start a hip-hop dance branch for the Philippine United Students Organization (PUSO) at Stony Brook University.
In 2010, Derek Gamboa (founding father of PUSO Modern) decided to change the name from PDC to PUSO Modern in an effort to make the team sound more competitive and official. PUSO Modern was introduced to the East Coast Dance Community in 2011 at Defining Rhythm. Despite the name change, PUSO Modern/PDC has always kept the same mission of representing their mother org, PUSO, through appreciation for hip-hop/urban dance.
In 2013, with only 6 full members and 2 directors, (Kristian Nacional, Esosa Oviasu) "The Neighbors" was created, and the team started rehearsing in cheap studio spaces in Queens and Brooklyn to avoid the steep rental costs of Manhattan. They were determined to make a bigger name for themselves in New York, no matter the unglamorous measures it took.
UFP was founded in 2010 by Kimberly Tam, Leslie Hubilla, Sam Gurinela, Bo Belza, Katrina Badiola, Danny Duma, Cristi Dash, Cindy Ho, Keith Ocampo and currently rehearse at Arts in Motion Dance Academy in New Jersey. The team strives to create an environment where everyone can thrive as individual dancers and as a cohesive group by nurturing each members' growth by allowing for creative freedom and offering artistic guidance. Their strong love and dedication to the consistently evolving dance community is another focus within the team.
The most charismatic people aren't so by being simple and perfect - there's something unique about them that makes them impossible to forget. Each of these 3 teams have their idiosyncrasies that make them particularly unforgettable:
PUSO Modern's close ties to their cultural club, PUSO, and the Stony Brook campus, keeps the team active and involved. They attend the club's general body meetings and offer support for even non-dance events.
3 words to describe the team?
"Sharp, pictures, dynamic."— Andrew
There's a divide between the "Community" and "Industry" dancers in the East Coast, too. The Neighbors take pride in the fact that their team members come from and dip into both scenes. This diversity of experience makes for a unique dynamic, not to mention a lot of stylistic versatility.
3 words to describe the team?
"Big. Unique. Trigga."
UFP has in its branch, a training team with no age limit. They truly do believe in fostering the community they come from, from providing mentorship to the youth and staying involved with the studio.
3 words to describe the team?
"Ugly Fat People."— UFP Directors
Dancer problems are unavoidably going to pop up in every team, every scene. The directors talk about their sets as well as challenges in the process of its creation.
"We had a one song set to Real Love- Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne (Chainsmokers Remix). The feeling we were trying to convey was exactly the name of the song: “Real love,” and our interpretation of its different forms (relationships, friendship, struggles of love, etc)."— Andrew
"Trying something outside our comfort zone was scary. Before the season even started, we decided that our goal for the team was "growth," and doing a theme, let alone a one-song set, was very fitting for that. It was a challenge figuring out how to approach a set like this with the intentions of creating a dynamic and engaging set while displaying our vision clearly."— Sarah
"For The Neighbors set, we deliberately took on the least intrusive theme we could think of: Spotify Remix (Remixes of songs on Spotify). We wanted complete creative freedom and to show people, who we really are as a collective. Because of this, we actively found a way to put all of the team's inside jokes into the choreography/staging/intentions. There's nothing better than watching dancers enjoy themselves and have fun on stage. So, even if the audience didn't exactly "get" most of our weird jokes, they would be able to feel the happiness and energy radiating off of us. I'd like to think it worked, and is why the crowd was really engaged with our performance.Our biggest struggles are not unique to Prelude EC, but extend to the entire competition season. Since we only get to rehearse 5 hours a week, every moment in rehearsal counts. We have a set rehearsals, but even then, we often have members of the team that are traveling in-and-out of state, injured, or have an unforeseen emergency. This leads to very little time with the full team before a show. There's a lot of built up anxiety in the crunch time, especially trying to visualize full transitions as late as a week before the show."— Esosa
"UFP has been struggling with a restructuring period for the last several seasons. During our director change two years prior we not only lost our creative direction but with it many of our established dancers.Now, with an almost entirely new roster and new leadership we are rising again. After trying several small changes in the last year, we decided that this half season we would implement more radical changes to how we run the team and how we create a set. To do this we essentially threw everything out the window and decided to take the fall competition season to build a training set which would (hopefully) help reduce the skill gap from the newest to strongest dancers. Every piece, along with its blocking and staging, was specifically chosen for what it could help teach our dancers as opposed to how it would be on stage. Pieces such as locking were added to help improve dancer arm strength and sharpness, while pieces like reggae were included to help with full body grooves and performance."— UFP
Having faced such obstacles in creating the sets, simply the opportunity to perform at Prelude East Coast was enough of a payoff for the teams. But placing in the top 3? Well that's just baonanas.
