A fairly new after-school dance club at Lincoln High School in the Los Angeles community of Lincoln Heights has started to make a name for itself at regional dance competitions, the group has already compiled a small collection of first place trophies this year.
Lincoln’s “Urban Movement,” a 14 student dance group, took first place at the April 28 Miss Dance Drill Team Six Flags Magic Mountain Competition for the categories of Co-Ed Large Hip-Hop Division and Most Enthusiastic.
On April 13, they took home the first place trophy in the Medium Co-Ed Hip-Hop division at the highly competitive Sharp International Competition at Downey High School.
They also won first place in the Medium Co-Ed Hip-Hop division at the National Street Dance USA Competition on February 16, according to instructor Harry Weston.
The group was founded in 2008 by Jackie Lopez, a hip-hop dancer and theater performer who had taught at the Los Angeles Unified school, said Weston, who took over the program when it became an after-school club in 2010. Lopez and Weston know each other from the Versa Style Dance Company, a socially conscious dance group founded by Lopez that prioritizes education as well dance.
Weston says his students learn about Hip-Hop history and culture. “What are we doing, we’re not just dancing,” he said.
Students learn the high-energy dance social dance routines that include verbal interaction, but they also work on team building and becoming a family, said Weston, adding that he and his team of advisors also serve as mentors to the high school dancers.
A lot of young people, especially those from poor families or broken homes, look for something stable and healthy to hold on to, Weston said.
“The underlying [purpose] is mentoring these men and women is to uplift their lives,” he explained. “Hip-Hop can improve their lives.”
Students in the dance program also receive help with their homework and college applications. They must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average to stay in the program.
“Dance can be a hobby, but it can also be your life,” Weston said. “Dance is my life, its my career all through my education,” said the instructor who recently attended UCLA.
Urban Movement’s ties to Versa Style Dance Company has given Lincoln High School’s dancers access to valuable experiences, like the opportunity to perform professionally, Weston said. In the past, dancers, many who would be the first in their families to go to college, have also taken intensive dance classes at UCLA during the summer, he said.
Urban Movement is supported by The Flourish Foundation, which pays Weston’s salary. The Flourish Foundation also funds arts teacher residencies at Garfield High School and the East Los Angeles Performing Arts Charter (ELAPAA) High School at Torres High school and other schools, according to the foundation’s website.
The Urban Movement dance team is a year-round program. They practice four to five days a week during the summer and perform at pep rallies and football games in the fall, and at competitions later in the school year.
“It is truly positive and something the students look forward to… from past experiences kids don’t want to go home after practice,” Weston said.
About 75 percent of the students are dancing for the first time. Hip-Hop not only builds confidence but also self-knowledge, he said.
Senior Xavier Nuñez, a student at the Leadership in Entertainment and Media Arts School, said he wanted to join Urban Movement as a freshman because it looked fun and the advisors were more flexible about his schedule than were the Band instructors. “I started off shy, I didn’t really know how to dance,” the now 18-year-old told EGP. He speaks highly of Weston as a mentor.
Nuñez at first comes across as a history buff, more interested in discussing the origins of Hip-Hop and specific dance moves, but he told EGP that he eventually wants to be a professional dancer. His favorite aspect of Hip-Hop and Urban Movement are the “social dances.”
“Today’s choreographed teams don’t communicate with each other. All these moves are meant for us to communicate and praise each other,” Nuñez said.
Similarly, Mayra Navarrete, a junior at Lincoln’s Medical and Health Small Learning Community, says Urban Movement’s Hip-Hop training sets them apart from other groups at competitions.
“Choreo looks different than Hip-Hop,” said 16-year-old Navarrete who choreographs Quinceañera dances in her free time. “It’s fun, we get to show them how we are and because the crowd remembers the [classic Hip-Hop] moves, they get excited.”
Navarrete says she wants to major in dance and business in college and someday start her own dance company.
When Urban Movement performs outside of Lincoln High School, Weston says they make it a point to represent the school well because often there are no teams from the East Los Angeles area or other low-income communities.
“We are from East Los Angeles, we make it very clear,” he said.
“Here in East LA, it’s very different than Beverly Hills—but we can still succeed,” Navarrete said proudly.
The group’s next competition is this Saturday, May 11 at Paramount Studios.
Videos of Lincoln High School’s Urban Movement can be found on YouTube.com