There’s no denying that the some dancers in the junior community have reached a level of skill and drive that (dare I say it?) can rival that of older, more “seasoned” dancers. Every day there seems to be a new set, a new video, another 16-year old in class that leaves us with our jaws dropped (and ego slightly bruised.)
No sir, there’s nothing junior about the talent in the younger generation. And once we put our slight envy aside, the community can collectively recognize that this is really great news for our future.
Those who pioneered what we have now, did so with far less resources, and little to no precedent — yet we’ve come such a long way. Can you imagine where this new generation could take us?
We’re trying to, by getting to know the story of one of the leading teams of the High School Hip Hop Competition scene: West Covina’s Large All-Male Team.
And the forecast? Extremely, extremely bright. They’re cooking up something special in that Lab…
Rehearsals: From High School Campus To The Lab
West Co’s boys were an unassuming bunch, a crew of hard-working boys armed only with an insatiable appetite to learn and unconditional dedication to each other. They would hold their rehearsals outdoors, on too cold (or too hot), gritty asphalt, until The Lab Creative Arts Studio, located just down the street from the campus, started to offer them rehearsal space at the studio.
Val and Carrie, the owners of The Lab, immediately recognized that the team was a hidden treasure chest of potential — and they felt they it a duty to uncover its gems.
In investing in the program, they offered structure, training, resources, and guidance — approaching the team’s training and set-building processes from a different angle than what they had been used to. As the team’s coach at the time was wrapping up his time at the school, the trust that Val and Carrie had built with the West Co Hip Hop program made it easy for them to transition into having a more hands-on partnership — as directors.
And direct they do. The team’s progress and success have since then skyrocketed — but we’ll get to that later.
TL x WC, The Synergy Between Studio x Team
At West Covina High, there are two sides to the dance program. The drill/military/pom side, and the hip hop side. The Lab directs the hip hop side of the program: training the dancers off-season, preparing them for competitions, etc.
West Co has a tradition in the Large All Male division that they preserve and defend diligently, as well as other branches that they are hoping to cultivate. The Lab x West Co has taken home titles from competitions in the High School circuit, as well as (more recently) from Maxt Out 2015 (1st Place Minor Crew Divison, Alpha Award aka 1st overall among ALL divisions, with a PERFECT score given by ALL 4 judges). It’s not Facebook official — but yep, they got titles.
It may come as no surprise, seeing as how there is an entire creative team of choreographers, directors, captains, and more, who are strategically and vigorously working towards the teams’ success. Val and Carrie are the alchemists behind that recipe of collaborators and schedules, finding optimal choreographers so that the boys can stay on top of the most current and effective training, and developing a vision for the season as well as the logistics that would bring that vision to life.
But, choreographers and directors aside, there is no one more dedicated to the boys on the team than… the boys on the team.
Brotherhood Within The All-Male Boys
“We make sure the kids are involved, and feel ownership of what they do. The captains are allowed to sit in on creative meetings, to balance out the voice and reason.”
“If you’re doing something by yourself, it can only turn out so good. But if you’re working as a team, you have the assurance that it’ll come out better.”
— Paul Mendoza (4th year, Head Captain)
With the support of the studio’s networks and sponsorships, the team also fundraises their own money to support the program (yes, they pay for all of it!) which contributes to their feeling of ownership and camaraderie.
And of course, their practices. The team practices almost every. single. day. The boys admit to feeling like they spend more time with each other than they do with their own families. While it’s hard to have so much of their time be dedicated to the team, the rewards and lessons seem to pay off.
“I’m away from home a lot. But then again, this [The Lab] is my second home. And it teaches me to use my time more wisely after practice.”
— John Garcia
“Through West Co All-Male, I’ve learned to trust other people. To know that there are 23 others that are going through the same thing I am, and that trust me enough to do it with me, makes me trust them, too. When I’m out there, I know I’m not alone.”
— Jando Acosta
High School Dance Teams: Underdogs?
When asked what sets apart the high school hip hop scene from the junior teams in the dance community, dancers who have been on both sides expressed their opinions.
