Before he traveled all the way from the Philippines to begin his freshman year, Leo Enverga ’14 had no idea what Wesleyan had in store for him. He didn’t know, for instance, that he would take part in 17 dance performances within about five weeks. For that matter, he didn’t know he would be dancing in the first place.
The Argus sat down with Enverga to talk about the dance workshop group he founded last semester, his efforts to bring Filipino culture to campus, and his thoughts on dance as an art form.
The Argus: What are you involved with on campus?
Leo Enverga: I’m currently director of the FUSION Dance Crew and X-Tacy The Collective, which are both hip-hop groups on campus. I’m also president of the PINOY club, which is the Filipino cultural association, and last semester I founded an organization called Milk & Choreo, which promotes communication and interaction between the entire dance community at Wesleyan. We offer free hip-hop workshops for all levels, especially catered to beginners or people just getting into dance. For the most part, that’s what I’m leading. I like to get involved as much as possible, especially in my younger years at Wesleyan. I think that goes for all freshmen and sophomores—you just want to try everything out, and that’s kind of how I started dancing.
A: So you didn’t dance before coming here?
LE: No, not at all. Honestly, when I first stepped onto Wesleyan’s campus, I had no idea I was going to be doing what I’m doing today. It wasn’t until the second semester of freshman year where people just started forcing me to do all these random dance pieces and cultural shows, and then I got strong-armed into auditioning for this hip-hop group. I was first going into it with no dance experience; I obviously knew I was going to make a fool of myself. Based on my recollection, I totally did make a fool of myself. But I guess the heads saw potential, and I just stayed with it, and I realized it was something I loved to do, because dance is such a great way to express yourself and the art form itself is just beautiful. And I think I learned a lot about myself by getting into dance.
A: Like what?
LE: Mainly that I was capable of being this sort of figurehead, and this leader, and someone who was able to think bigger and make bigger things happen and make changes on campus. So, for example, I was just really lucky that in freshman year, I had no dance experience, and I just got thrown into the dance world by luck. But maybe, like, 99 percent of the campus doesn’t have that kind of luck. And that’s why I started Milk & Choreo, just to give people that encouragement and that opportunity to work on themselves and build up self-esteem. Because people deal with a lot of bullshit, and usually that comes from themselves.
A: So you think dance is a way of overcoming that?
LE: Yeah, I do. From personal experience, that’s totally what I’ve been doing. So I’m grateful to dance for that.
A: What’s the process of starting Milk & Choreo been like?
LE: God, it’s been amazing. We started planning as soon as we got back from winter break, and it officially started in February . But it’s been great. I mean, I’ve been meeting so many new people, people who are just super excited. People just want to dance, to be honest; people just want to have fun.
It’s crazy, actually. This person sent us an email, literally yesterday—we just had a workshop yesterday, and right after class, she emailed us talking about how great her experience was with Milk & Choreo, and it legit made me bawl. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear from someone who went to our workshop. She was like, the environment is so supportive and positive, and she’d never thought she was able to call herself a dancer, but now she’s easing herself towards it. And it’s so exciting, seeing people come out of their shells. I never in a million years would have thought that I could give people a space where that was possible. I think that’s the most exciting part about it.
A: So you choreograph but also participate?
LE: Yes. So, each week, there’s a different choreographer or teacher, so when we’re not teaching, then we’re just in class with everyone else. I think that’s what one of the cool things about our workshops is: it’s beginner’s dance with people who’ve had experience. So everyone’s in the same room, everyone’s doing the same thing, grooving out to the same thing, so there’s no barriers between everyone. And it’s really nice; it’s really encouraging, especially for someone with no experience, to dance with people that you see perform on the stage. I think that totally helps with self-perception.
A: And do you get people who do have dance experience coming by as well?
LE: It’s a combination of both because even for me, I think it’s super important to stay humble. Like every single person that’s dancing, I think I will constantly be learning. I’ll never be a master of dance or anything, because it’s a changing art form, and there’s so much to learn.
A: Does Milk & Choreo put on any shows, or is it strictly a workshop group?
LE: It’s primarily just for learning. We think that by not having performances, it kind of helps alleviate that stress of, ‘Oh, shoot, I have to perform if I do this thing.’ So that’s one of the benefits of doing it. You don’t have to audition for it, you don’t have to perform. It’s no stress, just dance. We kind of allow people to grow within the space, so that they can join those types of groups that do perform.
A: How do you choose what you’re going to do during a workshop?
