After joining several Asian cultural groups on UNC campus, I found UNC Moonlight Dance Crew especially pervasive throughout the Asian-American community. Because the main demographic of the dance crew is East Asian, I expected to research how hip-hop and urban dance became an identity among Asian-Americans. However, throughout my research, I found the interactions and relationships between members were far more important and unifying than race alone. From observing weekly dance practices and interviewing both current and former members, I settled on finding an answer to the question: how does the social aspect of UNC Moonlight Hip-Hop Dance Crew affect the overall dance team experience?
The art of hip-hop has transcended cultural and local barriers to become a global phenomenon. From Tunisia, the origins of hip-hop undeniably come from black empowerment, but its global imprint allows the art form to reflect the cultural elements associated with its particular niche (Morgan, 2011). For example, in South Korea and Japan, hip-hop has transformed pop music into a central identity to their respective communities with styles that vastly differ from American black hip-hop.
This style is particularly popular among Asian-American youths as it gives individuals a sense of self-expression that words could not describe. For many Asian-Americans, hip-hop serves as a way to fight against barriers like the model minority stereotype and bridge their Asian and American identities (Nguyen, 2019).
At UNC, while Moonlight is not officially an Asian-American dance crew, the organization caters to a large Asian-American demographic. Like other dance groups, they prepare showcases to both the UNC community and beyond. While all dancers are required to tryout, they state that anyone with a passion for dance is welcomed (Heel Life, 2019).
Observational Data and Analysis
With this basic foundation, I began conducting my own research. First, I attended two Moonlight dance practices. Aside from the late practice hours of nine pm till midnight, the practices themselves were not too different than what one would expect – a room surrounded by mirrors and bright lights and people dancing. What did surprise me, however, was the energy, excitement, and motivation of each member. Unlike other organizations I have observed on campus, Moonlight had one of the best group environments where there were no clearly divided lines by age, grade, gender, or race.
Following these observations, I interviewed two former members and a current dancer on Moonlight. Karen and Ethan were dancers in Moonlight from their freshman through junior year. While they spoke highly about the emphasis on personal growth and team bonding, both agreed that everyone on the team was close – sometimes too close which makes it hard for outsiders to feel comfortable. Even within the team, people with prior dance experience had their own clique that separated the experienced from everyone else. As Ethan put it, “Over the years, no matter how close you get with other members on the team, there will always be a gap.” I was surprised because, from my perspective as an outsider and even when I attended the dance practice, the team seemed so tight-knit, but in reality, this group was still divided.
While Ethan and Karen were transparent about the flaws, my second interview with Alex illustrated the positive aspects of Moonlight. Unlike the former who were more focused on the dance aspect, Alex takes his time on the team less seriously and is just there to have fun. While I expected the dancers to have very ambitious goals, Alex’s lax approach to competitions and performances showed the difference between the competitive and non-competitive dancers on the team.
As expected, dance is the central focus of Moonlight, but the community makes or breaks the experience. Contrary to what I first expected, the dance crew is not nearly as unified as they appear, and while the majority are Asian, the dancers did not feel as deeply committed as my initial background research would suggest.
Additionally, if I had the chance, I would have liked to interview more individuals, both competitive and non-competitive members. Although the time I spent, talking with Karen, Ethan, and Alex was beneficial in illustrating the club environment, having more opinions would help me understand the club dynamics better.
To answer my question of how the social aspect affects the overall dance team experience, I believe skill disparities and competitions ultimately divide the team. Regardless of how passionate one could be about a hobby or activity, if the community does not provide a welcoming or open environment, there will be limited opportunities and growth. From my research, I realize the importance of the social aspect of any group, organization, or class in providing a comforting space for both outsiders and insiders.
(2019). Moonlight Hip Hop Dance Crew. Heel Life; Campus Labs. https://heellife.unc.edu/organization/moonlightdancecrew.
Morgan, M., & Bennett, D. (2011). Hip-Hop & the Global Imprint of a Black Cultural Form. Daedalus, 140(2), 176–196. doi: 10.1162/daed_a_00086.
Nguyen, J., & Ferguson, G. M. (2019). A Global Cypher: The Role of Hip Hop in Cultural Identity Construction and Navigation for Southeast Asian American Youth. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2019(164), 99–115. doi: 10.1002/cad.20279.