My spring break was filled with pops, locks, booms, pows, hits, beats, steps, isolations, footwork, core exercises, self warm-ups, arm waves, hip thrusts, chest pumps, back pains, and the constant need for a massage. I had never felt as physically sore, as intimidated by performers, or as in awe of the movements of the body as I did last week.
I spent the latter half of my break with six other members of Wesleyan’s Milk and Choreo core team. We flew to warm and sunny Los Angeles with our snapbacks and oversized T-shirts to experience a dance intensive week at Movement Lifestyle (mL).
I first heard of mL, a choreography management company, when my friends were fangirling/boying over videos of hip-hop dancers. Filipino choreographer and dancer Shaun Evaristo is the founder and CEO of mL. His vision was to provide help for emerging dancers and choreographers in the industry. The company is a community-based, globally-connected, urban dance brand that serves as a platform for the dance community to grow. And grow it did: several well-known choreographers originated from this well-known dance studio in LA. It is now home to several dance enthusiasts and professionals who are emerging as stronger dancers with a greater love of dance.
Ever since my friends introduced me to some of the most well-known dancers in the industry, I started using some of my procrastination hours turning up the volume on YouTube and searching for some of their videos. I may not have been as good a stalker as my friends were (although they did introduce me to new videos throughout the trip), but with what I had seen, I knew I wanted to learn more as a dancer through these amazingly gifted performers and choreographers.
I didn’t think my dream would be fulfilled so early on.
We arrived in California and made our way to North Hollywood. We resided in a hostel owned by mL called theHOUSE, which accommodates hip-hop dancers from all parts of the world. Interns from mL gave us a tour and told us about certain things we had to keep in mind, because we were sharing the space with other people. This housing was created just this past year for aspiring mL dancers who might not otherwise find a place to stay.
The house had a nice living room, about five bedrooms with between four and six beds each, a kitchen complete with all the facilities needed, well-maintained bathrooms, a patio, a pool, high-speed Wi-Fi, and several other guests from across the globe. It was incredible getting to know and dancing with artists from other parts of the world. We settled down in our rooms and rested until the day we were to start our first round of workshops.
On Monday, after finishing a light lunch, we put on our dancing shoes and walked to theSTUDIO, mL’s dance space, to take our first class. For a week, we took an average of two advanced hip-hop classes per day—that’s about 10 classes in five days. Professional choreographers we chanced upon included Kyle Hanagami, Lando Wilkins, Devon Perri, Laura Edwards, Jaffar Smith, Gigi Torres, Lyle Beniga, Devin Jamieson, Erica Sobol, Sorah Yang, Ade Willis, and Mike Fal.
My favorite class was probably the one with Torres. Initially I wasn’t going to take this workshop, but thank goodness I did. We had a unique workout to prepare ourselves for the choreography that continuously engaged our core muscles. But what I liked about her was that she taught beyond just the choreography. Besides showing the steps to her piece, she mentioned things like keeping your facial expression as engaged as the rest of your body and being aware of what your body is really doing. She emphasized creating your own style and making the moves your own. I love it when teachers talk about more than just the steps: that’s how you learn more about yourself as you dance.
I’ll admit that at first I was scared. I’m not particularly quick when it comes to picking up on steps, so when I went to the first workshop and had a hard time with the speed of the teaching, I felt intimidated. I’d do the moves but I was frequently one beat after everyone else. Sometimes, I’d just completely blank out and flop my arms around, pretending I was doing something right. But later on, maybe because the teachers taught slower or I learned faster, I eventually started to move in sync with the rhythm and executed the moves properly (at least to my standards). I pushed myself and I think I came out as a better dancer.
I love dancing. I enjoy the thrill of the choreography, the discovery of the ways a body can transform, the beauty of a beat colliding with a step, how a team shares a story through movement. This spring break reminded me once more about my love for this art form. I pushed my limits, I learned, and I discovered a bit more about myself through the lens of a dancer.