LE: It’s something new every time. Each class, we try to focus on a different technique or style or some sort of theme that has to do with dance, so it could be a technique like popping or waving or locking, or just learning about musicality or having presence in a dance. It changes up every week; the song changes every week, so hopefully we hit someone’s favorite song sometime. This first class, we did N’Sync’s “Pop,” so kind of a classic, I think. We try to prepare as much as possible.
It is still a relatively new organization, but I think we’re doing pretty well right now. We’re pretty grounded. And because we’ve gotten these workshops pretty set, we’ve actually got a bunch of really awesome new plans coming up. I’ve had huge visions for the future of Milk & Choreo that I hope we get to next semester. Things like getting professional [dancers] on campus…teaching us and performing for us, just because the dance that we get from Wesleyan is pretty confined, I’d say. So I’d love to bring that over.
[Dance] is really popular in other schools and in other states, so I’d love to get people to see it and hopefully appreciate it, and I guess the next step would be to join it and try it out. It’s always more fun with more people. The freshmen this year, the turnout has been amazing in terms of dancers. It made auditions incredibly difficult to decide on, because there were so many good people this year. That was really exciting. It was a struggle, though. We actually had to deny good dancers, because there are so many now.
A: Tell me about the other groups you were talking about.
LE: I’m also leading the Filipino cultural club, called PINOY. We try to celebrate the culture of the Philippines, try to fundraise for things, because as a third-world country, it’s still developing, and there are constant issues that we’d like to support. Ever year we have a late-night sale, which is happening again this semester, and a cultural show that happens in the spring semester, and that’s always a good time.
A: Being from the Philippines, had you been to America before coming to Wesleyan?
LE: I’d visited a few cities, but in terms of Wesleyan, orientation was the first time I’d set foot in Connecticut.
A: So what made you choose Wesleyan?
LE: A scholarship, actually. There’s this thing called the Freeman Asian Scholarship that’s given to one person per country out of eleven Asian countries, and I was fortunate enough to get the scholarship my year. I think having something like that—having a scholarship to support you—helped push me to really try and give back to the Wes community. I think that was a prime drive that influenced how I worked at Wesleyan, so yeah—I hope I’m doing a good job.
A: In related news, what’s your major?
LE: I’m a psychology major. I’m pretty much done with that, so I’m taking all these really interesting classes, like music classes, an architecture class, which is actually really interesting. In terms of music classes, I’ve taken Korean drumming, Taiko, Ebony Singers, and West African drumming. I think that’s it. But I’ve taken them several times already.
A: Do you find yourself bringing dance into these music classes?
LE: To be honest, actually, before coming to Wesleyan, music was my big thing. And I think that kind of helped in terms of picking up choreography and knowing nuances and little things in music, so I think that really helped me succeed in dance. But yeah, it’s weird, thinking about this past me that had no idea. I was completely different before Wesleyan.
I definitely grew from having taken on all these things these past few years. I definitely pushed myself. I know, just last semester, which I’ll never do again, I remember counting in the span of, like, five weeks, from April to May, I had 17 performances. I’m pretty sure I died at some point during that. But yeah, time is pretty short at Wesleyan, so I’m just trying to get as much as I can out of it.
A: How’s senior year going so far?
LE: Senior year’s good. My main focus this year has kind of been continuity and passing on things after I graduate, because I don’t want all these things that I’ve built up to fail after I leave. I’m doing my best to pass on responsibilities, as hard as it is, because I just love doing the things that I’ve been doing.
A: What about the other dance groups you mentioned?
LE: X-Tacy and FUSION are both hip-hop groups. FUSION’s focus is more taking on different styles of hip-hop, because hip-hop is just extremely broad. There are so many styles within it, and we like to have different people in different styles to use them and combine them somehow, and it always works beautifully.
And X-Tacy is also a hip-hop group that has this kind of added sexy factor. We have an annual show called Sextacy. It’s really funny because X-Tacy was the hip-hop group that I auditioned for in freshman year that accepted me, and so the first thing I found out when I got in was that the first show that we were doing was called Sextacy, and I was like, “Ahhhh, what do I have to do?” I was one of two guys in this group of, like, 10 or something. And as a naive freshman, I was a little intimidated. But, I mean, Wesleyan teaches you to broaden your mind, to gain self-confidence. I’ve definitely done that. Or, if not self-confidence, then at least to fake it till you make it. That’s a big thing that I’ve learned.