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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All Love: Dance with a Unique Motive

By Rashmi Guttal

The crowd is silent and the lights are dimmed like the calm before a storm. What happens next, only few know; forty-two, actually, to be exact.

Scattered like the iridescent lights above them, the dancers scurry across stage, left and right, to create a formation before at least 400 eager eyes at UCLA’s Theta Beta Delta Battle of the Pledges show. The audience may assume that the dance is intricate but routine; various members of the crowd acknowledging that this team has probably practiced this set for week’s even months and know this moment validated only by their cheers and excitement. But to the dancers, this is All Love and just like their motto, and they are in it for the fun. As an exhibition team, Modern Completely Insane Anteaters rip up the stage with their passion and heartfelt moves solely for the passion they have within for dancing; this is not a competition and their smiles show it. Although they may have practiced this dance numerous times, their happiness is contagious as the crowd laughs when Alek and Sam play rock paper scissors in the middle of a piece or as Jessica Enriquez cannot help but crack a wide smile when a teammate screams “Damn you sexy Jessica!” from off stage. As I watch them perform their smooth moves, sliding in their black pants and red tops to the music in ease, I know the journey to get there has not always been an easy one.

Created in 2003, Modern Completely Insane Anteater assumed the role of a hip-hop exhibition team at the University of California, Irvine. Their mission was simple; as an exhibition team they would perform and compete for fun, driven by their passion to dance and create rather than validate themselves by winning competitions. As Jason Tong, this year’s coordinator and member of MCIA for four years describe it, “It was about the passion, it was not about being number one because to each other, we are.” Although dominated by females at first, they were able to integrate male members to the group by holding particular auditions to add variety and diversity into the group and in that, inclusively adding other hip hop skills like break dancing. Through that, the solid formation of MCIA began and the motto ‘All Love’ shone through. Holding various workshops throughout the year as well as hip hop classes at the Anteater Recreation Center, MCIA continues to spread the joy of hip hop to all students at UCI, dancers or not. Not to be fooled by their nonchalant and joyful attitudes, when it comes to actually being on the team, MCIA means business. As of today, MCIA stands as one of the most prestigious and privileged exhibition dance teams on campus, holding auditions where 125 students come out to fill a competitive 34 spots. No one gets out of auditioning either; returners and newbie’s alike hope to have a chance to be a part of this fun yet serious team.

Peering into the room, the pensive look on Jason Tong’s also known as Jtong, face says it all. They have done this routine numerous times and clean up is just not cutting it. As I walk into the ARC studio where the team has been practicing this quarter, Jtong’s face makes a 180 as he smiles to greet me.

“I was hoping you would come today. We’re doing clean up and run through for the show coming up!”

I can tell he’s genuinely excited to not only perform but to show me the final product of what his team has been working on for weeks. The team gets into Physical Forum, there version of stretching and socializing. Stretching is an essential part to getting ready for any exercise, but for hip hop it also allows the body to become more flexible and thus pliable to the moves during the routine. While doing something much likes the pelvic thrust, some teammates face each other to talk while others begin to wander around and joke.

“Oh! Let’s do some pushups yeah? The one’s in the back and the front!” Enriquez motions to the entire group. Some nod, others look apathetic but everyone does them.

“You can do more than that Stacy…” Jtong says smiling at his co-coordinator Stacy Rivera, as he exemplifies the motivation that MCIA brings to each other.

Just as Jtong says that, Alek begins to pretending to give oral sex to one of his male teammates as he does pushups and the team bursts out laughing, including the coordinators who are on the side planning the agenda for practice today. Through the sexual innuendos and side conversations about their weekend outings, I am suddenly reminded that these are not only dancers but college students who spend a great amount of their lives outside of MCIA.

“I definitely do a ton of things outside of MCIA,” Captain Kristine Torres says, “I’m in Kababayan, which is our Filipino cultural club, as well as working in the Student Center on campus and being a Student Services intern for the Associated Students of the University of California Irvine or ASUCI. It can be really difficult, especially since I’m a double major in Social Ecology and Urban Studies with a minor in Biomedical Engineering.”

As her voice speeds up to talk about the activities she does, her enthusiasm is obvious.

“At first my GPA was really hit, especially because I was a Biomedical Engineering Major and as a freshmen getting onto MCIA, I did not know how to manage, but then I got better at time management and realized I was really into architecture. Google Calendar has saved me! I have a white board filled with things I really want to do, goals for my college years and life, and I just try to plan it out. Like I wanted to do ASUCI, so I decided that this year I would do it. I probably will not do it next year because I have to move onto the other things I want to pursue but I’m trying to fit everything in!”

With practices starting at nine at night and ending as late as two in the morning for MCIA, I am amazed at Kristine’s motivation to do more. Running on less than six hours of sleep sometimes, Kristine continues to dance for MCIA despite the late hours.

“Dancing has been my passion and it’s something I do to get the jitters out. I work eight to five on Tuesdays and Thursdays and one time a customer came in and asked me if I needed to pee! I started laughing because I didn’t notice I was pacing and jittering the entire time. Sitting at a desk for long hours is not my thing. I definitely have to get my energy out somewhere! And don’t get me wrong but I’m a really sleepy person, so doing all of this can be really hard but I don’t mind waking up early, so if I get the chance to sleep early, I will.”

