HYPE, Vassar’s only non-audition hip-hop dance group, welcomes students with varying degrees of dance experience. According to their Facebook page, this eclectic group of dancers includes “ballerinas, cheerleaders, hip-hoppers, modern dancers, capoeira-lovers, break-dancers, people who have never danced, people who ‘can’t dance’ and so much more!” The organization, which won the title “Vassar’s Best Dance Crew” in 2010, is always looking for new members. There are currently 15 HYPE members. HYPE President Onyinyechi Attah ’22, better known as “O,” notes, “A lot of HYPE members have graduated in the past two years, so now our main focus is on recruiting new members and rebuilding our ranks.”
While HYPE welcomes dedication, it doesn’t demand it—some members attend every meeting and participate in every performance, while others attend sporadically. Once a week, HYPE leadership sends an email to all prospective members including upcoming programming and a selection of dances and performances to sign up for. Last week’s email came with some exciting news for members, as those in the studio will no longer be required to keep a fixed distance due to the campus’ recent progression through the VassarTogether Phases. The most recent GB meeting, which prioritized signing up new members, involved learning choreography to “Birthday Sex” by Jeremih.
Practices, which are around an hour long, are held through a mix of Zoom meetings (tentatively on Tuesdays from 7-8 p.m.) and socially distant in-person practices in Kenyon Hall every Saturday from 12-1 p.m. Due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, the number of dancers in the studio per session is limited to 14, so those interested in participating in the in-person sessions must sign up in advance. HYPE has taken the initiative to open all windows for cross-ventilation and enlist a trained monitor to guarantee safe practices. To ensure those participating virtually are not left out, HYPE leaders also plan to introduce a handful of guest choreographers to lead a few virtual meetings throughout the semester.
These practices are referred to as General Body (GB) meetings and members are encouraged to bring a friend. Two virtual GBs have been held so far, one in which members taught each other famous TikTok dances and the other in which they learned throwback dance moves such as the Dougie and the Moonwalk. Since HYPE is focused on learning dance through collaborative efforts, students also teach each other original choreography. As of now, only Executive Board Members are teaching choreography. However, as Attah notes, “Once we get into the swing of things, all members will be welcome to bring their own choreography to teach to the group.”
After attending a minimum of two GB meetings a semester, members are eligible to be on HYPE’s performance team (PT). PT meets occasionally throughout the year to create and rehearse routines for special events, such as music videos or HYPE’s final spring performance. The number of meetings depends on when the planned event is taking place and the schedule of the choreographer. To ensure that everyone interested in performing is given that chance, there is no set limit of members for HYPE’s PT.
Notable past events include collaborations with other dance groups on campus such as FlyPeople, Vassar’s student-run dance company; an annual fall music video that is released at HYPE’s showcase; performances at the ALANA Festival and Black Students’ Union (BSU); and a recital at the Queer Coalition of Vassar College’s drag show, “Flawless.” This year, these performances will look a little different, as each is contingent upon which phase Vassar is in at the time. Nevertheless, Attah stated, “We’re hopeful that once restrictions ease up we will be back to performing in front of an audience in no time.”
Since dancing is considered a higher-risk activity in the VassarTogether guidelines, a form on protocol has been distributed to HYPE members detailing mandatory guidelines. This includes wearing a mask, even when stationary and six feet apart outside; re-sanitizing hands every 30 minutes, as well as before and after practice; and recording attendance every gathering. This will all be overseen by a designated Safety Monitor, who remains present throughout the entire meeting.
HYPE Choreography Captain Nanako Kurosu ’22 joined HYPE as a way to continue pursuing her love of dance as she did in high school. Despite being filled with anxiety when attending her first GB meeting as a first-year, Kurosu persisted and began a bond with her fellow dancers that has only strengthened with time. “The vibes were nothing but supportive and I felt welcome from day one,” she noted. Kurosu attributes the diverse dance selections in HYPE to the varying backgrounds and experiences of those involved. “What we all have in common is that we all love to dance and have fun, and with that in mind, we constantly work to make HYPE a space that allows that,” Kurosu stated.
Kurosu recalled one of her favorite HYPE memories: Two years ago, a handful of HYPE alumnae/i returned to campus to host a series of dance workshops. Each of the alumnae/i taught a piece of their own choreography based on a different hip-hop style. The group learned, rehearsed and performed these dances for the alumnae/i. “It was so cool to see a glimpse of the history of HYPE and how dance has continued to live on in the lives of these alumni,” said Kurosu.
Since HYPE’s founding nearly 11 years ago, this organization has not only created an expressive outlet for many, but also established a place for members to escape the frequent stressors of everyday college life. Kurosu, whose primary goal is for members to have fun, emphasized the importance of such activities. “Even if it is only an hour a week at GBs, having some scheduled time to move your body, laugh with friends and to have a change of pace from the rest of your day is really nice,” she remarked. Most importantly, there is no pressure to execute a dance perfectly or even quickly, as everyone’s top priority is to enjoy themselves and make memories.
HYPE’s Co-Creative Director, Ilana Frost ’22, like Kurosu, has also been involved with this organization since her first year, but did not have much dance experience coming in. To her, “It’s all about having a good time and hanging out with HYPE people.”
Frost’s favorite HYPE memory is that of her first-year Flype performance, an event that combined the talents of those in HYPE and FlyPeople. Although Flype may not occur this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, HYPE’s yearly music video is already in the works, and the group has recently developed a new event: a collaboration with No Such Organization (NSO). NSO, advertised as “Vassar’s Catch-all Geek Organization,” hosts numerous events throughout the year, ranging from game nights to a shadow cast version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” NSO President Davis Fitzgerald ’22 said of the upcoming event: “Collaborating with Hype has been wonderful, we’re excited to see students enjoy using our systems amid the pandemic.” On Oct. 2, the tents closest to Commencement Hill will be decked out with projectors, speakers and Wii consoles for a Just Dance party extravaganza.
Attah explained that this unusual collaboration was created to bring people together through gaming and dancing in a time where it has been especially difficult to acclimate new members and provide them with opportunities to mingle with HYPE veterans. To Attah, who entered HYPE with no dance experience but became interested in dance after being introduced to K-Pop through her high school’s talent show, HYPE is “just an open space you can be yourself.”
For those still unsure of whether or not HYPE is the place for them, Frost summed up the org’s easygoing essence and expectations: “Everyone is excited to dance, but there’s no pressure to learn the dances perfectly.” As Kurosu affirmed, “Someone will also always be HYPE-ing you up at any GB or performance.”