With hip-hop workshops, performances on and off-campus and even breakout dances in the cafeteria, newcomers might mistake hip-hop for a longstanding fixture of Knox’s culture.
Few would guess that prior to the fall of 2012, hip-hop culture was nearly nonexistent on campus. But this term, thanks to dedicated student performers and choreographers, hip-hop culture has pulled a 180.
Its stirrings can be traced back to the origins of Pandora’s Box, Knox’s collaborative hip-hop crew, which began last fall as an unnamed act for a talent show.
“It blew up from there. Not just Pandora — hip-hop on campus as a whole,” said senior Portia Calhoun, who spearheaded the group.
Despite growing up in Chicago where “life is hip-hop” for Calhoun, she did not immediately make an effort to bring the form to Knox in case it became controversial, differing as it does from the modern and contemporary dance styles for which Knox is known.
To her surprise, they were met with eager appreciation from their audience.
“Everybody thinks the worst when it’s something new. That’s just life. But now people are starting to understand it,” she said.
This reasoning provided the rationale behind the crew’s seemingly impromptu performances in the cafeteria, one of which began with a staged fight.
“Our goal is to get people to experience [hip-hop] in a neutral setting,” she said.
Pandora’s Box isn’t just gaining attention over dinner, however. The group has gained five new members this term alone (some hailing from the Galesburg community) and produced a promotional video in preparation for their Seven Deadly Sins performance that landed them an invitation to a dance conference at Western Illinois University.
“We are rocketing off this term. I came home from Western and got 19 voicemails about people wanting us to come to their shows,” said Calhoun.
But while Pandora’s Box is representative of hip-hop at Knox, it isn’t its only expression, as crew member, Terpsichore executive member and sophomore Valencia Short emphasized.
Several members offer weekly workshops through Terpsichore on Saturday and Sunday, and Dance Squad is even incorporating hip-hop into their routines. D-Squad’s Turkey Bowl performance will incorporate a variety of hip-hop styles.
“It’s exciting because Dance Squad has never done this before,” she said.
Arriving at Knox, she saw no hip-hop culture to speak of. It was junior Niko Kontos’ piece that made her realize that Knox students were interested in the dance form that she has performed since the age of 13.
Since then, she has appreciated how hip-hop has taken off, as she sees it as an “outlet” for personal expression — particularly for those from minority and urban backgrounds.
“Hip-hop just brings out more [individual] personality,” said Short.
Still, they are a collective, as evidenced by the degree of overlap between hip-hop performers involved in the crew, Dance Squad and Terpsichore.
“Who knew we’d be able to come together as one movement?” Short said.
However, their emergence has not been without its frustrations, particularly in regards to gaining access to Terpsichore and representation in the department.
Junior and Pandora’s Box member Juan Irizarry attributed this to “a struggle” between urban hip-hop and modern dancing. He also cited the FEETDCo Dance Company controversy as example of how hip-hop is sometimes perceived on campus.
“I would like to see more of an academic base where hip-hop becomes part [of the curriculum],” he said. “I believe dancers should step out of their comfort zone and try many different dance forms.”
Calhoun pointed to the way Knox culture operates as a whole for guidance.
“The great thing about Knox is that you get a feel for a lot of different things. I just want people to be open-minded to all forms of dance because they have that opportunity here,” she said.