The Hula Club of Hui ‘O Hawai’i during their first performance at the Illuminate dance showcase on Feb. 12, 2023. Credit: Caleb Rabbon | Courtesy

A crowded audience filled the Performing Arts Center on Sunday, Feb. 12, holding bouquets for their favorite performers. The Illuminate Dance Showcase was back for its fifth year and opened to a sold-out venue.

United Movement, a non-audition dance group at Cal Poly, hosts the showcase annually, this year being led by UM’s co-presidents Daryl Goh and Melvin Tabios. The goal of Illuminate according to the UM website is to highlight dance and cultural communities across campus and feature a variety of dance styles, emphasizing their motto of “growth in community; community in growth.” 

This year was no exception, according to the program featured at the event, as Illuminate presented 12 dance groups, each bringing unique forms of dancing to the PAC.

The show kicked off with a live rendition of the group’s promotional music video created every year for Illuminate. This year’s music video used a mash-up of Usher’s “Yeah” and Doja Cat’s “Vegas,” and was choreographed by Katrina Swenson-Aguirre and Hirsh Kedia. 

The video was followed by Imagen y Espíritu Ballet Folkórico de Cal Poly, a group that participates in traditional Mexican regional dances. They prepared two routines based on the Jalisco region in Mexico for the showcase and dressed in traditional regalia. 

Cal Poly Bhangra, a club that performs a folk dance from the Punjab state of India, went next, staging a routine that mimicked farmers’ movements for four songs. It was the group’s first time performing in the showcase.

Hui ‘O Hawai’i, a social and cultural club that aims to spread Hawaiian culture on campus, performed twice with their team Hula Club. The team worked with both Hula ‘auana and Tahitian styles, showcasing the differences and intricacies of both styles.

“It’s not only a very enjoyable performance but also has a lot of culture and meaning behind it,” Hui ‘O Hawai’i member Quinton Wong said. “So it’s very interesting but also important to learn about.”

UM’s sister club, SLO Breakers, produced a four-song routine based on one of the five elements of hip-hop: breaking (not break dancing). The Breakers’ goal is to promote knowledge around hip-hop as well as cultivate a safe environment for underrepresented students. Co-president Bryan Carrillo finds that dance is a great form of expression no matter the genre or style.

“It’s a great cultural expression,” Carrillo said. “Just a great way to touch into our roots. So I think supporting these clubs that embrace diversity and culture at the school is what really makes Cal Poly great.”

The Chinese Student Association’s Cal Poly Lion Dance Team, took to the stage with their traditional Chinese dance, with two people inside of each of the eight colorful papier-mâché lions in their performance.

Each pair operated the lions as puppets, but also lifted each other up and worked together to mimic a lion’s movement. The dance, which also featured a band consisting of drums, cymbals and gongs, is customarily meant to fight off evil and bring good luck according to the showcase’s program.

KASA Dance Crew, a non-audition club that celebrates K-Pop music as well as educates about Korean culture, was met with thunderous applause. The routine presented 63 members of KDC on the PAC stage, donning matching red and black outfits. 

Following a quick intermission, the traditional Chinese-inspired dance group ShanWu performed a set focusing on the story “The Painted Skin,” focusing on fox spirits and “Huapi,” or duplicity. 

ShanWu and Take Out Kidz, a dance group that performed later in the evening, are sister groups also a part of the Chinese Student Association. While ShanWu works with more traditional dance styles, TOK emphasizes unique contemporary styles, inviting all dancers with different experience levels to join the group.

“We’ve put our hours into this — we’ve put our lives and put our love and put our labor into this,” said Yiming Jia, a member of TOK. “And everyone who puts in that much effort, whether it’s us, any of the other dance groups here, we are all one big community that supports each other, loves each other, and like other communities, being heard being seen, we dig that.”

In their first appearance at Illuminate, Cal Poly Andaaz executed a routine that combined western, contemporary, folk and classical dance genres. The group is inspired by the music of Indian films as well as western pop music. 

The Pilipino Cultural Exchange followed Andaaz with their Kasayahan crew, which highlighted the Sayaw sa Bangko or “dance on bench” traditional Filipino routine. Pairs danced on top of narrow benches, hopping back and forth as they stacked more and more benches on top of each other.

The penultimate set featured the MERGE Contemporary Dance Club, utilizing free-flowing and emotive jazz and contemporary choreography. Group members like co-president Hanna Jaynes appreciate the opportunity the annual showcase gives dancers.

“I think what I like most about Illuminate is how it brings the whole dance community together,” Jaynes said. “It’s really the only show that showcases student-run clubs and it’s a really awesome opportunity to be able to be part of a community and support other dance clubs.”

UM also performed the finale of the show, which was split into four parts and cut with videos of the club board discussing the “vibe” of the final performance. From a “hype” routine to one inspired by “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey, the energetic group’s set ended the show with a bang.