U.Va. urban dance crew mixes creative talent with close personal relationships

AKAdeMIX performs on- and off-Grounds and fosters a community of acceptance, support

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Last year’s AKAdeMIX team poses at the 2018 Prelude DMV competition.

Courtesy AKAdeMIX member

As the fourth-ranked public college in the country, the University champions rigor and high achievement in the classroom. But for one urban dance crew on Grounds, it’s not all “AKAdeMIX.” 

University students created AKAdeMIX in 2009 and the dance crew became an official CIO in 2011. Christine Li, AKAdeMIX director and fourth-year Commerce student, now leads the group.

“We try to incorporate a variety and diversity of styles including hip-hop, lacking, house, modern, all kinds of things,” Li said. “We are called AKAdeMIX, and especially what that was supposed to embody was ‘aka the mix’ so we really try to incorporate a whole mixture and variety of styles.” 

Li auditioned for AKAdeMIX in the fall of her first year. Not only did she find students with a passion for dancing, but she discovered close friends and community. 

“We try to be a family of dancers and promote dance in the U.Va. community,” Li said. 

Melody Chiang, junior artistic director and third-year Engineering student, found that the community pushed her personally as well as creatively.

“[AKAdeMIX] really had an impact on me both personally as a dancer, as well as how I interact with large groups in a team setting,” Chiang said. “It's become like a second home.” 

Beyond providing a welcoming atmosphere to its members, AKAdeMIX has found success in competitive urban dance. The team has participated in an urban dance competition series called Prelude for the past four years. The contest consists of mostly hip-hop routines, judged on routine, execution and presentation. In 2018, the group placed first at the Prelude DMV competition, hosted in Richmond. 

The team also produces concept videos, which are published on Youtube once a year. On Grounds, AKAdeMIX performs showcases developed by the crew as a whole. The group meets three days a week to prepare for competitions and showcases. They create choreographies intended for smaller groups of four to five for some performances, as well as larger-scale choreographies that the whole team performs at other competitions or showcases. AKAdeMIX will perform at Movement Showcase, which is hosted by U.Va. dance crew The Mighty, Oct. 20 in Old Cabell Hall. 

AKAdeMIX also hosts a friends and family night before competitions like Prelude in November. Usually held in O’Hill Forum or the AFC, the University community can come cheer on the dancers as they host a final dress-rehearsal before the contest. 

Kelly Cheung, senior artistic director and fourth-year College student, encourages input from the rest of the crew. 

“Generally, all the members have the opportunity to choreograph — we do a showcase at one of our practices and then decide which pieces we'll do for the set,” Cheung said. “We give [the crew] a lot of creative license to figure out what they want to do with that piece and what they want it to look like.” 

While general themes, set design and choreography are ultimately produced by the executive board of AKAdeMIX, the group provides opportunities for the entire dance crew to get involved in the creative process. Performances are created from combined student effort. 

“As an executive board we make a lot of decisions together, such as what pieces to perform, which competitions to do, how to organize practices and set a schedule,”  Li said. “So I'd say more than just my own duties, I work together with my board a lot.”

AKAdeMIX also encourages relationships with urban dance groups at other universities. 

“Urban dance is a lot about building a community both with your team and with all the other teams in the area from other schools like JMU, VCU and Tech,” Chiang said. “I think that being on the team has really encouraged me to develop out of my shell more and interact with people.”

These connections help the dancers find students with similar interests in the wider urban dance community outside of AKAdeMIX. 

The crew also learns from urban dance groups much farther away. When faced with “choreo-block,” as Cheung calls it, the team watches videos online to find ideas. 

“We do draw inspiration from a lot of crews on the west coast, such as GRV or Choreo Cookies,” Li said. “So we watch a lot of their sets and try to absorb those elements and incorporate them.” 

For dancers interested in learning more about urban dance and getting involved in a familial dance crew, AKAdeMIX holds auditions in the fall and spring semesters — no previous experience required. Individuals are evaluated based on the performance of two routines taught during audition workshops, which are hosted the week before auditions. 

There is no quota for accepted dancers, and the team currently has 24 members. Member dues are $15 per semester, not including other potential expenses for costumes or lodging at off-Grounds competitions. 

This is not just a team with a shared passion for urban dance. According to members, AKAdeMIX provides a community and imbues a sense of family.

“Coming back to school or seeing all these people after a long break really does feel like — ‘Yes, I'm back home and back in my community,’” Chiang said.

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