Asian American dance crew performs with open arms

The MU crew hopes to become nationally competitive.
Freshman Jody Gerth practices a new dance at the Official Dance Crew practice Sunday at the Student Recreational Complex. The Crew is a group of dancers who aim to dispel stereotypes about Asian Americans.

Studio A vibrated with hip-hop music and energy as Official, the MU Asian American dance crew, brainstormed routines. Dancers practiced new moves, and two women demonstrated a chunk of choreography to their peers. The atmosphere in the Student Recreation Complex was productive, but light-hearted — everyone was laughing.

Graduate student Dane Guevara has been president of Official for two years. He taught a freeze — a momentary handstand with one bent leg — to two women to see if they could learn it, and they both picked it up immediately.

Asians have this stereotype of being introverted, but members of Official are anything but, Guevara said.

Although Official is an Asian American dance crew, three of the 13 members aren’t Asian American. Guevara would never think to have a single-ethnicity club.

“Of course we accept anyone,” Guevara said. “(We) mix different dance backgrounds, different cultural backgrounds and are able to work together without having any boundaries.”

Talent is the group’s only requirement. The group is selected by audition; this year 13 of the 25 who tried out made the cut. Even Guevara, who joined the group before it was named or school-sponsored, had to audition again.

“We don’t have any kind of free pass,” Guevara said.

Sophomore Joanna Chavez is Hispanic, specifically Peruvian, Columbian and El Salvadorian. Although Chavez has no formal training, she is passionate about dancing. A former cheerleader with the ability to do athletic lifts, she used to work out choreography in her room, and works as an assistant to a salsa dance teacher downtown.

“For me, if I’m having a bad day, I’ll go dance, and then it’s perfect,” Chavez said.

The majority of Official’s members are sophomores and freshmen. This hasn’t changed the group’s approach to choreography, though, which has always included everyone, regardless of age or skill level.

Chavez said since the joking around and laughter of her first practice, she has never felt uncomfortable teaching her original choreography, even to long-time members such as Guevara.

“They’re really welcoming,” Chavez said. “A lot of people are kind of stand-offish, but they had open arms.”

Official performs a few times a semester at community and university functions, often fundraisers, but Guevara wants to take this group to a new level by making them nationally competitive. In about a month, they will tape routines to send into the Prelude Midwest Urban Dance Competition in Chicago. He said competing brings new motivation and something to help them push each other.

“It’s fun to perform and dance, but it’s a whole (different) monster to compete,” Guevara said.

This means their twice-weekly rehearsals are entirely spent dancing, though in prior years they have spent time addressing issues such as overcoming stereotypes. Freshman member Jody Gerth can still see a message.

“Being immersed in different cultures just always helps people break down whatever stereotypes they might have had,” Gerth said. “We have different sized people, different races in here, so… (the audience) can see that anyone can dance.”

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