In a hot dance studio on the second floor of the University of Oregon Student Recreation Center, the smell of hard work leaves a musk in the air. Recreational dancers kick their legs and attempt to pop-n-lock in sync, while they learn the week’s 30-second routine. A giant floor-to-ceiling mirror runs along the wall, showcasing each dancer’s style as they adapt the choreography into something personal.
Like any family, UO’s Duck Street Dance Club cannot easily be categorized. Each member brings a variety of dance backgrounds to the hip-hop group, producing a unique fusion of choreography that draws from years of experience in ballet, acrobatics, breakdancing, jazz, contemporary, tap, hip-hop, pointe and more.
“We are our own teachers,” said Miguel Pobre, president of Duck Street. “So because a lot of us come from different backgrounds and different styles … [the choreography] becomes something that’s super unique.”
One energetic dancer in Studio 283 wears a jacket around her waist, and slips through the movements with ease during the workshop. Her friend pulls the moves off with a more playful hip-hop approach. An athletic-looking man confidently bounces through the choreography, keeping energy positive by encouraging his fellow dancers.
Each dancer’s educational interests are just as eclectic as their dance styles, with majors ranging from journalism to French. A passion for dance brought the group together, but the sense of community in Duck Street keeps the students thriving.
Every Thursday at 7:30 p.m., the Duck Street Dance Club hosts a free hour-long dance workshop open to the public. These classes bring together students and community members from diverse backgrounds.
Suzie Stadelman, the Outreach Coordinator for UO Counseling and Testing Center, says opportunities such as Duck Street create a sense of belonging.
“If students are feeling connected and supported and have a social network where they can get social support, that’s obviously helpful to their mental health,” Stadelman said.
Jill Kellet, a freshman in Duck Street Dance Club, was drawn to the group because hip-hop was her favorite genre in high school, but more than just hip-hop, she ended up finding a new dance family.
“We’re like a community. You just gravitate toward other dancers,” said Kellet. “A lot of people who have difficult pasts, or just interesting things about their life, use dance as an outlet.”
Kellet started devoting 40 hours a week to gymnastics when she was only 7 years old, but after too many injuries, she switched to competitive dance in the eighth grade.
Despite being a freshman, Kellet is one of the more experienced dancers on the team, but this is the first real group piece she’s choreographed. She’s designed it to highlight the individuality of each dancer.
“Some dancers will be doing the same choreography and look so different,” Kellet said. “Yes they’re doing the same thing, but you can tell this person has a different style, like they’re from different regions or have different backgrounds you can tell. It’s really cool.”
While Duck Street workshops are open to the public, the group also holds auditions for official membership every fall term. The club learns three to five new dances each term, all original pieces choreographed and taught by the members. Accepted members practice for two hours semi-weekly.
Duck Street performs their routines for other UO club events, and occasionally travels to perform for other dance teams around Oregon. Every spring, Duck Street also hosts their own showcase on UO’s campus, where they perform multiple dances throughout the night including other dance clubs on campus.
Bradley Quiseng, a senior in Duck Street, didn’t start off competitive or confident. He was painfully shy in middle school, but dancing gave him the confidence to socialize and the opportunity to connect with peers.
“I wanted to make friends, I wanted to talk to people, I just didn’t know how to,” Quiseng said. “After a while of just being only confident when I dance, it melded with my personality and now it’s easy for me to talk to people and converse, and just feel like I can connect with people.”
Quiseng was initially doubtful about joining Duck Street. He was just starting to get into breakdance as a freshman, and was worried hip-hop’s dance choreography would limit his expression. Friends in the club convinced him to audition, and he went on to become co-vice president of Duck Street for two years.
Dancing was Quiseng’s way to create a home on campus as a freshman. He found other breakdancers and started to form a community. For months, he and his friends would practice breakdancing four to five hours a day.
“I loved dancing, so it was always just when I’m not eating or sleeping or working I was dancing, and it was always with friends,” Quiseng said. “It was bonding with my friends which made me really want to go back to practice all the time.”
For Quiseng, dance is never about competition or a score, it’s about creating community.
Michelle Nguyen works as a coordinator for the Duck Nest wellness center. Knowing how daunting coming to a new university can be, Nguyen has learned that finding community on campus is important to a student’s school work and overall well-being.
“Sometimes you have to put yourself out there. You have to join the club, join the dance team,” Nguyen said. “It changes you a lot when you actually put yourself out there and get connected; it makes campus feel like home.”