The Brighton Dance Studios have been abuzz with activity in recent weeks. Hip-hop music pounds against the building’s walls. Tap shoes leave scuff marks on the scarred floor of a studio room, and feet pad gently against the surface as dancers saunter over to grab sips of water. Dancers from 16 of Boston College’s dance teams trickle into the hallway, lining up at the water fountain.
Dance teams have been practicing their routines for ALC Showdown, set to take place on March 19, in spaces across campus from Brighton Dance Studios to Carney Hall. But even as dancers pass each other in the halls of the dance studio, they won’t divulge any details about their team’s chosen theme for the performance, according to Angela Liew, co-president of AEROdynamiK Dance Crew (AeroK) and Lynch ’22.
“Your theme is your biggest secret weapon,” Liew said.
Kathleen Fox, co-president of BC Irish Dance and CSOM ’22, said that keeping the group’s theme a secret builds suspense for the competition.
“We’re all technically rehearsing for the same performance, and there’s just an underlying understanding that if we keep each other’s secrets it will be better anyway,” Fox said.
According to Destiny Gonzalez, president of Phaymus Dance Entertainment and MCAS ’24, the competition aspect fuels teams to deliver their best performances on the Conte Forum stage.
“The competition piece is always fun,” Gonzalez said. “We love all the other dance organizations, but it does give everyone a little bit more of an incentive to dance a little harder and really just go out there and try your best. It guarantees excellence all around.”
This weekend’s competition will mark the return of this BC tradition after two years of cancellations. In 2020, students were sent home in March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic before competition could take place. But, in the frenzied days of packing up dorm rooms, dancers got together for an impromptu performance of their unfinished routines on the lawn in front of 2150 Commonwealth Ave.
Last year, ALC canceled the event in response to racially biased incidents on campus and planning difficulties brought on by the pandemic. Instead, OSI offered dance groups time to record their performances in Conte Forum.
According to Lubens Benjamin, UGBC chair of the AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC) and CSOM ’23, the Showdown planning committee informed the dance teams on Dec. 17 that the competition would happen in the spring to gauge the teams’ interest in participation. After coordinating with the BC athletics calendar and the availability of the arena, Benjamin informed teams of the competition date on Jan. 27.
Benjamin said that the Showdown planning team secured additional practice space for dance teams to help them prepare for the earlier competition date.
Sixteen dance groups will participate in the competition this year. Sexual Chocolate, Full Swing, and Females Incorporating Sisterhood Through Step (F.I.S.T.S.) did not respond to requests for comment.
After learning about the earlier date of this year’s competition, presidents of the dance teams sent a letter to ALC requesting that the competition take place later in the semester, according to Danielle Salina, president of Boston College Dance Ensemble (BCDE) and MCAS ’22.
Matthew Razek, the Office of Student Involvement’s (OSI) associate director of student programming and UGBC’s advisor, said that the date could not be changed due to the availability of Conte Forum and the availability of GBM6, the production company working to put on the show.
“Before locking this day in, we did all that we could to see if there was a later day option knowing that later is preferred by the performance groups” Razek said in an email. “But when that wasn’t looking possible, we didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity to host the show this year (or delay solidifying a date so teams could plan ahead) and determined that the show must go on.”
After hearing the news in January that ALC’s 2022 Showdown was set to return this spring, many groups began to rehearse their routines. Divya Kumar, MCAS ’23 and co-captain of Masti, said that the Bollywood-fusion dance group has doubled its week’s regular practices from two to four.
Fuego del Corazón began meeting five times a week upon learning of Showdown’s confirmation, said Fiona Hanly, MCAS ’22, co-captain of the Latin dance team.
But some groups started conceptualizing their themes and routines last semester, even before they knew for sure that ALC would hold Showdown. Liew said that the leaders of AeroK started brainstorming their theme after returning from Thanksgiving break.
