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Campus Spotlight: McGill Student Street Dancers

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With such a diverse student body that attracts students from around the world, McGill has a wealth of sub-culture and nuance represented by the amazing diversity of clubs, organizations, and communities present. Being a small student community at a large academic institution can make it hard to stand out.

The McGill Student Street Dancers (MSSD) formed in 2011 with three original members. Today, it has a network of over 400 people around the city and continues to grow yearly—both in membership and in recognition from a bourgeoning Montreal breaking scene.

On Oct. 22, MSSD’s most experienced dancers participated in the Red Bull Flying Bach professional dance workshop with the world-renowned German dance crew, Flying Steps. Flying Steps has an innovative and exciting take on the art of breaking exhibited in their performance of Red Bull Flying Bach, which combines the driving force of Johann Sebastian Bach’s legendary classical repertoire with an equally stunning array of acrobatic and technically precise street and contemporary dance. A meeting with the team behind Red Bull Flying Bach at the workshop was a chance for the MSSD members to improve their dance skills and showcase their talent, and it also allowed them to demonstrate the astounding camaraderie that seems to flourish among breakers.

McGill student Henry Wang has been around the block when it comes to MSSD and breaking. He called the workshop with the Flying Steps a sign of recognition for the street dancing community at McGill, and pointed to breaking as a practice that gives him a level of control over his body and the freedom of expression to counteract those twists and turns in life that no one can see coming.

“Breaking gives you a level of control over your body that not everyone has—it really [allows] you [to] show your personality,” said Wang.

Branden Cha, the president of MSSD, insisted that he was not the president of a club—he was the president of a community, a supportive role for a diverse array of dancers both beginner and experienced.

“[The MSSD’s] philosophy is simple—we get better together,” Cha said. “From veterans to beginners, we all help each other become greater than what we think we can be, and become greater than our circumstances.”

A common denominator to MSSD’s members was that breaking was not just an activity but also a form of identity—a place where those who want to practice and get better flourish and where everyone is accepted.

Breaker Luca “LazyLegz” Patuelli, a Concordia graduate who was present at the Flying Steps workshop and has also faced MSSD in dance battles, is a prime example of this inclusivity and empowerment within breaking. In fact, Patuelli’s foundation, Ill-Abilities, embodies the breaking community of MSSD.

Patuelli’s foundation utilizes motivational entertainment programs, integrated dancing workshops, and theatrical performances to help those with disabilities gain access to and flourish in the world of dance. It also helps them learn all the valuable lessons that MSSD members say help them through their daily lives.

“I went to Concordia and I have to say, McGill always had more spirit. There was a  battle on our territory and more McGill students showed up. We still won, but it was close,” said Patuelli.

Letting go and having fun is not always constructive when it comes to life at university, but clubs like the MSSD are evidence that there are endless opportunities to become a part of something truly powerful and motivating. Cha sees these opportunities evolving for the improvement of the McGill street dance community.

“We always bring something new to the table, or at least level-up our game every year,” he said.

MSSD exemplifies what it means to be a dedicated and motivated student, through its continuous striving for greater achievements, a community of inclusivity, and acceptance and passion for art.

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