"It was surreal. We’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much this season to bring this set to life, and we really wanted the audience to feel something when they saw our set. It still hasn’t hit us yet, but we’re overwhelmingly thankful that the community appreciated our performance and grateful for all the love and positive feedback we’ve been getting."— Sara
"I wasn't too concerned about placing. Just seeing my team happy with their final performance, was enough to keep my spirits up. But I peeked back inside the auditorium to see what was happening, and I saw my own team jumping up and down onstage. The feeling that ran through my body at that exact moment, I couldn't put it into words if I tried. Next thing I knew I was on stage jumping up and down with them, still in the make-up of my other performance of the night."— Esosa
"The intention was to focus on ourselves as opposed to focusing on competition. So our main philosophy going into Prelude was that this set was for us. Regardless of win or lose, as long as we accomplished our goal of building a stronger and more unified team then we have succeed. Placing at prelude would just be an added bonus.As for actually placing, the directors could not be more proud of our team than we were at that moment. We deeply thank them for trusting in the direction we were taking them and for the commitment they put into chasing that goal. As for their reaction… they seemed pretty lit."— UFP
"The East Coast dance community has grown and continues to grow. Six/seven years ago, there were only a couple of teams in the NY/NJ area that everyone knew like Fr3sh, Project D, and Rhythmology. Now, we see more teams in the community ranging from collegiate teams to dance companies all over the tri-state area. This community has a lot of unique and distinct talent that other dancers and communities across the country should see. Don’t sleep on the East Coast.The talent here is pretty crazy. Not only that, but teams are hungry and constantly trying to get better. One challenge we faced this season was finding a way to make our set unique and reflective of our growth while keeping up with the rest of the community. We constantly have to remind ourselves to keep on pushing and to never settle."— Sarah
"There is so much hunger and desire to be acknowledged out here. Not to belittle the drive and determination of other communities, but I feel that in other places around the country there's a certain level of notability shared across the community. I know the names of major teams in Illinois, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Toronto, and obviously Cali. But (in the past) whenever a friend or acquaintance would visit NY and asks about the dance scene here, they're not even aware if one actually exists.As a leader in general, an important task is showing support to the rest of the community. And that doesn't mean "Liking" an Instagram clip of your friend killing a combo, or sharing an event page on Facebook of a different team. True support is about being present, whenever it's possible. True support is dragging your butt across town to take class from someone else in the community you admire and respect (even if you don't know them that well). It means so much when you're present for other people, and it motivates them to do the same. Being present is what galvanizes this community into coming together in greater numbers and more frequently."— Esosa
"Our team’s origins go all the way back to one of the first founding teams of the New Jersey dance community, so we have had the honor of seeing this community grow from its earliest days to the present. As a community we started off slowly, mostly dancing for cotillions or Filipino related community events but as more people showed interest more organized teams began to form. Then through exposure to the outside dance world, such as the California team community or the NY dance industry we began to expand and refine our dancing. Team’s sets began to evolve and individuals began to be recognized.However, unlike many communities in the world because of the strong influence we have had from predecessors in the dance field we have a very mixed population of dancers that hold differing values and beliefs as to how dance should be approached. California was the first inspiration to us, while next door we have influence from the originators of hip hop and leading contemporary and ballet companies in New York. Then there are those who have worked hard to create a style unique to New Jersey and they continue to try and push the limits of our dance to this day. Combine those things together and you have one of the most stylistically varied communities in the US."— UFP
Hopefully in the direction that it’s headed in now. PUSO Modern hasn’t been in the community for long but we can truly say that at every yearly competition/showcase we’ve been to, every team is GROWING. Everyone is hungry out here on the East Coast and it's super inspiring and motivating.— Andrew
I love that more and more teams are traveling coast-to-coast to showcase and compete. Just this year we had our friends of A.R.C. showcasing at Project M's "At Your Service" Showcase, and had our own Project D competing at Prelude Norcal. I think it's great to have our own identity as an East Coast community, but moving forward, I hope we see continued support and interaction between both coasts. Even though we have vastly different schedules and styles, I feel like our drive and love to dance is all coming from the same place.— Esosa
I hope to see more East Coast teams representing in competitions like HHI, Vibe, and Body Rock. And also vice versa, that the SoCal teams would want to travel to compete in East Coast competitions.
Have you ever been to the New York / New Jersey area? What was your experience like? Comment below and share with us! As you can see, there's so much more that goes into a performance than meets the eye during stagetime. Remember when Choreo Cookies started a whole movement? PUSO Modern's set had a lot of love-related themes. Real dancer couples could relate to that, and this hilarious list, too.