Over Winter Break, BCID worked with musician Richard Sunden, CSOM ’22, to create the original music for their performance, Fox said.
As preparation for the competition began, Benjamin met with the leaders of dance teams on Feb. 6 to go over details about the show, including the new required cultural component for all teams.
In the past, dance teams chose to compete in either the culture category or the competition category. The new format allows the groups to compete against all other teams for the top prizes.
Betsaida Marcel, vice president of Presenting Africa to U (PATU) and MCAS ’22, said that she is excited to have a chance for the team members to showcase their skills in competition against all other teams. In previous years, PATU has only competed in the culture category against teams such as Masti, AeroK, and Vida de Intensa Pasión (VIP).
“I know for a fact if we went up against every single dance team on this campus we would still dominate,” Marcel said.
Dance teams can incorporate their cultural component in different ways, including videos, costumes, or choreography, Benjamin said. The cultural element can represent the traditions of a country or ethnicity but can also include broader cultural themes.
Groups that do not emphasize a particular cultural dance style have had to be creative in their incorporation of the new requirement, such as UPrising Dance Crew’s focus on “intergenerational unity” in its set, according to Cynthia Ma, president of UPrising and MCAS ’22. BCDE, an all-female team, will focus on female empowerment for its routine, Salina said.
According to Brianna Coppinger, head choreographer of VIP and MCAS ’23, her team brings cultural aspects into everything it does, including the music choice and dance styles. Similarly, Synergy Hip Hop Dance Company director Amanda Garza, MCAS ’22, said that the team’s mission statement is to provide unity for students of different cultural backgrounds, so the new cultural component was easy to integrate into the team’s routine.
“We embrace the diversity of all of our team in all of its forms,” Garza said. “And then obviously, as a hip-hop team, you know, hip-hop was founded off of the fusion of Black and Latin dance styles, so we take part in that culture, and we celebrate it.”
For the Golden Eagles’ cultural component, the team is integrating its background in marching to parts of its stage routine, according to section leader Sadie Jackson, MCAS ’23. The Golden Eagles will compete in Showdown for the first time this year.
While the Dance Organization of BC has competed in Showdown in past years, this year is the first time the team will be competing against all other teams with the cultural component in its routine. Other groups previously in the competition category include BCID, BC On Tap, and BCDE. Synergy won the category in 2018 while Fuego took home the prize in 2019.
“For them to bring us all together under one umbrella to celebrate the whole thing is gonna be really great,” Regan Hayes, director of DOBC and CSOM ’22, said.
Saturday’s competition marks not only the return of an iconic BC event but also a last chance for senior team members to pass on the traditions of Showdown to their team members who have never performed in Showdown before.
Only current seniors, who were freshmen for the last Showdown competition in 2019, have stood before the roaring crowd in Conte Forum..
Emilia Couture, co-president of BC On Tap and Lynch ’22, said she was eating dinner with a fellow dancer, Olivia Bird, co-president of On Tap and MCAS ’22, before Showdown practice when they got the email from the BC administration announcing that students had to leave campus due to the spread of COVID-19.
“I would say the biggest source of excitement [is that] our class is the last class to perform in Showdown,” Bird said. “So I think everyone is just ready to get back at it again, especially after the last two years.”
Coppinger and fellow VIP member Eduard Smith, MCAS ’23, were first-year members of VIP when Showdown was canceled in 2020. The three-year wait makes their first Showdown performance even more exciting, Coppinger said.
While VIP has seniors on its team, those members did not join until their sophomore year, so Showdown will be a new experience for all members of the team this year. Coppinger said that the air of mystery surrounding Showdown adds to VIP’s motivation and appreciation for those who have led the team in the past.
“Right now I’m just super appreciative of [the former captains] and also grateful for the opportunity that we have this year to try and bring this tradition back to BC and keep it alive,” Coppinger said.
Featured Images by Aditya Rao and Aneesa Wermers / Heights Staff