Sandy Ing | Courtesy

There’s a breeze to the crisp evening air. Sweat drips down the side of your face. The choreographer says to run it again, for the fourth time. It’s 11 p.m. on a Monday night. There are still two more hours to go of the first practice of “Hell Week.”

Hell Week is a tradition for United Movement (UM), a non-audition, all-level dance club at Cal Poly. The dancers of UM participate in hell week, days leading up to a performance.

UM’s upcoming performance is Illuminate, a dance showcase featuring a variety of dance clubs on Cal Poly’s campus. Hell Week exemplifies how committed these dancers are and how seriously Illuminate is taken.

Illuminate is an annual show that United Movement started in 2019, to invite and unite the different dance organizations on campus. The first Illuminate was so popular, the second show was held in the Performing Arts Center, and was sold out. This year, UM hopes to do the same. 

“We want it to be sold out for the dancers that have worked so hard,” Daryl Goh, business senior and UM co-president, said. “We want them to have a whole excited audience.”

According to United Movement, the purpose of Illuminate is “to unite the numerous dance communities of Cal Poly onto one stage, bringing support and awareness to the various dance styles found on Cal Poly’s campus.”

This year, Illuminate will feature 12 dance organizations: Hui ‘O Hawai’i, KASA Dance Crew, PCE Kasayahan, ShanWu, Imagen y Espíritu Ballet Folklórico de Cal Poly, SLO Breakers, Take Out Kidz, CP Swing, CP Ballroom, CP Lion Dance Team, MERGE Contemporary Dance Club and United Movement. 

Most of the dance organizations participating are culturally-based dance clubs. The show offers a variety of styles of dance, from hip-hop to contemporary to ballroom. Illuminate serves to shed light on the different types of dance Cal Poly students participate in. 

“I want people to share the different cultural dances with everyone, because a lot of the cultural clubs don’t have a lot of chances to showcase their work outside of the cultural community, so that’s a big deal,” Goh said. 

Hell week practices start at 8:45p.m at the Performing Arts Center’s (PAC) loading dock. A 15 minute warm-up is led by UM’s dance coordinators Elijah Malabuyo and Malia Weingarten. Following a warm-up are runthroughs, which start at 9 p.m. 

Runthroughs is when all dancers practice the entire set. A set for UM contains dance pieces from multiple student choreographers. UM’s set for Iluminate includes five different pieces, totalling six minutes long. This entire set is practiced three times consecutively during runthroughs. After runthroughs, extensive polishing of each dance piece occurs.

Each day of hell week is divided into two parts, cleaning a different dance piece for the first and second half of the night. “Cleaning” is a term used in the dance community to refine choreography. Dancers will slowly break down the dance moves of the entire dance, and practice it over and over. Cleaning dance choreography is commenced once all dancers have nailed the choreography and timing, making the dancers a unified group. At times, this level of perfection for UM isn’t reached until 1 or 2 a.m. 

“I underestimated how much work it was to produce such a performance,” industrial engineering freshman Harold Aguirre said. “I was like ‘wow’ I guess this is what it takes.” 

For some UM dancers, the extensive practice times before a performance were shocking. For others, it seemed normal.

“It kind of brought me back to how I grew up dancing, so it was nice that I was able to find a community that is committed to dancing and performance,” environmental earth and soil science sophomore Daniel Puga said. 

Last year, Illuminate was held virtually, so this year’s Illuminate is special to participating dancers.

Computer science senior Fernando Valdivia said he’s excited Illuminate is finally in-person again this year. For seniors in the club who participated in the first Illuminate, like Validivia, this year’s performance is special. 

“It is the first time that multiple generations are able to experience this, which is really cool,” Valdivia said. “It feels like we’re putting it on again for the first time.” 

This hell week is in preparation for UM’s last performance of the year, concluding a successful year of in-person performances. It’s the “last chance for everyone to really hang out, dance together, lowkey stress together, but all because we have that same goal of having a great Illuminate and because we all love to dance,” Valdivia said.

United Movement’s motto “growth in community, community in growth” represents their dedication to welcoming people of all backgrounds to grow as dancers and individuals. 

The growth of the club has come a long way since it was first started in 2017 by alumni Cydel Subijano. Now, United Movement has about 70 dancers performing in Illuminate this year. The promotion of the club on Youtube and Instagram is what entices a lot of dancers to join. 

“The performances seemed really high caliber when I was watching the videos, I was like I want to be a part of this club,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre had never danced before coming to Cal Poly. After watching videos of UM’s performances online, Aguirre joined the club at the beginning of his first year on-campus.

What Fernando Valdivia loves about UM is “definitely all the connections I’ve made over the years.” The combination of the social aspect and the passion for dance is why he believes there is a strong appeal to UM. 

“Most of the people I hang out with are all dance members, my roommates are dance members…It’s where I’ve made most of my greatest friends,” Validiva said. 

Tickets to Illuminate 2022 can be purchased here.