“In junior teams in the community, since there are auditions, you’re gonna get dancers who at least meet a certain skill level. We don’t start off the season with the most experienced dancers, especially with newbies who have never danced before. But we push them because we know that it’s possible to train and grow together. It’s amazing seeing everyone’s progress from day one til the end of the season.”
Along with learning better time management, here is another setback that’s actually an opportunity.
The directors, however, handle a different set of challenges.
“Contrary to what it may look like, there’s very little money in the program. Most of it runs on passion and belief in the purpose, because fiscally, it doesn’t make too much sense to allocate the time and energy that we do to a cause that does not generate revenue.”
But The Lab and West Co are committed to whatever they do, and do their best to whatever they commit to.
West Co., Best Co.
For those who are more old-fashioned, it may not seem appropriate to call dancers “athletes,” let alone the “star athletes” of the school, but that’s exactly what the West Covina All-Male boys are, whether their humility allows them to admit it or not.
Dance is not exclusively a sport, it is both sport and art, and this confusing distinction may be why dance programs have not been traditionally funded as fully as sports programs have by school districts. But it is a culture and a lifestyle just as prominent as any sport, incorporating a strict physical regimentand a grip load of teamwork, and its quickly gaining momentum is earning the attention and respect of the rest of the world. The boys, understanding the value in what they do, make sacrifices for each other constantly, to get the purest quality of work.
And this is what makes the West Co boys stand out: their heart and drive, as pure as it was the day they first walked in the doors of The Lab. Their intent was never polluted, in fact, grew only more strong and directed, as they were exposed to more opportunities and resources.
All Male, All-ways!
“Something we’re working towards for the future, is expanding the program — both in size and presence. The high school scene is so often overlooked, but we saw that the kids have the talent and motivation. If given the right tools, the possibilities as to what they can do are endless.”
By expanding hip hop program to Co-ed, All-Female, and even Junior High teams, in the future, Val and Carrie hope to foster more younger dancers who have the ability to perform and shine in any context, whether it be in their own high school division, or at a community event (or beyond!)
“Good is good, anywhere. We never want our dancers to just make the team and be satisfied with it, but for them to be able to be good, anywhere.”
How do the boys stay level-headed? Win, celebrate, reset at 0 again the next day: that’s the key to continual growth.
The boys are amped for the impending competition season that’s to start in less than a month. They’ve been practicing day in and day out, but their eyes aren’t on any prize, aside from their own improvement.
“Our goal was never to place first or beat anyone — we’re only ever competing against ourselves. This year, rather than aiming to be defending champions, we just want to make sure we’re raising the bar from how we performed last year.”
— Paul Mendoza
And besides their competitive edge, is the inherent love of what they do, and who they share it with. All-Male is about training and grinding to reach your best, but they never forget to treasure the process.
“Cherishing all our moments as a group as we help each other in school, dance, friends — that’s what it’s really about.”
— Andrew Venegas
After Effects Of High School Dance Teams
Val and Carrie, the boys’ directors, mentors, and fearless leaders, are making an impact, not just on future dancers, but in future members of our community.
“They take away lessons from the studio and apply them to the rest of their lives. We’re not just investing in their craft, but in their futures.”
“Several coaches and directors and choreographers started their dance careers on an All-Male Team. It started a lot of careers for the big names we see today.”
And these boys are hoping to be the next leg of that legacy.
“All-Male will be with me forever. Whatever collegiate team I join, I’ll use the lessons I learned here, as well as learning new ones to bring back to the future boys.”
— Jando Acosta
The cycling of knowledge and passion, the idea of giving back — it’s what created what the community is today, and it’s how the boys will ensure it keeps growing.
Val, Carrie’s, and the boys’, devotion to their purpose, practice of a tough work ethic, the ability to handle the spotlight with humility and poise, and, of course, impressive artistic vision, gives an exciting peek into what our future community will look like.
Good luck to the West Covina All-Male team in the upcoming competition season, as well as all the other competing high school teams! You continue to inspire dancers everywhere — in your community and beyond. Keep doing what you do!
Want to see how beastly these kids are? Check out the West Co X The Lab performance from Maxt Out 2015!