Family Environment Helps Urban Dance Troupe Bring Passion To The Stage

When Michael Pham was growing up, most of his dancing was done in his bedroom with the assistance of YouTube tutorials. After Pham decided to attend Penn State, he knew this was the time to finally pursue his dream.

After endless research on OrgCentral about what dance team he could try out for, Urban Dance Troupe (UDT) was the perfect fit.

UDT is Penn State’s first-ever student-run hip-hop dance team. Five members from Penn State Altoona brought UDT to State College in 2004 and made its official debut in 2005.

“Aside from being a hip-hop dance team here that is diverse in its members, its style of dance, and the skills that we have, we’re also a very close-knit group of people,” Pham said. “I consider us a lot closer than just a dance team. I think we all bring something to the table that’s more than just dance.”

Pham is the president of UDT and has an executive board to help him run the hip-hop team, including Vice President Arianna Foto and Secretary Sofia Arias-Gonzalez.

UDT has two-hour rehearsals four times a week and receives requests for performances. Within a school year, UDT will perform 12 to 15 times. The team has performed at THON, fundraisers, accepted student events, competitions, and more.

Throughout the rehearsal time, the team will learn completely student-made choreography, which “anyone” can do, Foto said.

The executive board will request songs or themes for the team to dance to, which creates opportunities for students to submit choreography. This system allows individual personalities to shine through in choreography and gives a sense of leadership and creative freedom to general members.

“Whatever person’s choreography is chosen, they’re also in charge of making the formation for their dance and who they want in it. We audition people for that dance, so [the choreographer] has a lot of autonomy,” Pham said.

Arias-Gonzalez said the creative freedom within UDT is “what makes it feels like a family.” Everyone has a chance to take the lead from performance to performance.

“You get to know each member on a more personal level, a more intimate level, creatively,” Arias-Gonzalez said.

Foto emphasized that when dancing with UDT, there is a safe and comfortable space for each member to freely express themselves through dance. Their visions come to life with a “group of people to support that vision come true.”

When creative outlets are involved, it can be daunting to let people in and critique what you have to show the world. UDT, however, encourages differences in experience.

“We have a lot of members who have been dancing since they were two to four years old, but we also have dancers who have just started,” Pham said. “We create such a welcoming space that people can step out of their comfort zone.”

Among the dance groups on Penn State’s campus, UDT takes pride in the structure, unity, and relationships it has within the team. The team has fun in the studio but also holds itself accountable. When it comes to choosing new members, they keep standards in mind.

At the beginning of each semester, UDT holds a three-day audition process welcoming in students who are “talented dancers and could add to the team.” Essentially, anyone can audition.

“We take quality over quantity,” Pham said. “Being a part of UDT has taught us what real teamwork and trust are.”

From time management to personal growth, UDT teaches members more than just dance steps. According to Pham, vulnerability is easier to obtain when you have confidence and support surrounding you.

With the semester wrapping up, UDT will perform in the Ambition Showcase at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 31, in the Schwab Auditorium.

To get in touch with UDT or book a performance, you can reach out to the team at [email protected] or send a direct message on Instagram.

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About the Author

Larkin Richards

Larkin is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. The only words that leave her mouth are "yinz" and "dippy eggs." Luckily, her writing has much more substance than that. As a Steelers and Pirates fan, sports can become a hot debate. Share your thoughts on dogs (specifically Boston Terriers) with her at: [email protected]

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