Culture  One, two step

Stepping into McGill's dance scene

All the dance aficionados out there who may have been wondering what McGill has to offer will be pleased to know there are a lot of talented and vigorous dancers in our midst. Since McGill draws many students from all corners of the world, the student body includes a number of skilled dancers that make up five modern, contemporary, and hip-hop dance collectives: Inertia Modern Dance Collective of McGill, McGill Dance Pack, MOSAICA, Urban Groove Dance Project, and McGill Street Dancers. Each group flaunts a unique and diverse set of dancers from a wide array of backgrounds. Some dancers have been dancing competitively since they were toddlers, while others are self-taught improvisers.

Inertia Modern Dance Collective of McGill focuses on conventions of modern dance, employing the techniques of Martha Graham, José Limón, and Lester Horton, three important modern dancers and choreographers. Modern dance was originally developed as a reaction against the rigid structures of classical ballet, and is characterized by less restricted and more personal movement. Founded 14 years ago, Inertia prides itself on its transcendental concept of performance. Kaya Pino, a dancer for Inertia, says, “We like to think of performances as dialogues between the dancers and the audience. An ‘Inertian’ is open, fearless, and believes that movement evokes emotion.” The depth that Inertia aims to convey might make their performances a little more challenging for newcomers to the dance world, but their focus on freedom of movement makes them truly unique among McGill dance troupes. At every other rehearsal, they start off their meeting with “Circle,” a time for the dancers to open up about anything they’re going through, whether positive or negative, or just say something about their day. Inertia guest performs for various shows throughout the year, and they put on their own holiday show as well as a final performance at the end of March. The end of the year, explains Pino, is a “bittersweet time … we lose dancers and personalities that we love, but in the fall we get some fresh blood; there is constant evolution of the group which keeps the collective lively.”

McGill Dance Pack is a small group of about ten dancers with a variety of backgrounds in hip-hop, jazz, ballet, modern, and tap. They’re generally a hip-hop group and they usually end up doing a blend of hip-hop and jazz styles. They hold auditions in the fall and work together as a team throughout the year so that everyone gets a chance to contribute choreography, costume, and musical ideas. According to Valerie Anderson, a Dance Pack member, the performers are able to balance their heavy workloads with dance, using it as a means to de-stress, relax, and have fun. Anderson says that the dancers need to be able to “joke around and be silly.” They perform at various events during the year such as McGill Redmen sports games and charity events like Watercan and CASCO. They also guest perform in Urban Groove and MOSAICA’s showcases.

McGill’s oldest dance team, MOSAICA McGill, is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. They are a larger jazz/contemporary group of about 20 dancers, although they pride themselves on their stylistic diversity. Recognized for their immaculate technique, members are versatile dancers from highly trained and competitive backgrounds. According to Audrey Kwan, a dancer for MOSAICA, members are very tight-knit and very involved with each others’ lives outside of dance. Although they only have scheduled practices on weekends, “MOSAICA withdrawal” is so intense that they end up spending their weeks together as well. Throughout the year they perform in charity events, SynesthASIA’s annual charity fashion show, and the Urban Groove winter showcase. Their year-end show, which runs for three days, from March 13 to 15, at Concordia’s D.B. Clarke Theatre, is really special to them. “It’s such an indescribable feeling to just get that rush and be surrounded by people you love,” says Kwan, “and to have all the hard work that you’ve dedicated your weekends to culminate in three days is amazing.” As group members often say, “Mosaica everything.”

Urban Groove Dance Project, otherwise known as UG, is the biggest dance team at McGill. Created in 2003, UG has grown substantially and is comprised of 32 members this year. Because the group is so big, they actually break down into five smaller teams during first semester, as a way of integrating the new members. They also have a “P-Troupe” (performance troupe) that represents UG at various events throughout the year when it gets too difficult to coordinate with the whole team. Although they have become a relatively diverse group, with dancers of tap, ballet, and contemporary backgrounds, hip-hop is the root of UG. Many UGers specialize in hip-hop styles such as popping and breaking. According to Miguel Esteban, a UG dancer, they think of each other as family with whom they can share their love of dance – for UG, passion is more important than talent. In this vein, UG regularly hosts workshops taught by guest choreographers where dancers with less experience can learn the ropes. If you know any UGers then you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Sorry, I have dance,” a consequence of their dedication. This past weekend they put on their “Urban Groove Presents: You got Served” winter showcase (featuring Inertia, MOSAICA, and McGill Student Street Dancers, among others), which, according to Esteban, was a huge success.

McGill Student Street Dancers (MSSD) isn’t so much a team as a community, created to link “the McGill bubble” to the vibrant Montreal street dance scene. When they formed in 2011, they initially had to fight several obstacles, such as securing practice space, due to delays in obtaining full student club status. Since then, however, explains co-founder Branden Cha, they’ve gone above and beyond their simple dance club mandate. MSSD says they’ve been able to bring in international guests from Korea and France, “who are not only renowned but very difficult to be exposed to. They agreed to provide workshops with MSSD and it was a crazy experience to meet in person some of the legends behind street dance.” Some of the dance styles they practice include breakdancing, popping, locking, waacking, hustle dance, and rock dance – all genres of street dance. Because they focus on freestyle and improv rather than choreography, they don’t hold their own shows. However, you can find them guest performing at various events or at one of their own parties. Their next event is an old school jam party in January at Gerts. At each of their events they try to encompass the four tenets of hip-hop culture, as stated by Afrika Bambaataa: “peace, unity, love, and having fun.” MSSD’s focus on improv allows people who are truly passionate but haven’t had the formal training to join and experience the world of dance.

With so many dance troupes at McGill, it’s not surprising we have such an inspiring dance culture. Along with these modern, contemporary, and hip-hop dance collectives, McGill also has a handful of ballroom dance societies. A depth and breadth of talent is bound to reward anyone who checks out the McGill dance scene with some quality entertainment.