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Ignite — A Hip Hop Dance Experience

Jeffrey Yang

Jeffrey Yang

I first met Jeffrey Yang when I wandered into the art studio one afternoon a few months ago, wondering who the nice looking young man was working away on his computer, and introduced myself.

“Wacha doin’?  I asked.

“Working on a promotional video of Danceworks classes.”

“Oh, you’re that guy!”

Jeff had volunteered to make a video that promoted Danceworks classes.  We have wanted this for a long time so his gift was amazing to us and will soon be ready to release. 

He’s a computer science wiz kid from Grand Rapids, MI who studied at Michigan State University.  He moved to Milwaukee in the summer of 2011 to work for Kohl’s as a technical analyst.  Today, he works a 9 to 5 desk job and dances evenings – teaching and rehearsing.  He found Danceworks in the summer of 2012 and has been teaching and helping out around the studio ever since.

It’s true, he is an amazing dancer and choreographer and we are excited he will be featured in our upcoming DanceLAB production IGNITE — a Hip Hop Dance Experience.   But what really captured my attention about Jeff was his willingness to pitch in and give what he could to get involved.  It’s people like Jeff that keep Danceworks moving forward.  Thank you Jeff!  –Deb Farris

Gabi Sustache and Jeff Photo credit:  Jon Liebherr

Gabi Sustache and Jeff
Photo credit: Jon Liebherr

If you were to come into Danceworks about a year ago and ask for Jeffrey Yang, you would probably get the response, “Who?” At the time, I was just a random walk-in who was new to town; but my affiliation with Danceworks quickly grew as I began volunteering at their shows. I would jump at any opportunity to usher, and I would often volunteer multiple times on the same weekend for the same show. After a couple months of ushering at Danceworks, I saw many performances, and I remember wondering what it would be like to dance in one of their shows—instead of just moving the ballet barres before and after!

It wasn’t until college that I started to discover dance. Growing up I was never exposed to dance classes or performances; so when I first got to Danceworks, I found it fascinating to watch the unfamiliar dance styles such as ballet, contemporary and tap. But, being a hip hop dancer, I would have enjoyed seeing a show where they featured performances I could relate to. Once I found out that Danceworks did not have a hip hop company (they had “Fuel” many years ago, but that company dissolved when Cedric Gardner left the city), I figured I would never get the chance to dance in a Danceworks concert. Then I heard about Ignite.

Ignite: A Hip Hop Dance Experience is going to be Danceworks’ first show in a long time consisting only of hip hop dance. When I first heard about it around the studio, it didn’t occur to me that, for the first time, I could be on the Danceworks stage rather than in the audience. This performance opportunity is special to me because I believe my dance career in Milwaukee started from working at a Danceworks show. Since moving to Milwaukee (two years ago) and that summer of volunteering, I now teach for Danceworks as well as other studios and have made many new dancer friends—some of whom I’ll perform with in Ignite. Now that I’m in a performance instead of ushering for it, I can’t help but think back on how much has changed, and all of the connections and opportunities that have stemmed from the shows I used to volunteer at.

I think Ignite is a great opportunity—not only for me, but for the hip hop community. The hip hop dancers in Milwaukee only get a handful of opportunities a year to perform at a hip hop exclusive show; our opportunities are usually smaller, informal and include performances other than hip hop. The nice thing about Ignite is that anybody is welcome to submit an application; you don’t have to audition to be a part of a performance company or have any prior affiliation with Danceworks to participate. Danceworks is giving hip hop dancers the chance to share their talent in a professional setting, and for most—at least, for me—this will be their most legitimate performance yet.

Sometimes, I feel like hip hop doesn’t get equal recognition as an art form in comparison to other styles of dance; so it’s nice to see hip hop share the same stage that I’ve seen so many contemporary and ballet performances on. I think the individuals in this genre of dance are very supportive of one another; so I’m excited to cheer on my peers and feed off of their energy to hopefully put on a very entertaining show. Thank you, Danceworks!