With presidency members from different countries around the world, the BYU–Hawaii Hip-Hop Dance Club aspires to be a place where diversity flourishes through a connection to dance, explained Josephine Matafeo, a sophomore majoring in computer science from Samoa and the club’s vice president.
“We [the club presidency] represent Samoa, Canada, Hawaii, the Philippines and Germany,” she said. “We are all different ethnicities, but we have one thing in common, and that is dance.”
Matafeo said she loves the connection they have built, and she hopes the club members can experience the same connection, regardless of where they are from.
Growing and empowering together
Joy Tang, a junior majoring in business management from Canada and president of the Hip-hop Club, said the first time she went to a dance practice for the club in 2019, she was nervous since she had never danced hip-hop before. “I was so scared. We learned the choreography, split up into different groups, and then performed in front of everybody. I can’t tell you how nervous I was.”
Tang said even though her nerves were high, she loved the environment because everybody was so supportive. “Everyone was cheering us on, and even when [our group] messed up, [the club members] continued cheering us on,” she explained.
Tang stayed in the club because “it [doesn’t] matter how well you dance,” she shared. “It was about creating that community of dancers who uplift each other.” Now, being the president of the Hip-hop Club, she said she wants to maintain the supportive environment.
“Sometimes people can get super competitive, where everyone is just trying to show off. We don’t have that here,” she said. “It’s an environment where beginners can come and learn, and then experienced people can teach. We can all grow and empower each other.”
Recognizing everyone can dance
Jayna-Lin Akita, a senior from Laie, Hawaii, majoring in arts and art education, said she wants new club members to embrace who they are. “A lot of people get nervous because they think they can’t dance, but in reality, everybody can dance.”
Akita, who is the secretary of the Hip-hop Club, grew up doing cheer and said when she first took a dance class by Nina Foster, adjunct faculty for Seasider Sports & Activities at BYUH, she wasn’t feeling confident in her dancing skills. “I was so shy. I was thinking, ‘This is so scary,’ and I was dancing so stiff because of my training in cheer.”
Akita explained Foster helped her to open up and be confident in herself and her performing skills. “Now, it’s a real passion of mine. It helps me to cope with stress and the challenges I’m going through.”
Akita emphasized it is important for dancers to not compare themselves to others while their skills are developing because it’s a learning experience. Dancers learn to step outside of their comfort zones and grow as people, she explained.
She added people who are learning to dance will not “learn dance overnight” and shouldn’t feel rushed while they are learning. She said if they take their time to find out who they are, they will learn to perform.
Empowering instead of judging
Matafeo said it is vital people know they are not being judged when performing. “I want people to be confident,” she said. “People would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I want to dance like you.’ And of course, I want that too, but I want you to dance like you.”
Matafeo said every dancer has their unique way of expressing themselves. She explained empowering instead of judging new club members can help them discover their own skills.
"People would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I want to dance like you.’ And of course, I want that too, but I want you to dance like you."
She added her dance journey is guided by people who believed in her even when she didn’t believe in herself.
“When I was younger, back home, I would always dance funnily or bad to make people laugh,” Matafeo shared. “I never really realized I was good at it until I was chosen to dance for the Commonwealth Youth Games when I was in 12th grade.”
Matafeo said her teacher would point her out and put her in the lead to help others correct their moves. “That was the first time where I thought, ‘Hey, I’m actually good at this,’” she explained.
But, Matafeo said she never felt she was good enough. When Tang asked her to be the vice president of the Hip-hop Club, Matafeo said she realized she needed to stop putting herself down. “I asked myself, ‘How does rejecting those kinds of opportunities help me to support the people around me?’”
Matafeo said her experience made her want to help and empower others who think they are not good enough. “There’s no judgment in this club,” she shared. “We can all learn from each other. We grow as dancers, but also as people.”
Akita said the encouraging environment is why she loves being in the Hip-hop Club presidency. “Everybody is so uplifting, and they really care about each individual,” she said. “They want to get to know everybody. We’re not here to judge [club members]. We’re here for [them] to dance and learn.”
Creating safe spaces through dance
Brandon Kyle Sorilla, a sophomore from the Philippines majoring in music-vocal performance and Hip-hop Club vice president of activities, said even experienced dancers make mistakes.
“What [people] need is dedication and to enjoy [themselves]. Don’t be shy because everybody is imperfect. We have dancers who danced their whole lives, and they make mistakes,” he said.
Sorilla, who has been part of hip-hop crews throughout his youth, said for him, his hip-hop teams were like his own family who gave him needed support.
“When you are teaching or being taught, it builds a strong relationship and trust,” he shared. “It’s not always about winning competitions, but about creating a community of dancers who are like family.”
Sorilla explained he wants to create that same environment at BYUH, where people feel it is their safe space to express themselves. “I have had so many experiences with depression and moments when [I was] feeling down, and dance has saved me.
“Dance can help [people] and motivate [them] to keep going because [they] have that support system of close friends who look out for [them],” he shared.
Sorilla added he hopes BYUH will one day get a hip-hop team like BYU in Provo. “Just having a pure hip-hop group here would be amazing,” he said. “As long as people are enjoying themselves and feel like this is a safe place.”
Brought back to life
Prince Jag Gundaya, a sophomore majoring in hospitality & tourism management from the Philippines, said coming to BYUH has rekindled his love for dancing hip-hop.
Gundaya, who is also the lead choreographer of the Hip-hop Club, said he has been part of national and international hip-hop crews throughout his youth and competed around the world for the Philippines.
When he lost his best friend, who was also a fellow dancer, Gundaya said he stopped dancing completely. “I had no reason to dance anymore. Surely, I was proud of my achievements, but I felt as if I had lost everything,” he said. “I was done with dance.”
Gundaya explained when coming to BYUH, he just wanted to focus on finishing his studies, but seeing students’ desire to dance made him pick up dance again.
“Everyone wanted to dance, and seeing their potential made me want to support them in their journey of dance,” he said. “I came alive again. So, I gave it a chance, and I don’t regret it.”
Gundaya advised students to never think they are too good to keep learning or better than their fellow dancers. He said, “Always be a student so you can learn, no matter the circumstances.” •