Due to the fact that the team meets Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, a majority of the team is able to finish homework assignments, late night labs and sleep early on days that they do not have practice. Though the commitment is simple to them, it phases me how they can stay so energetic and moving so late at night when some of them barely have gotten five to six hours of sleep the previous night, or had a long, hard day at school and work yet when they come together, something unique happens. A creation of passion, love and energy fixates and all that matters is the moves at hand. The focus and objective are obvious and after trying a couple of moves me, I can understand how they could get lost in the music; how dancing is their intoxication.

“FIRST FORMATION EVERYONE! LET’S DO THIS!” Summer Hart-Poindexter yells across the room, her curls bobbling up and down much like her body as she jumps up and down pumping the room up. As one of the three coordinators besides Stacy Rivera and Jtong, Summer leads the team through excitement and laughter rather than orders; she maintains the status of respect but also as one of their fellow friends and teammates.

As Jtong explains, “MCIA has never been about just dancing and learning new hip hop moves, it is also about how build yourself and be yourself. As a coordinator, I try to do that. Besides trying to keep everything in line, I also want to make sure everyone feels good about what they are doing for the team and how they interact with the members, not just the music and the moves. It’s about everything playing in sync together.”

And just as the music begins for the first formation and the dancers begin to clean up their moves for the upcoming performance on Sunday, the dancing is obviously in sync. As they do what they call marking and clean up, where they look at the mirrors and make sure their moves are right without going one hundred percent on their run through, the details and energy they put into making sure that each move, each piece and each set is perfect shows their dedication to dance. It is admirable to see people who gain no material value putting in so much effort just to express their passion for the art of dance.

“The end outcome is more valuable. Everyone wants to be there and everyone wants to see each other grow. We all love each other, and that is something different.” Dennis Tran says, a 2nd year Unaffiliated Social Science Major. This is his first year on the team.

Katherine Au explains the agenda for the day to me between the first formation and second formation set up, catching her breath as she speaks, “It’s really simple; run through, formation, the pieces are cleaned and reblocked, clean up the pieces more and practice the moves you need to get solid.”

The plethora of hip hop terms confuse me and just as I am about to ask Katherine to explain what each means, she smiles and realizes the confused look on my face. She had almost forgot I was not part of the dance world but her willingness to help includes me in this new world I am not used to “ So marking is when we don’t really give our all on the performance as you saw in first formation right? A run through is going through the entire dance routine or set. A set is just another word for a piece and cleaning and re-blocking are making sure everything is centered and the moves are uniform. It’s not only about making sure you are in sync but the rest of the team is in sync too. It’s important to clean up our piece before a performance so no one is lost during the actual act.”

As the second formation begins, I am lured in by the provocative smooth moves and a sudden urge to get up and dance amuses my mind. I become lost in their motions, watching as each beat correlates to the next. The choreography is nothing but pure intricacy. Each member of the group is able to submit pieces to the coordinators who select the pieces that will be in the set as a whole. Staying true to their name, the coordinators also let the team vote on the pieces they like the most and choreographing is definitely not easy.

“Choreography is kind of like a necklace. First you listen to the beat and kind of feel where the music takes you. Then you make the moves and as you are making the moves, each piece fits together like a bead. The pattern is determined by the rhythm and everything needs to be in sync, but once it is, you have a beautiful necklace.” John Paul "J.P." Peralta explains.

The pieces, through their intricate moves and particular solo’s definitely create the pressure to practice quite a lot and this year where they practice has been a great difficulty. As Parking and Transportation at UCI changed the policy of dance crews dancing in the parking structures past ten pm a violation of campus rules, many dance crews like MCIA, who relied on the vast space and outlets to practice, at a standstill.

“Yeah there were times where we held practice anyway because we didn’t have spot this Fall quarter and the cops came and kicked us out. For some time we had an underground spot near the Engineering Hall but that lasted only so long.”

Luckily, through the group’s prestige and privilege on campus, the ARC decided to rent out the room on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays to MCIA in return for their hip hop instruction classes. The struggles of other teams on campus still occur due to this parking policy but MCIA remained to stay positive, in hopes that they would find a space sooner or later to express their love for dancing. It was never an issue of stopping to dance, just a mild obstacle to face.

By the third formation, I’m starting to see some yawns and it is hitting 11:30. Going from first to second to third and then to fourth formation and back, Jessica mouths to me “Long process”. I can see it is real dedication as my eyes begin to drift. My thoughts are suddenly muddled by a strong energetic voice.

“Hey, no more traffic alright?! Come on, hustle, let’s get through it.” Summer says, referring to the shuffle of people getting into each other’s way from one formation to the next.

Finally, they give it their all, fourth and final formation. The music starts and they begin their run through, going through the entire routine. The enthusiasm shows and it is obvious they are not marking anymore, they are putting 100 percent into it and it really shows. Each move is in correlation with each other’s and without looking to each other for guidance they know they have each other’s backs and know the moves by heart. They are thorough but passionate and never robotic; there is obvious love in their eyes.

