The All UCI 7 Dance Battle: All Dance, No Battle

The Student Center hummed with hip-hop and hyped chatter as more than 1,000 ‘Eaters filled the Pacific Ballroom last Wednesday to enjoy the annual All UCI 7 Dance Battle. Organized by the freestyle crew BBoys Anonymous, the event marked the seventh consecutive year when UCI’s seven premier dance teams came together for one night to showcase original choreography and duke it out in a freestyle dance battle royale, featuring eight three-man teams. But ultimately, the night was a rare chance for teams to revel in each other’s adept creativity. Styles ranging from vogueing to popping, from hip-hop to modern interpretive to disco influenced each team’s set and demonstrated the remix-imagination of UCI’s contemporary dance scene.

All UCI has become emblematic of the oft-invoked “UCI Dance Community” by offering a platform for its multifarious factions to collaborate and produce an event greater than the sum of its parts. “I think it’s amazing that dance can bring so many people together,” said CADC Captain Jayar Rodriguez. “We find inspiration in one another. Everyone is busy either preparing for competitions or exhibitions during the year, so this is the one time where we all get to intermingle. There’s nothing like it.”

If there’s anything dance crews are notorious for, it’s their infectious exuberance for each other — their uncanny ability to hype each other up with supportive gusto. And emcee Ben Lee, an alumnus dancer himself, charismatically rallied the crowd to cheer and chant like a chorus with delightful ease. In fact, throughout the individual team showcases, this ethos of mutual admiration flowed throughout the room, showing up as sparks of excited support — secret handshakes, hugs and high fives — between teams, stadium-worthy cheers and huge grins as their peers executed their routines with impactful precision. The room’s tirelessly positive energy stoked even the most stoic spectator into high gear. Liz Cartajano, a seven-year vet of the local dance scene, remarked: “It’s an experience no one can really know, except for those who [attend]. It is an event of massive energy, full of people that are doing what they love and that’s really powerful to have in one room.”

It was so positive that calling this event a “dance battle” might be a grave misnomer. Showmanship, not competitiveness, was the name of the game. As it happened, most dancers interviewed that night mentioned without fail how inspiring and satisfying it was to see the evolution of a respective team’s creative vision and the improvement of individuals who, perhaps a year ago, had never danced a day in their lives. Even the eight three-man teams competing the dance battles were small coalitions of different dancers representing different crews.
But Lee offered some insight into the freestyle dance battle format of the event: “To me, a battle is a conversation. You have one person on one side and one on the other. Both of [them] are here — sharing this space, sharing this time — and it equalizes [them]. It makes [them] so much more than what [they] are alone.”

Considering this metaphor of dance as speech, this event was a case study of how individuals form and foster a community. The original choreo-showcases by individual teams represented the various dialects of the UCI dance community. Each crew’s synchronicity, imagery and athleticism evidenced unique body languages contained within the communal tongue of UCI dance. For instance, Kaba Modern’s dialect emphasized intricate precision, while CADC danced a more aggressive, sexy vocabulary. Yet both teams understood each other perfectly, because they speak the same mother tongue of contemporary hip-hop dance.

If dance battles are conversations, they can be conducted in an infinitely evolving language. Championing their crew’s individual patois that night, each of those eight eclectic battle royale teams debated in dance dialects never before seen, but somehow always accessible to the entire community, from veterans to fledgling dancers.
In this way, the UCI dance community encompasses the duality of both individual creativity and communal vision. The All UCI 7 Dance Battle is but one incarnation of this dichotomy, a celebration unified under the same banner of the love for dance. Cartajano explained, “Even though community is emphasized through choreography, there still has to be a freestyle aspect to it. It’s important if you want to understand yourself as a dancer. It’s important to explore that and find your own individuality before making your own choreography … We’re not different [from each other] because we’re all just groups of people that do what we love together. If you’re dancing with people you enjoy being with, that’s all that matters.”