Arts & Entertainment Editor
The electricity of competitive college pride arose in the audience of A&T’s Harrison Auditorium on Saturday, as students from several colleges and universities across North Carolina gathered to compete at Battle of the Schools—African Dance Competition for the second time.
Battle of the Schools is a competition and fundraiser all in one, donating its proceeds to the nonprofit Education for Liberia Inc. This year’s competition increased from five to six schools, with WSSU, NC State, ECU, UNC, UNCG and UNCC participating.
The first round set the tone with similar dance formations, teamwork and movements, emphasizing arm, leg and hip work that was similar for every team. Many of the dance teams formed lines or geometric shapes, twisting their arms outward in smooth waves. Afrocentric music played in the background, with songs switching from one to another in 30-second intervals, adding chances for transitions in the dance routines.
Some teams, including NC State and WSSU, lacked cohesion between group members, instead, some dancers competed with other dancers on their team by using larger and more distinct movements.
Though most teams consisted of mostly women, the dance teams with at least two or more men heightened the appearance of the dance routine by adding versatility to the performance. This came in handy for UNCG, as a few women danced in the background while two male dancers came out in tattered clothing and paper chains as a way to remember the United States history and the ongoing slavery in Africa.
However, one of the more memorable parts of the first round was the introduction and burgeoning of empowerment in the audience and the dancers’ energy. Yet, others did not feel this way in the beginning.
“The first round was kind of boring and I thought about leaving, but then I stayed. The second round…it started to pick up,” said Kwame Darko, an audience member. “The final was just killer.”
After the first round, five teams remained, with NC State being cut. As Darko insisted, the dancing became more lively and intricate in the second round.
Themes broke out in this round, such as WSSU, who changed their attire to all black and threw fists in the air to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, while ECU opened with spoken word about the beauty of African people. UNCC continued their theme of “The Purge,” using masks and guns in the intro to their routine.
The dance movements became more energized, with a lot of slapping of arms and the floor, more accentuation of the butt and sensual, yet powerful hair flips. ECU and UNCG’s teamwork appeared well-rehearsed in comparison to some groups, such as WSSU and UNCC.
At the end of the second round, WSSU and UNCC were cut, while UNCG, ECU and UNC were left in the running, the same finalist lineup as last year.
The final round took a few steps forward in creativity by using more hip-hop inspired dancing, but it also took a few steps back in team cohesion.
UNC performed first, taking on the evolution of African dance, which was a great concept, but poorly executed. Movements began slowly and gracefully and became harsher as they continued, yet as their routine shifted to only a few dancers their performance looked awkward as though some dancers forgot their parts. The rest of the dance mostly fell flat, including their unorganized song transitions.
Second up was UNCG, who added more detail to their last performance than any other team. They opened with blindfolds, wearing camo and black. Many audience members stood and shouted as one dancer was lifted into a cheerleader-like stance. Sexualized tandem dancing ensued, focusing on some tango-inspired movements. Other exciting moments included chairs being utilized as props, flips and money being thrown at the audience and perfectly timed jumps.
The final performance by ECU took a sour turn as the music abruptly cut off in the middle of the performance. The routine stopped until the hosts were able to turn the music back on. Most dancers faltered from the confusion, making the cohesion hard to pick back up.
When it came time to announce the winner, many audience members were not surprised.
“I’m happy to see [UNCG] win,” said Mahime Smith, an audience member and UNCG student. “Every year they go on stage and bring something new.”
Another audience member chimed in with a similar thought. “They [UNCG] were awesome, everything was on point, they had so much energy the whole night,” said Miatta Massalay. “They were the best, nobody can beat them.”
Though a few people left when their school was cut, most of the audience supported the dance teams until the end.
UNCG’s win gives them the opportunity to host the competition again. Next year, do not miss out – look for the third annual Battle of the Schools—African Dance Competition when it comes around February 2019 in Greensboro.