“Snake Formation!” “That’s it!” The last formation was over and yet the smiles continued to shine. I began thinking I was in some sort of musical, where dancing continued and lip syncing began.

Summer stood in front of the dancers as they began to shuffle back to first, their feet slightly dragging on the floor. As if a dictator, Summer jumped and promptly stood on top of the wooden bench behind her, peering down at the dancers now watching her intensely yet unlike Hitler or Stalin, Summer had a kind, cheerful face, reminding me of a child rewarded with ice cream. The contrast in this moment was the long faces that met hers; it was obvious they respected her and were listening intently to what she had to say.

“Hey guys, so this is the last run through so let’s make it count. Most important: HAVE FUN!”

Within seconds smiles broke the formerly long and tired faces of MCIA as if a wave had come over them. As the music began once more and the routine began, everyone began to go wild. It was as if they had produced their very own audience and support system as well, cheering each other on during each set and that was exactly it. As the dancers remained light on their feet, I was astonished by their enthusiasm, understand now they were no longer ‘marking’ it; this was 110 percent, if not more. Suddenly, the music stopped and so did the dancers.

Jessica chuckled at me; it was time for the ‘Love Formation’ also known as circling down. Practice was over but the fun had just begun.

Sunday March 6th, 2011

Opening the doors of Jack in the Box at 8:31 am, I am greeted by MCIA’s illuminating faces, making me wonder sarcastically what drugs they were on; how could people be so happy in the morning? Soon after questioning this, it was obvious why they were all smiling and laughing. Running up to me as soon as he saw me, Jtong ran up to me, greeting me with his own genuine smile. This smile, unlike any other I had seen, not only had a certain spark to it. His eyes showed love and excitement for what was coming, dedication to the art he had immersed himself in and his face radiated this brighter than the sun. I could not help but crack a smile as well. Preaching and practicing it like a religion, they really meant business when they said ‘All Love’ was their motto. These people made me, a girl too shy to dance in front of an audience, to start grooving too.

As the team started to pile up in Jack in the box, some ordering food, others chatting about their weekend so far, Jtong began to go around with Stacy and Summer and remind people that their ‘Tech time’ was at 10:45, and as the show was at UCLA, one hour away from Irvine, they would have to leave within half an hour. Tech time is a term for a time where the technology like music and lights are tested out before the performance, much like rehearsal in theater.

I piled into Jessica’s car with Richard also known as Lenny and Anna.

“No MCIA music in the car please”, Richard said just as we were about to take off, “We listen to it way too much!” he says chuckling. While blasting Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, there is no doubt this is a team of love and fun. I imagine a competitive, not exhibition like MCIA, team serious in the car, pep talking themselves before the performance tonight, smiles laced with the jitters. There is no sign of anxiety in the team and as we pull up into the UCLA parking lot next to other team members, its evident their car rides have been similar as well.

The next moments are a blur; from a run through during ‘Tech time’, to the waiting for the performance to start at 5:00pm, walking through Santa Monica Promenade and finally sitting down to eat at California Pizza Kitchen with a few teammates. Before we realize the time, Stacy calls Dennis, reminding him to get back to the venue by 4:00pm. It is 3:45pm and unlike other teams who may start to stress, the group leisurely pays for the check, making me worry about arriving on time more than them. I start to sweat a little when we hit traffic getting back to UCLA’s campus, stressed out that the team may miss their performance.

“We have more than enough time, the performance actually doesn’t really start till 4:30 or 5ish, so we’re good. We’re not the first act either.” Jessica says at 4:05pm, pushing her phone at Anna and motioning to call Stacy.

“I’ve already let Stacy know, don’t worry. She said it was fine.” Richard says as Anna begins to call.

A rush of relief sweeps through me. To think that I am not even performing and am this stressed, I wonder what they are actually going through. The phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” pops in my head. They are the epitome of this saying; the placid environment extremely intriguing right before a performance. Yet this attitude does not demonstrate the seriousness of the actual performance.

Backstage the floor turns into a beauty salon; MCIA girls apply brown, blue and black eye shadow, while straightening and curling their hair. The MCIA boys practice moves by freshening up their outfits by looking in the mirror and making sure everything is on just right.

I stand backstage just as MCIA is about to go on. This is what they have been waiting for; practicing till 2 sometimes 3 am so that this performance is flawless. As the lights shine on them and the music begins, they begin to react as if chemicals in a science project, the music creates the ball-and chain move or a splash of break dancing and everything is in sync. It is methodical yet passionate. The music stops and the performers stop, each gleaming with smiles.

Circling down after the performance, sweat dripping down their made-up faces, streaks of make up on some dancers creating lines on their face, some standing, others were sitting around the three coordinators to hear what they have to say.

“ Great performance guys, I saw enthusiasm and genuine heart in there…” Jtong begins.

It seems like this whole whirlwind of performing had come full circle-literally. And just how it started it ended, full of love and happiness and two simple words that summed it all: All Love.

Note: Some names were not fully released due to discretion of the interviewer.

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