Daily Bruin columnist Christi Carras’ limited dance background consists of bingeing episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance,” grapevining her way through high school show choir and stumbling through rehearsals at a day carelike dance studio until the age of 8. As a personal experiment, she attended workshops and lessons for 10 campus dance groups fall quarter and documented her experience as a nondancer for Dance Break.
The ACA Hip Hop pre-audition workshop instructor compared one step to putting on deodorant and another to shoving an annoying little brother.
But neither the cross-body arm sweep or the overarm hand pulse proved quite that simple.
The ACA Hip Hop Facebook event page billed the Bruin Plaza workshop as a come-one-come-all event for future auditioners to “get a feel for the style.” But make no mistake, it was no novice course in pop-and-locks and body rolls.
Keeping up with the two-time winners of the Spring Sing Bruin Choice Award proved to be a challenging feat; side effects included near-constant confusion and mental fatigue. But along with the exhaustion came the inexplicable rush of joy that can only result from forcing your body to move in ways that somehow manage to feel both unnaturally robotic and satisfyingly sexy at the same time.
As I strolled up to the plaza at 7 p.m. in my baggy sweatpants and tank top a la Channing Tatum in “Step Up,” I immediately felt out of place. I guess I missed the memo that MC Hammer pants went out of style a long time ago – most of the ACA hopefuls were dressed in normal school and workout clothes, including leggings, T-shirts and jean jackets.
“Psh, I could do that,” I jokingly thought to myself as I watched someone contort his body like some kind of windup snake before the lesson began.
The constant chatter accompanying the bass-heavy music blaring through the speakers at the foot of the amphitheater fostered a loose atmosphere that empowered me in a liberating kind of way. I may not be snake-man, but I planned on giving it my all without fear of judgment.
As 7:30 p.m. rolled around, the ACA Hip Hop leaders finally assembled onto the amphitheater to cheers from their eager audience and introduced themselves before leading us in a group stretch.
While bringing my arms up and over and settling into low lunges, I began to glance at the people around me to gauge my fitness level. I was definitely not as nimble as the scattered superhumans who folded at the waist and flattened their hands to the concrete, and I often had to make small adjustments in my positioning when moving from one stretch to the next.
However, none of the exercises were too straining, and I felt relatively confident, provided that none of the steps would require my body to exceed the stretches by too much.
And then the lesson began.
I’m sure many are familiar with the phrase, “and five, six, seven, eight!” Well, try, “and five, six, seven, eight-and!” The very first step – a sharp but controlled punch above the head – landed less than a beat outside the normal dance rhythm, an uncommon style choice that set the tone for the rest of the routine’s unfamiliarity.
Soon, an ACA advisor and the instructor for the workshop gave up counting in numbers altogether, and reverted to some sort of primal dance language, shouting “boom” and “cat” to accompany hard-hitting movements and “fwoom” and “woom” for more fluid ones.
The sequence was a nonlinear flurry of hard and soft, fast and slow, contained and liberal. I didn’t need a mirror in Bruin Plaza to know that whatever my arms and legs were doing did not exactly match the timing and positioning of the instructors.
I appreciated the frequent calls of “Slower!” and “Can you do that again?” from the crowd, as my body needed as much practice with the rapidly changing hand and arm positions as it could get. However, once I gave into the fake-it-till-you-make-it mantra, I found I could at least start and end on the right foot – or in some cases, the left foot – as we reached each checkpoint in the number.
Every time we took it “from the top,” I became more confident in the steps – at least the ones from the beginning we’d gone over several times – and I started to enjoy myself.
My long legs and torso preferred the more flowing movements, like wiping my hands down my chest and into my stomach as my abdomen pulled and contracted accordingly – this time, see Channing Tatum in “Magic Mike.”
Quick arm jabs provided a satisfying contrast, forcing me to absorb the bass as each step landed on a resounding beat.
Learning the sequences as ACA performed them with impeccable precision in real tempo convinced me that ACA Hip Hop is not a group for beginners like myself. However, the low-pressure, light tone of the workshop provided the perfect conditions for a rewarding mental workout.