Phunktions, a UMD Hip-Hop Dance Group, Gears up for Spring 2017 Season

by Jillian Atelsek

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Photos by Jillian Atelsek

The beginning of spring semester means new classes, new jobs or internships, and, for members of UMD’s Phunktions, new dances.

Phunktions is a contemporary hip-hop dance company that was founded on campus in 2003. According to Monique Watson, the creative director of the group, Phunktions aims to perform an “eclectic style” of dance and to push individual artists to be the best they can be.

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Auditions for the group were held on February 5th, and the new season is just getting underway. The team is already looking forward to April 15th, when UMD will be hosting one of their competitions, “Rip the Floor.” Watson and her group hope to retain the first place title they won last year.

In addition to rehearsing, traveling and competing, the group holds weekly company classes with guest choreographers who are open to dancers of all levels and abilities.

Phunktions’ company classes attract dancers from across campus who vary widely in their goals and motivations. Sophomore biology and dance double major Angad Kalsi, for example, is a member of an outside hip hop group but enjoys Phunktions’ weekly gatherings for the chance to gain even more experience.

He said hip-hop stands out to him because “it’s very free form. There’s no right or wrong, you kind of make it your own.”

Carlie Caplan, a freshman neurobiology and physiology major, said she was a dancer in high school and came to Phunktions’ company class looking to find an avenue for “self-expression in a different way,” as opposed to “just writing and school.”

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But for permanent members of the group, such as Watson and sophomore computer science major Olawunmi Togun, the new semester promises long hours, fierce competition, and intense training.

“This is a more performance-based semester,” Togun said, “so I’m really trying to make sure that I go out there and get bigger, look bigger, on stage.”

In order to achieve goals such as these, the group often rehearses from six or seven p.m. until early hours of the morning.

The Phunktions team consists of an extremely diverse group of dancers. To watch them perform is to see artists of every shape, size, ethnicity and gender working together in harmony.

“It helps in every way because dance is, in general, super inclusive.” Watson said.

Watson added that working with the wide range of ages represented in the group can sometimes be a challenge.

“We have a couple of people who are graduates of the masters program of business, and then we also have freshman, so you’ve got 17-year-olds and-24 year-olds together,” she said, explaining that the age of a particular dancer affects the way she approaches choreography and training.

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“Universally, hip-hop is just something that is so freeing,” Watson said.

Along with goals of specific titles and awards she hopes to earn with her team throughout the season, Watson hopes to spread appreciation of hip-hop at its most basic level.

“It’s an art form that was created by and for people who felt like their voice was being oppressed. It’s used in protest, it’s used empowerment, it’s used in uplifting,” Watson said. “Through hip-hop dance, you can be anything or anyone.”

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