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September 15, 2020

What’s Poppin’ at UChicago: Dance RSOs to Get You Moving


Alexandra Nisenoff / The Chicago Maroon

Perhaps this year, rather than huddling in the Reg, you spent your spring quarter huddled in bed, snoozing through your Zoom lecture about Nutritional Science. However, now that Fall Quarter is on the horizon, you may be feeling it’s time to stretch your legs out again and get the blood circulating back into those unused muscles. Luckily, UChicago brims with the performing arts, and the diverse styles of dance prove no exception. From people with two left feet to the next S Rank recruit, from ballet to hip-hop, swing dance to K-pop, the College’s RSOs provide opportunities to all. While we realize this list is not exhaustive, we hope that it encourages you to take a step outside your comfort zone!

The University Ballet (UBallet) is an obvious choice for the lover of the classical aesthetic. Welcoming students from all over UChicago, UBallet offers free classes every week for the curious-at-heart, the long-time masters, and everyone in between. Here, one feels free to embrace the beauty of pantomimes—the embodiment of silent imagery speaking louder than words—or finally fulfill a dream of completing the perfect pirouette. The company typically performs two full-length ballets each academic year at Mandel Hall, previous shows including La Esmeralda and the Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Sleeping Beauty. Over the summer of 2020, UBallet has also offered Zoom classes multiple days a week, with plans to continue for the future.

In a celebration of the contemporary, UChicago Maya fuses several dance styles to create masterful choreographies that are uniquely their own. Their minimalist look perfectly juxtaposes the extravagance of their performances, ranging from exploratory jazz to the examinations of the limitations of rhythm (i.e. “Dance without facing the audience”). Their message literally shouts freedom, and each dancer clearly demonstrates and soars through their performances, including previous performances like Haiku Lab at the Logan Center for the Arts, and Crossroads. Maya has also hosted virtual workshops during Spring Quarter and summer break, with plans to continue into the next academic year.

Want to attend sports games while simultaneously engaging in the dance world? Sign up for UC Cheer, UChicago's oldest cheerleading team, and attend football games in the fall and basketball games in the winter. All skills levels welcome, learn all the choreographies of cheerleading, from tumbling to the more-complex pyramids.

For those who obsess over Jade Chynoweth, Bailey Sok, or Matt Stefanina, Excolatur Dance Crew (aka Ex Crew, previously known as PhiNix Dance Crew) delivers exhilarating hip-hop choreography, typically hosting dance sessions and classes every week at Bartlett Dining with professional urban dance choreographers. A competitive RSO, the EX crew participates in events such as World of Dance Chicago but does not hesitate to welcome amateur dancers to their free workshops. Even for the mere observer, do not miss their annual Revival, showcasing various performers—including other RSOs such as UChicago Maya—and the original choreography of student dance crews and professional Chicagoan dancers. Should you pass on the EX crew, check out Groove Theory, whose hip-hop arsenal includes breaking, locking, and waacking. A competitive, yet no-cut, group, catch Groove Theory members at pre-show performances or hosting beginner workshops at Bartlett. UC Dancers, the oldest dancing RSO at UChicago, specializes in lyrical and contemporary dance and welcomes students from across all majors and backgrounds. They host company showcases and open no-cut showcases annually, so why not learn a jazz step or two?

Explore the beauty of South Asian music through RSOs such as BhangraRaasand Apsara. Bhangra puts on energetic, fast-tempo performances that take pride in Indian culture. Donning colorful traditional clothing, the dancers often take a political stance through their choreography—a declaration of the power of foreign cultures in America—which shines at events such as the annual South Asian Students Association (SASA) shows. Raas impresses with a tremendous quantity of leaps, jumps, and delicate footwork that holds onto rapid rhythms, but perhaps their brilliance is made most obvious through their handiwork of the spinning of the daandiya, or decorated wooden sticks. Both teams are competitive, having graced the stage with their presence at competitions such as Nachte Raho, Nasha X, and Naach Nation XV. Apsara performs classical Indian dances, including Odissi and Kathak, and is famous for retelling ancient mythology with traditional choreography fusions.

Rhythmic Bodies in Motion (RBIM) is the largest dance RSO on campus, and it is no surprise that it teems with perhaps the widest range of dance styles in one organization. Representing K-pop, modern/urban, Bollywood, and hip-hop—along with many others—RBIM teaches and hones the skills of students of every dancing background. Every spring at Mandel Hall, the RSO puts on a showcase that celebrates the variety of dance they offer, and the intensity every member brings is both laudable and contagious.

For the romantic souls, consider RSOs such as the Chicago Swing Dance SocietyTap That!, and UChicago Ballroom & Latin Dance Association (BLDA). Swing Dance began at C-Shop, but due to its tremendous popularity, relocated to Ida Noyes Hall recently to accommodate. Offering classes ranging from Beginner Charleston to Blues Dancing, Swing Dance holds lessons for free. For the daring who wish to learn the spinneroo, consider giving their weekly Java Jives a whirl every Saturday—featuring DJ-ed open dancing. Tap That! may be UChicago’s newest dance RSO, but they won’t hesitate to bring the nostalgic era of the 30s-40s, instructing members of all levels the precision of the step-heel heel-step or the single buffalo. And, as a perk, each new member receives a pair of tap shoes to practice away with, and, maybe, even in your dorm. BLDA captures the amorous feel both competitively and casually, with no prior experience necessary to join. They offer over nineteen different styles of dance, including salsa, bachata, and samba—so feel free to waltz right over!

Can’t have enough of performing arts competitions? Want a chance to see the many choreographies that have been composed, revised, and showcased by students? Several of these dance troupes compete in the “Where Fun Comes to Dance” (WFCTD) competition every spring, hosted by the UChicago Dance Council, the overseer of all dance RSOs on campus. Cheer on friends, vote for the best performances, and, of course, if excited, sign-up to participate in front of an encouraging and ever-enthusiastic crowd. 

After months of sitting at your desk, laptop in front of you, why not take breaks and explore the exhilarating world of the performing arts at UChicago — virtually or whatnot?

Correction on Sept. 16, 2020, 11:02 p.m. CDT:

We have updated the descriptions to include more dance groups. This list is non-exhaustive, and we encourage interested students to explore more organizations within the Dance Council and beyond.

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