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Epic dance battle ensues at the FAC

This weekend marked what some would call the official start to the semester, with events sponsored by the University Programming Council (UPC).

Slideshow: UMass’ Best Dance Crew

Thursday night’s kick-off event, “UMass’ Best Dance Crew,” brought crowds that packed every corner of the Fine Arts Center, which holds approximately 1,900 students. According to Wing Lau, a representative from UPC, students began to line up for the event at 6:30 p.m., over an hour before it was set to begin. Once the doors were opened, squeals and shrieks could be heard from the herd of students trying to rush to their seats.

Once inside the auditorium, students were able to appreciate the on-stage disc jockey spinning live hip-hop, and most were seen dancing in their seats before the show began. After a delayed start of about 10 minutes, it seemed that the audience was growing increasingly anxious to see the upcoming performances.

First onto the stage were UPC members Charles Flowers and Josh Dodds, who were forced to fight with the DJ’s volume before getting the attention of the crowd. After making a point to mention the table set up in the FAC lobby collecting donations for the victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti, Flowers and Dodds introduced the four upcoming student dance groups, as well as the special guests of the evening, MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew’s” first-season finalists, Kaba Modern.

The first dance group to hit the stage was made up of five girls clad in fitted white T-shirts and black spandex shorts or pants. The most impressive talent of this group, who call themselves Straight Hip Hop, was the amount of gymnastics incorporated into their three-song mix of music, though the crowd seemed more excited by the girls’ shaking hips. While Straight Hip Hop certainly brought strong moves and attitude to the competition, they were not invited back for the second round of dancing later on in the evening.

Charles and Dodds came out again to give an introduction of the next performing group, Insanely Prestigious, calling them “award winning.” The audience soon realized that these six girls and one male made up a step team, who successfully stomped their way into the second round.

Each performer’s moves were well synchronized with the other members of the team, some even managing to step and keep the beat while sitting down on the stage. They were able to rhyme and chant throughout their short performance.

The third group of the night was the all-female Dynamic Motion Dance Team, who bounded onto the stage in matching DMDT tank tops and black spandex pants. Their performance consisted of a slower selection of music, and their movements resembled more of a jazz and lyrical stream than the previous two sets. While the girls impressed the audience members with their show-quality leaps and flexibility, the Dynamic Motion Dance Team failed to secure a spot in the finals.

In an effort to keep the crowd’s enthusiasm, Charles and Dodds once again hit the stage, this time with free T-shirts to distribute to the screaming swarm of students in the FAC. In an effort to keep the evening moving along smoothly, the boys quickly brought out the final student dance group, Salsa Fusion.

Seven girls in different colored hooded sweatshirts immediately came onto the stage, beginning their dance routine with movements to match the sounds of a car engine revving up at the start of their mix of songs. Their movements were synchronized, and seemed almost interpretive in nature.

After the first half of their routine, four male dancers ran onto stage in silver vests, and the girls exited for a costume change. When they returned, the set seemed transformed into a Bollywood feel, both in dance style and apparel, which was complete with small bells on the sides of the girls’ wide-legged pants. Their broad steps and precise arm movements rose loud cheers from the crowd, ultimately leading the group into the final round.

Finally, the MCs rewarded the audience with what they had been anxiously awaiting all night. The six members of the California-based dance group Kaba Modern were welcomed to the stage with deafening cheers. Their set began with The Whispers’ Rock Steady, a slower selection so that they could showcase their precise movements, which varied from small arm pumps to an entire body roll.

While the judges collaborated to tally their results, Charles and Dodds called upon the audience members to come up to the stage for an impromptu dance-off, where more free T-shorts were distributed. This happened at various points throughout the night, and it seemed as if the boys were ill-prepared for the situation, as some of the dancing would have made pole dancers squirm.

The second round of dancing began with three of the male members of S.A.S.A. Fusion, who pumped their bodies up from the floor in time with the sound of heartbeat. The rest of the routine consisted of broad hip movements and constant jumping from all of the members of the group, which seemed to impress the student audience.

Insanely Prestigious showed that they had a singer amongst them, who introduced the group’s next routine with her vocals as well as her dance moves. Their performance involved lifting one member in the air as she continued to keep in time with the rest of the step team.

After another audience dance-off which brought break dancers and a few ‘worms’ onto the stage, the two final dance crews held a head-to-head competition, and S.A.S.A. Fusion came out with their own step dance routine in an attempt to show up the talent of Insanely Prestigious.

Once again, Kaba Modern graced the audience with their talents in an encore performance with movements that were as strong and as smooth as if they were performed by Michael Jackson, smiling all the while and making their actions seem as easy as walking down the street. One Kaba Modern member broke into the robot with ease, which brought shrieks from the crowd, amongst many calls of, “I love you!” and various marriage proposals.

As a surprise feature, Arnel Calvario, Kaba Modern’s founder and manager, came out onto the stage to start of a round of solos for each group member. When asked later about this section of the night, the group members revealed that they each still become nervous when performing improvisational dance moves, as they did during their solo sets.

After some additional announcements made by UPC members regarding upcoming UPC events, such as UMass’ Last Comic Standing and Battle of the Bands, two trophies were awarded to the top two finalists in UMass’ Best Dance Crew, Insanely Prestigious took second place, as S.A.S.A. Fusion was crowned the winner. Both groups got to share the stage with Kaba Modern, and Calvario once again mentioned the great need for financial support for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. At this point, students were standing in clumps on the sides of the stage to get a closer look at the guest performers.

According to Calvario, performing in shows at universities, such as UMass brings the Kaba Modern crew back to their roots, as they started dancing together in college. As for their stint on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, “it just happened,” said Calvario in an interview after the show. “It is a blessing to keep doing what you do.”

The Jan. 21 event was also special to the six dancers because it was the first time they had been together onstage since one member had spent time as a back-up dancer for Britney Spears’ Circus tour.

Calvario stressed that it is most important for younger dancers and developing groups to “always keep an open mind for different styles” and that the essence of dancing is through the connection to music.

Elyse Horowitz can be reached at ebhorowi@student.umass.edu.

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