Hip-hop dance team KAOS on growth and “making space” for creativity

KAOS at the Spring 2022 showcase
Hip-hop dance team KAOS at its Spring 2023 showcase. Photo credit: Instagram @umiamikaos

Electric dance choreography took center stage at the Rock Plaza last Thursday as hip-hop music reverberated through campus and a crowd of students cheered their peers on. This synchronized group of dancers known as KAOS — UM’s only coed hip-hip dance team — lit up the Rock at their fall showcase on Nov. 9.

Since 1995, KAOS has shared hip-hop choreography with the campus community through performances at sporting events, open dance clinics, Homecoming Week’s O-Cheer competition and their end-of-semester dance showcase.

The Miami Hurricane sat down with Jayda O’Neill, a biomedical engineering senior and president of KAOS, to talk about her passion and love for the organization.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you choose choreographers?

O’NEILL: I ask at the beginning of the semester who’s interested in choreographing and it used to be one person a week. So on Tuesday, they would teach and then on Wednesday, they would get our dance ready to go perform on stage.

But as membership has increased in numbers, so has the interest in choreographing, and I find it very important not to turn anyone’s creative ideas away. I want to embrace everyone’s creative ideas because that’s what makes KAOS, KAOS. So, instead of saying, “Oh you can’t choreograph because we don’t have enough space,” we have just made more space for everyone.

Where does your passion for dance come from?

O’NEILL: For me, dance is a passion that I’ve always had. It’s my sanity. Aside from doing all the hard work with my major, dance is my mental break. So, for me, it was really important that I found a team that was able to understand that school’s first at the end of the day and also had practice every week.

Can you elaborate on how dance is a release for you?

O’NEILL: When we dance, it is physically an emotional release, because we are moving all of that stagnant energy. We’re moving it, we’re releasing it, we’re feeling something positive and we’re putting that energy into positive motion.

I could go through whatever during the day, but as soon as I walk in that studio and I’m dancing with my teammates, it’s gone. Even if it comes back when I leave the studio, it’s gone for a while and I feel supported and safe there.

How does KAOS combat the exclusivity in dance culture?

O’NEILL: I’m very familiar with the different types of cultures that can be found in the dance environment and how cliquey and toxic it can become. As president, I made it one of my missions to make sure that we are an environment that includes everybody. There are no cliques.

I don’t care what you do outside of dance, but when we’re inside the studio, we’re all there for the same reason. We’re all there to grow together as dancers, and we’re all a family. We support each other inside and outside of the studio. We’re all communicating with each other — It’s the healthiest dance environment that I’ve ever been a part of.

How do you make the environment welcoming to newcomers?

O’NEILL: We like to promote that there is no need for a dance background. There have been many people on our team before who have never danced and they just had the courage to show up and the passion for it. We don’t even look for technique and we don’t look for things that make you a perfect dancer. What we do look for is what you have that we cannot give you, like performance quality. What energy do you bring to this stage?

It’s really not about how good of a dancer you are at the end of the day. No one in that room is perfect — we all make mistakes and we all learn from each other. It’s a very safe environment for people to just come and explore and see if dance is something they want to be a part of.

How do you promote a healthy dance environment?

O’NEILL: Communication is something that I always think is really important. We’ll have bonding events outside of the studio, so we’ll go to dinner, then go around the table and say our favorite thing that’s happened so far, our favorite memory or something positive. At practice, sometimes we’ll do a short warm-up, get into a circle and go around the room asking questions like “What did you do last week that you’re proud of?” [or] “What’s something you’re excited for?”

It’s just a really great way of starting the day off with open communication where everyone feels like they’re seen and heard for who they are in and outside of the studio.

How has the team grown since you first joined?

O’NEILL: When I first joined, it was a pretty small organization. There was about a max of 15 people, and then COVID hit and it got really hard. We had to do practices online, a lot of people ended up dropping out and we got to a team that was under 10 people at one point.

We came together and we were very determined to build the team up to be a professional club organization. After the past three years of really grinding to make the organization as great as it is, we’re now a team of 27. It’s the biggest the organization has ever been and we are the cleanest group of dancers that I’ve ever seen since being on the team.

What’s your favorite thing about KAOS?

O’NEILL: My favorite thing is seeing the growth of the dancers individually. Newbies become vets and then the vets become even better than they believe that they would ever be able to become.

To watch us as a team get synchronized because we’re dancing together, it’s like we’re more of a family than friends. Everyone dances and feeds off of each other and it’s a really great environment.

What legacy do you want KAOS to leave?

O’NEILL: Our name, what we do, our involvement on campus and our reputation. Seeing us on stage, you can see and feel the professionalism, and something that I want to continue is that level of work ethic and hard work.

Everyone’s the same amount of committed and it’s not like half the team’s growing every week and half the team’s not. We’re growing together.

Is there anything else you want to say?

O’NEILL: Everyone has their own different training backgrounds and that always plays a part in how you choreograph. Having people on our team from all different backgrounds, all different dancing experiences and all different places really brings diversity.

There’s no two dances that are the same, so we’re constantly given the space to continuously learn, to continuously grow. Live, love, KAOS.

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