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Davis, California

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Student dances her way to Elite

Plastic flip-flops and suede Ugg boots lay abandoned on the heavily polished floor. The sound of dribbling basketballs faintly echoes in the gymnasium as students wearing faded sweatshirts of their past ballet recitals watch a girl dance to her own voice reciting lyrics. Her polished fingernails graze the floor, making a soft clicking sound.

She stops dancing and turns to her dancers.

“Let me see how it looks,” says Aakriti Gupta, a sophomore economics and communication double major. Fiddling with her Chanel-logo earring, she presses a button on the CD player behind her and releases the smooth tones of Chris Martin.

To Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” the dancers mimic Gupta’s demonstration, shedding their sweatshirts and warm-ups and tossing them next to their street clothes. Their movements are not yet synchronized with the music, and they do not move in unison, but they remember Gupta’s steps.

“Good,” Gupta says, flicking off the CD player and glancing at her Blackberry before turning toward the dancers once again.

Gupta is the president and founder of the Elite Dance Company, a new lyrical dance group at UC Davis. Lyrical dance, Gupta said, is a kind of fusion between jazz and ballet.

“[It is] dance with emotion, basically,” Gupta said. She cites Mia Michaels from Fox Network’s “So You Think You Can Dance?” as her “inspiration” for lyrical dance.

“[Elite is] basically people with a passion for dance,” Gupta said, tossing her dark bangs away from her lined eyes.

Her passion, however, is ballet.

When Gupta was five years old, Gupta’s mother enrolled her in her first dance class, a ballet and tap mix class at Schumacher’s School of Dance in South San Francisco, Calif., a studio near her home in San Mateo.

“[At the time, I] never took it seriously,” Gupta said.

At age ten, when she enrolled in The Westlake School for the Performing Arts, Gupta’s attitude toward dance changed.

“Something happened,” Gupta said. “And I fell in love with it.”

For four years, Gupta performed in The Westlake School’s production of ‘The Nutcracker’ at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. She held various roles, including the lead Arabian dancer and leader of the snowflakes. At Notre Dame High School in Belmont, Calif., she was president of her school’s dance team, InStep, which performed a variety of dance styles.

“Aakriti was a tremendous influence on the dance program during her time at the high school,” said Coleen Lorenz, the director of dance at Notre Dame High School, in an e-mail interview. “Her ideas were ‘cutting edge’ and the perfection of her work was ranked in the top few during my years teaching at the high school.”

When she decided to attend UC Davis, Gupta also decided to create a lyrical company, where no such group existed previously.

As Gupta was a freshman when she founded the company, she was unfamiliar with the process of starting a campus organization.

“I didn’t have anyone to ask questions to,” Gupta said, so she recounted spending hours on the Student Programs and Activities Center’s (SPAC) website.

She registered Elite with SPAC in the spring of last school year, which allowed her to book rehearsal spaces for fall over the summer.

Last year, Gupta recruited eight dancers from her Introduction to Contemporary Dance class, including Isabell Lin, a junior human development major.

Lin said she was scared to join, but Gupta convinced her that she could do it.

Gupta held official auditions for Elite in October, and currently has 22 members in the company. Of those members, only a few are males.

Gupta said she would love to have more guys.

The first piece that Elite learned this year was to Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida,’ which Gupta choreographed with the help of Melysa Vander Mel, another Elite dancer.

“I choreographed the whole second verse [to the ‘Viva’ dance] in my UWP class,” she said, citing one moment of brainstorming during lecture. She and Vander Mel worked together to fine-tune her choreography from the initial concept.

The Elite dancers learned the ‘Viva’ dance in a few weeks, and eight dancers performed it at the Multicultural Fair, held on Nov. 19 in Freeborn Hall. Gupta plans to also perform with Elite in local competitions and at the half time of some UC Davis basketball games, as well as host a private show in April or May.

The funding for these performances will come from Elite fundraisers and Club Finance Council support, said Gupta.

The Club Finance Council offers up to $2000 in grants to registered SPAC student organizations, according to their website.

As these performances approach, Gupta said, the rehearsal schedule may increase, but currently Elite rehearses once a week at Campus Recreation’s Activities and Recreation Center (ARC).

“School comes first,” Gupta said. “I don’t want this to interfere with people’s lives.”

For Gupta, however, dance is a large portion of her life.

Once the music stopped, the company dancers left the dance floor. Breathing hard, their faces flushed, they pulled on Ugg boots over open-toe dance tights and replaced jazz shoes with flip-flops, chatting as they strolled out of the gymnasium, their dance clothes neatly tucked away with the memory of the new dance movements.

“What you do if you want to actually dance [is] join a company,” said Jaclyn Kingman, a junior psychology major with a minor in dance and Elite dancer. “How can I not [participate]?”

Before the Elite dancers had cleared from the rehearsal space, Gupta had already begun practicing with the Hindi Film Dance Team, another dance group she joined last year.

“[Dance] definitely takes up a lot of time I could be studying,” Gupta said. “I make time.”

 

SARA JOHNSON can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

 

 

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