When liberal arts students dazzle campus with dance — and Beyonce

On a recent Sunday afternoon, all was peaceful in the McGinley Center. A few students meandered into the cafeteria for a late lunch, while others carried water bottles and earnestly opted for the gym. The building was sleepy, as it typically is on weekends in January — except, of course, for the thundering Beyoncé beat.

On this Sunday in particular, the large but dreary ballroom on the second floor had been remodeled. Four large mirrors on wheels and a speaker were all it took.

Nearly 25 students had gathered to engage in an activity not often on display at Rose Hill: dance. Hip-hop, for that matter.

“We’re gonna start off with a quick warmup,” Jason Diaz, a senior, said from the front of the room. “And then we’ll learn the piece. Thanks for coming, guys.”

It was a workshop hosted by Fordham Flava — the student dance group that has dazzled Rose Hill for years with slick performances of hip-hop routines, executed with seamless skill — open to any student who wanted to step into the magic, if only for an afternoon.

(While unique, the name “Flava” is emblematic of the group’s urban flair and free-flowing demeanor — a welcome contrast against the nearby gothic architecture.)

The smooth dance group opens an invitation to students for a free workshop every semester. No prerequisite is needed — in fact, the group’s core 20 members are liberal arts students with little or no prior dance experience.

Diaz, for example, who serves as Flava’s president and has been a part of the group since his freshman year, has zero technical training. (No doubt a shock to anyone who has seen him perform, as he moves with instinctive savvy.)

“I never did ballet or grew up in a studio or anything,” he said. “I started picking through YouTube videos to learn the foundation and basics.”

Before they actually got to dancing, Diaz assembled the gathered students and led them through a warmup routine that looked more athletic than artistic. Facing the mirrors, he went through a series of movements and the group followed along.

They did standard jumping jacks. They shuffled their feet from left to right, and from right to left. In time to a pop beat, they punched the air and dipped down to the ground. They swiveled their hips and rolled their necks.

They were ready.

At this point, Tiffany Chandler, a sophomore studying psychology, took the reins and began the arduous task of teaching the class her choreography to Beyoncé’s “Baby Boy.” That’s right, her choreography.

She demonstrated the moves slowly, dissecting the first part of the routine without music, and encouraged frequent questions. Like Diaz, Chandler had no prior dance experience before joining Flava. The language of the workshop was universal.

That would make sense for an introductory workshop, catered to the average student, but Diaz said most Flava rehearsals are similarly operated. (A minor miracle considering how precise the routines turn out.)

“Walk, walk, shimmy,” Chandler said, as she wiggled her shoulders in time to the song’s bumping beat. She parceled the song, and taught one series of movements at a time.

She paused occasionally in between series to collect her place.

“The hardest part about teaching is not knowing how to communicate with the people you are teaching,” she told Fordham Daily later. “You always want to make sure you are clear with how you explain things.”

Diaz said sometimes it just comes down to monkey see, monkey do.

“It’s really situational and comes down to the teacher,” he said. “You have to engage somehow. If you’re ignorant or close-minded, you’re gonna end up with no one getting it.”

At one point, Chandler’s choreography called for a move that very closely resembled the “twerk” that set Miley Cyrus’s name ablaze in 2013. The group quickly found it difficult to concentrate.

“Even though you guys were laughing at the bouncing part, it’s like the best part,” she said.

The group didn’t get through the entire song, but by the end of the hour lesson, the sparks Flava is famous for igniting were beginning to show.

IMG_4831 (1)Diaz came to Fordham knowing he wanted to be a part of Flava. In fact, it was his plan to pursue dance as a career. That is, until he was diagnosed with flat feet, a medical condition that obstructs the optimal alignment in his legs, putting painful pressure on his ankles and shins.

“That was my body telling me, ‘You can’t do this forever,'” he said in an interview. “I’m throwing all my cards into film production right now. The good thing about it is it’s a medium that combines dance and technology.”

But for now, he works to develop Flava at Rose Hill by running rehearsals, organizing membership — even choreographing routines. 

He recently choreographed “All In,” a song written and performed by Dayne Carter, another Fordham talent studying communications.

Still, Diaz hopes to stay connected to dance after he graduates this May by teaching. He has already started overseeing weekly classes at Eastchester High School, which he said he enjoys.

While it might make sense for Flava to be based at Lincoln Center’s campus, where dance is offered as an academic field of study, Diaz described the group as “a creative outlet for people who want to pursue dance, physically or artistically.” 

It’s more an escape than it is homework.

“You can tell they’re having fun,” he said the group’s members. “They don’t do it just to do it, they do it because it’s fulfilling. It’s like any other club, we just have fun with it.”

Having said that, to be a part of Flava means working hard. Rehearsals are held Monday through Wednesday, sometimes more often, and the group is responsible for learning several routines at any given time. Right now, the group is preparing for its annual showcase, which will be held later this spring.

The formula would seem to be working.

Whether it’s a performance in the middle of the cafeteria, on the steps of Keating Hall or in the Fordham Prep auditorium, Flava always draws a crowd. 

While the group has a strong campus presence, there would seem to be an assumption of a spectacular spectacle baked into the Flava name. Students expect to be stunned, and they are rarely disappointed. But Diaz said the pressure of preserving that reputation doesn’t carry much weight.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “As long as we get to dance the way we want to dance and release the videos we want. Individual people will get criticism, but we don’t really care.”