In 2001, six University dance groups — FunKtion, EnCore, RhythM Tap Ensemble, Impact, Indigo and Element 1 — performed a show together, fusing tap, lyrical and hip hop genres together on one stage. And the next year, it happened again. And again and again. This year, Dance Mix celebrates its 15th anniversary.
Dance Mix began partly to give performers a venue. It requires a great deal of planning and financial resources to put on an individual show, which can prove a daunting hurdle, especially for young groups.
But more than that, Dance Mix sought to showcase the dizzying variety of dance at the University. What were originally six groups flourished into a broad-reaching collaboration between upwards of a dozen dance and musical groups on campus. The five core groups, still active since that first performance, plan and perform in Dance Mix annually. The rest of the lineup consists of six or seven rotating guest groups.
“We try to find a good balance of entertainment and diversity,” said Meredith Njus, an LSA senior and member of this year’s 13-person organizing team.
For the performers, Dance Mix fosters a tight-knit and lively dance community. Put 200 people who are fiercely passionate about the same thing on one stage, and it’s only inevitable that they bond.
“I didn’t really start dancing until I came to college. I grew up mostly with music and singing,” LSA senior Jay Park said. “So what dance means to me is just an entirely new opportunity. It really encompasses my entire college experience down to one medium of expression. Dance to me means community, it means family.”
In the month leading up to the show, groups take to Mason Hall’s Posting Wall and practice for an average of six hours a day, increasing to upwards of 12 as the performance draws closer. The time commitment may seem stressful, but preparing for a show is one of the fundamental rites of being a dancer.
“You’re forced to be there, but you’re with such a great group of people who love the same things as you do that it’s really such an unforgettable experience,” Park said. “And this is something that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life and I’ll look back on so affectionately.”
That same adrenaline becomes a shared experience among those in the performance, widening the niche, genre-based dance networks and connecting the overall dance community at the University.
“As soon as you have a Dance Mix semester and you go through a Dance Mix, you start seeing all of the groups and you’re all backstage, and you’re all amped about the show, and I think that you start to get to know everyone in the other groups,” Njus said. “So you start seeing them at the Posting Wall or you start seeing them around campus and you’ll see people wearing Dance Mix shirts and you’re like, ‘Oh hey!’ ”
The sense of camaraderie in Dance Mix is what draws in so many guest performing groups to apply each year. It takes the passion that the dancers have for their individual dance groups and directs it outwards, making the show a sort of meeting of the minds.
Business senior Suhind Kodali, a captain of Michigan Izzat dance team, performed at Dance Mix last year and will do so again in the upcoming show. His team mainly performs at competitions, so Dance Mix offers a chance to showcase their talents to their peers.
“For us, it’s like, “Oh wow, look at all these dance groups on campus and we can show them our style and they can show us theirs,’ ” Kodali said.
The enthusiasm for dance — in all its forms — is evident in the audience. The groups performing in the show don’t just do it for themselves; they eagerly support whoever commands the stage.
“It’s just the energy, that’s what we like best,” Kodali said.
Which is why after 15 years, the core team still devotes so much time to keeping Dance Mix alive. Following the show’s unified spirit, two to four members from each of the original core dance groups also come together to form the core organizing team.
“It’s a very collaborative and democratic process,” Park explains.
The core team starts the planning process as early as the fall semester each year, meeting twice a month for preliminary brainstorming. Winter semester brings the bulk of the work, and the core team must buckle down to run auditions, figure out timing, make up themes, make T-shirts and set up the venue. The show is entirely student-produced, carried on the backs of the 13 dedicated core team members.
Having not only performed, but been members of the core team throughout their four years at Michigan, Njus and Park witnessed Dance Mix’s evolution to keep up with the rapidly changing, technology-ridden culture, especially through social media.
“(Social media is) a big way we can reach out to a lot of people, reach out to our alumni, and just get people excited about the show very early on this semester or even early on in the year,” Njus said. “Before, it’s been, ‘Your friends come or whatever,’ but now we have alumni that are flying in from all over the country; all over the world. And I think that was always a thing, but now we have an easier way of reaching out to them and being like, ‘Guys, it’s Dance Mix season again. Come back!’”
Dance Mix has also benefitted from the growing popularity of performing arts in media. Reality shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew” have driven a wider appreciation for dance. More people unaffiliated with dance are willing and interested to learn more about it.
“We’ve been able to use that and connect it with the integrity of our show which has stayed the same,” Park said.
He stressed that ultimately, while Dance Mix has blossomed into a larger event over the past 15 years, it still retains the original roots behind its inception.
“This is all fun, this is something that a lot of dance groups look forward to all year. You’ll see us practicing in the Posting Wall for hours, hours, in the weeks leading up to the actual performance. And I think that’s just what we want to keep. We want a very simple message, a simple approach: the unification of dancers and having fun with it all.”