My heart was racing as if I had just come out of a three-kilometre run, but I hardly would’ve called it an exhaustive workout. Yes, we had been moving pretty rapidly across sprung hardwood for an hour, but the adrenaline wasn’t coming from the movement. It was coming from my nerves as the beat neared our first cue.
Although I’m not a dancer, I decided to attend Studio 2 Dance’s weekly hip hop class at Ryerson’s Recreation and Athletics Centre. The Weeknd’s falsetto and sensual rhythm was the choice framework for this class, but the instructor’s fast-paced slides, spins, and pops left me exuding everything but seduction.
“Getting it?” one of the dancer’s asked me encouragingly mid-way through the class. Even though my answer was a swift, “Nope,” it was followed by my genuine laughter because I knew it was perfectly fine not to be perfectly fine in this class. Everyone was supportive and believed in my ability to learn the steps (the joke was on them).
What I did get is that it’s this sense of community that brings dancers back to the dance studio at the RAC almost every Friday evening.
Studio 2 Dance is an unofficial student group that holds free hip-hop dance classes every week to anyone and everyone. Founded eight years ago by former student Rodney Valerio, it draws students from all faculties, has created countless choreographers out of former beginners, and has a growing base consisting of more than 500 members on their official Facebook page.
For the past few years, the group’s goal has been to become an official student group, but their applications have been denied because they are too similar to Ryerson’s Urban Hip-Hop Union. With a noticeably larger turnout this year due to later classes, Studio 2 Dance wants to move forward.
Alex Choo, Studio 2 Dance’s current president, was with UHHU last year and has nothing against the group. However, he recognizes that a difference exists between the two. While UHHU is based on hip-hop culture, providing a space for spoken word, art, music, as well as dance, Studio 2 Dance focuses solely on dance. Choo says that student group status would allow Studio 2 Dance to secure their weekly spot at the RAC.
“Some student groups are able to have a regular booking at the RAC, but unfortunately we don’t get that privilege,” Choo says. “So, we just have to call in every Friday morning when the RAC opens and sometimes people call in before us. We want to do it every Friday but it’s not as regular as we would like it to be.”
Instructor and Ryerson alumnus, Senyo Akakpo, says student group status would also allow Studio 2 Dance to bring in professional dancers. This would benefit beginners who want to learn more about the dance community and what it has to offer.
Akakpo was one of those beginners when he joined Studio 2 Dance during his first year while studying biophysics. And as the group chooses its instructors from within, Akakpo quickly honed his skills and started choreographing by his second year.
“Studio 2 was really encouraging even though I wasn’t the strongest dancer,” Akakpo says.
Like Akakpo, a lot of the dancers who come out to Studio 2 Dance are beginners. First-year biology student, Anne Ha, says she wanted to try something new upon entering university.
“I really like the energy of the people here,” Ha says. “I’m really shy and uncomfortable around people and they’re just really supportive. I’m actually really comfortable in this environment.”
Aaron Fung, a third-year business management student, has been attending classes since his first year. “I like the community,” he says. “I like coming back here every Friday and learning a new piece. You know, pushing myself.”
First-year radio and television arts student, Ksenia Chpak, is experienced in dance but not hip hop. She takes a ballroom class in the studio on Fridays before Studio 2 Dance and decided to stick around after for their last couple of classes.
“I thought, why not learn another form of dance and just challenge myself, and get out of my comfort zone a little bit?” Chpak says.
As I sat around talking to dancers during a break, I was amazed by the class’ diversity. Not one person I spoke to was in the same program. Ranging from theatre production to engineering, and from experienced dancers to complete beginners, these students exemplify how Studio 2 Dance brings people together, official student group or not.
I’ll be clear in acknowledging that dance isn’t for everyone. While some students might completely repel the idea of doing a choreographed dance on a Friday night, others might be surprised by how much fun it can be. My personal experience felt like a losing battle in learning the steps and keeping up, but I’m told that Akakpo’s dance was especially advanced. Knowing that, I am toying with the idea of going back.
“We like to say, ‘Come hang out and dance before you go out for the weekend,’” Choo says. “It’s a nice de-stress because you just had you whole week of school and you can come, dance it out, and go into your weekend feeling pretty good.”
Photos by Ebony-Renee Baker