The former Cal Poly dance club “Urban Movement” changed its name to “United in Movement” in an effort to avoid any negative implications associated with the term “urban.”The term is rooted in racism, according to club co-presidents business administration junior Devin Hilario and nutrition science junior Jessica Parker.
United in Movement is a non-audition, all-level club that hosts dance workshops and performances. The club’s board first learned about the connotations of the word “urban” when one board member mentioned an informative post in the club’s messaging platform Slack.
The post was by a dance industry leader Keone Madrid, who said he would no longer use the term urban when referring to a style of dance.
Hilario said urban was intended to describe a form of choreography not restricted to one style. However, Hilario said the club has since learned the term urban has “been weaponized as a derogatory term against marginalized communities — specifically Brown and Black communities.”
The term urban gained association through federal cleanup projects in the 20th century, and these projects targeted areas where people of color lived, Parker said. Since this time, the term has gained an association with people of color who have lower socioeconomic statuses, Parker added.
Parker said other artistic environments, such as the music community, also used the term urban. For example, the Grammy Awards had a “Best Urban Contemporary Album” category.
Audiences began to notice “all the people of color were getting put in the more urban categories,” Parker said. “The other big categories, like the best artists — not best urban artists, were getting really whitewashed.”
The Recording Academy announced in June 2020 that the Best Urban Contemporary Album category would be renamed to Best Progressive R&B Album, according to a press release. This change reflected the subgenre’s elements more accurately and included songs with influences of dance, electronic music, hip-hop and rap.
Hilario said he and Parker discussed how the club would move forward with this knowledge.
“What do we do?” Hilario said he asked Parker. “Our club name is Urban Movement.”
Parker said the two considered how the club would maintain its identity as a dance community at Cal Poly and in San Luis Obispo.
This rebrand is the second time the dance club has changed its name. United in Movement was known as Hip Hop Choreo Club from 2014 through 2018. The club changed its name to Urban Movement in 2018, because they believed the club did not properly represent hip hop culture.
An active force in the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo dance community, then-Urban Movement sold out the Performing Arts Center in February for the dance showcase Illuminate.
Illuminate featured 16 student dance clubs and united the dance community.
The club currently has 60 active members and its focus is to uphold inclusive values within the dance community, Parker said.
“Above all, we care about standing in solidarity with communities that need our help,” Parker said. “We definitely felt like a change needed to happen, we just didn’t know necessarily what it would be.”
To brainstorm ideas for the club’s new name, a Google Form was created, and the name United in Movement was suggested and later chosen.
Hilario and Parker said they are both pleased with the club’s new name, as the initials ‘UM’ remain unchanged. The co-presidents said the new name is more representative of the club’s various dance styles.
The term urban has a different meaning in an academic context, according to political science lecturer Kathryn Mulholland.
Mulholland said in an academic context urban refers to large cities with dense living arrangements. While discussing geography and demographics, urban is often contrasted to rural settings, Mulholland added.
Mulholland said she did not know the term urban was used in a different context until she read recent articles and tweets about the Grammy’s urban category’s history. Mulholland said urban is now being used as a “code word” to describe Black Americans and people of color in a derogatory way.
In today’s environment, “the history of systemic racism is definitely at the forefront of our political discourse,” Mulholland said.
Mulholland said if she needed to use the term urban in her class, she would describe to her students both what the word actually means and how people choose to use it.
“I’d have to be really clear about what is really the true meaning of [urban],” Mulholland said.
Mulholland said it is important to be aware and culturally sensitive as groups of people begin using words in different contexts.
Context of the word urban was key for students, including business administration sophomore Sahana Satish.
Satish was introduced to the Urban Movement last year through club table events. She followed United in Movement on Instagram and watched the club’s workshops and performances.
Satish said the term urban reminds her of cities and newer developments. In a dance context, Satish said she considered urban to represent present-day dance styles, such as hip hop and contemporary.
After closer analysis of the term urban, she said she does not believe it properly reflects all of the dance club’s styles.
“Now looking at the new name — United in Movement — I think it’s much more inclusive, it sounds honestly better,” Satish said. “I think it encompasses a better vision of what they stand for and what they do.”
Clubs and student organizations have an influence on their members and audiences, and clubs have a responsibility to use their platforms to educate their members and run their organizations in an inclusive manner, Satish said.
“There’s way more power and influence for people with bigger platforms,” Satish said.
Parker said changing the club’s name is the first step to educate their members, understand dance culture’s roots and serve as a positive role model for other dancers.
United in Movement hosted a cultural competency session for its board members, and Parker said the club plans to host more sessions in the future while “digging into the roots behind why we move the way we do and where they originated from.”