Thursday, May 23

Dance crew rises to top at Battle Royale

Group affiliated with Nikkei Student Union set to perform for first time at Spring Sing

With more than 30 members, NSU Modern won Battle Royale last week "“ a dance competition presented at Union Station in Los Angeles by Omega Sigma Tau. It will also soon be showcasing its talent at its first performance at the annual Spring Sing on Friday, May 8, at Pauley Pavilion.

With more than 30 members, NSU Modern won Battle Royale last week "“ a dance competition presented at Union Station in Los Angeles by Omega Sigma Tau. It will also soon be showcasing its talent at its first performance at the annual Spring Sing on Friday, May 8, at Pauley Pavilion. Courtesy of Erich Chen

Sitting in the waiting area of De Neve Plaza, Richard Ngo, J.P. Bongco and Jennifer Lee are an interesting bunch.

Physically united only in the fact that they are all of Asian descent, they don’t look like they would normally spend time together. Ngo, with his thick-rimmed glasses, looks like a throwback to Buddy Holly cool. Bongco sits with an ease and confidence that conveys a sense of intelligent awareness. And Lee, arriving only slightly fashionably late, carries herself as a model would, with a composed grace. Although they have these differences, they come together, along with roughly 30 others to form NSU Modern, which is one of multiple on-campus dance groups.

First-year electrical engineering student Matthew Ishibashi is a fan of UCLA’s dance scene.

“While ACA Hip-hop and Samahang Modern are composed of mainly Chinese and Filipino students, respectively, NSU Modern has a really diverse makeup,” said Ishibashi, who is considering trying out for the crew next year.

And who can blame him after the year NSU Modern has been having?

Jennifer Lee, a second-year Chinese student and returning member, describes 2009 as a year of growth. When asked to list their accomplishments, Ngo, Bongco and Lee have trouble listing them all, due to the sheer volume. Two of the most notable was when the group took third place at Set It Off 2008, and more recently, winning Battle Royale 2009 , where it upset previous winners Samahang Modern and took the title of UCLA’s Best Dance Crew from current defending champion, ACA Hip-Hop.

NSU Modern’s next great accomplishment will come this Friday, when it will perform at Spring Sing for the very first time. According to Bongco, Spring Sing has only allowed one on-campus dance crew to perform each year, and that has traditionally been Samahang Modern. For Lee, who is rounding out her second year with NSU Modern, Spring Sing is a special opportunity for the group. Unlike Battle Royale, which showcases dance crews competing against each other, Spring Sing is a chance for NSU Modern to share its talent with its peers and UCLA alumni.

According to Cyndi Tando, NSU Modern shares its talent every time it performs, regardless of the setting. Tando, a first-year pre-psychology student and member of UCLA’s Nikkei Student Union, the organization with whom NSU Modern is affiliated with, got a chance to experience the group first-hand on Friday, when she attended Battle Royale 2009.

“I love how creative they are,” she said. “They aren’t only dancers; they’re actors. You get really sucked into it because they incorporate facial expressions and acting into their routines.”

Inspired by the likes of Fanny Pak, with whom they have a group-to-group relationship, and CADC, an Irvine-based college dance crew, NSU Modern puts on unique routines that garner audience wide responses.

“We like Fanny Pak because their choreography is out of the box,” said second-year nursing student and first-year member, Bongco. “(Like Fanny Pak,) we don’t confine ourselves to one style.”

Richard Ngo is a first-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and world arts and cultures student specializing in dance.

“We’re trained in different areas besides hip hop, some of us are trained in jazz, others are ballet dancers and there are even African style dancers,” Ngo said. This allows the artistic directors, or “˜coords’ as Ngo calls them, the freedom to come up with a variety of different pieces.

Pieces are the building blocks of sets, which are the final product that the audience sees. Each Tuesday, NSU Modern meets in Lot 4, and they learn a new piece, which is about the equivalent on 30 seconds of dance. While this may sound like a small task, anyone who has seen them dance knows otherwise. Their fast-paced, intricate movements are the equivalent of visual storytelling. And that, according to Ngo, is the overall goal.

Each new piece is placed into metaphorical bank. The coords then take the pieces and assemble a set. The group then practices the sets in different formations and orders, over and over again. This taxing routine seems like it would drive dancers away from NSU Modern, but as Lee put it, “people leave the group, but they always come back because they miss it so much.”

This perpetual draw to the group begs the question. “Why does one dance?” Lee provided an answer that both Bongco and Ngo agree with.

“It’s something you can’t help doing,” he said. “You know how some people talk about “˜runner’s high?’ It’s like that for me, except better. The athletic part gives me endorphins, and the music speaks to my emotion. It’s almost as if dancing is a drug.”

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