August 28, 2018
Anthony Nicolo ’17, M.S. ’18 was a nervous freshman who was intimidated by his new surroundings. His passion was hip hop dancing, however, the styles he saw offered on campus were different than anything he had tried. So, he’d use the studios after hours and try to practice on his own.
“After a year, I was like I just can’t do this,” said Nicolo of Boston. “I was ready to transfer, but then I emailed the dance director.”
UT’s Unified Dance Crew competed in Hip Hop International, the world hip hop dance competition, in Phoenix, AZ, this August. The team placed 12th in the U.S. adult division (out of more than 50) and was the first ever to compete as a college-affiliated team. Members of the crew who participated included Anthony Nicolo ’17, M.S. ’18, Taylor Martin ’19, Matea Smith ’20, Sarah Wuerker ’21, Romelo Wilson ’21, Morgan Wohkittel ’19 and Pawatchaya Jarrunakorn ’21.
The director, now retired Susan Taylor Lennon, invited him to audition for the Spring Dance Concert. “I flourished from there,” he said.
Nicolo, who was a resident assistant, started choreographing for the Friday classes and for Dance Happening, and then created Unified Dance Crew (UDC) in 2015. Three years later, he took the team to Hip Hop International, the world hip hop dance competition, in Phoenix, AZ, this August. The team placed 12th in the U.S. adult division (out of more than 50) and was the first ever to compete as a college-affiliated team.
UDC’s performance at Hip Hop International is featured in the first part of this video up until minute 4:30. Video courtesy of Anthony Nicolo and Hip Hop International.
“I feel on fire when I perform. The feeling from being in front of an audience that is screaming for you is exuberant,” said Matea Smith ’20, an applied dance major. “Feels like I’m floating, there is only the music and myself on that stage when I dance. Dancing with a team just makes the experience 100 times better.”
The team had to incorporate different styles of hip hop in up to 2 minutes of music that Nicolo mixed himself. They were scored on the moves, tricks and acrobatics. Members of the crew who participated included Nicolo, Taylor Martin ’19, Smith, Sarah Wuerker ’21, Romelo Wilson ’21, Morgan Wohkittel ’19 and Pawatchaya Jarrunakorn ’21.
“We have a lot of energy and a lot of passion,” Nicolo said. “Everyone has passion there, but I think we have a lot of powerful dance moves. We’re really good at tumbling, too.”
Sarah Wuerker ’21, a nursing major who is involved in Army ROTC and is a President’s Leadership Fellow, loves the workout that dancing provides, as well as the escape and expression.
“I love both the feeling of performing in front of an audience and spreading a message through movement. One of my favorite compliments that I've ever received was from a friend who said that they could tell how much I love dancing just by watching the way that I move,” Wuerker said. “It's so important to do what you love with love (a phrase inspired by Susan Taylor Lennon) and when people recognize that, it's one of the best feelings in the world.”
Every one of the seven-member team who competed this summer was enrolled in summer courses at UT. Nicolo flew back the day before a presentation in one of his final courses. It was stressful, but completely worth it.
Nicolo is hoping to field a 40-member mega crew for next year’s competition.
“Being able to perform with my new dance family and fulfill that dream I’ve had for years was the most incredible feeling,” said Taylor Martin ’19, an international business and management major with a double minor in leadership and finance. Martin was supposed to go to the competition years ago, but things fell through with her team at the time. “I missed being a part of that rich hip hop culture and sharing that mutual love for dance with so many people. It was also incredible to watch and learn from others from all around the world. It goes to show that no matter where you are from, dance is a universal language that connects us all together.”
Romelo Wilson ’21, an international studies major with a concentration in Latin America and a minor in Spanish, said he found dance after taking a break from playing baseball to try something new. When he’s dancing, he said he feels like a different person.
“As crazy as it may sound, dancing brings out a different side of me, one that's more outgoing and expressive,” said Wilson. “When I'm not dancing, I'm usually quiet and mellow, but when I'm performing, I notice that I go all out. My facial expressions become intensified, and my movements aren't mellow at all. I feel as if the music in addition to the crowd gives me the adrenaline to put my all into it and transform into a performer.”
Wilson, who is involved in the Black Student Union and Success Scholars Program, is from New York City, the birthplace of hip hop.
“I feel as if it is engrained in my culture, because in addition to it being a part of my hometown, I am also African American and Hispanic, which are two cultures that also influence and I’m influenced by in hip hop. The meaning behind hip hop resonates with me, because I feel as if it epitomizes what it's like being a teen of color growing up in New York City.”
Wilson said Unified has helped him step out of his shell and connect with others, creating a second family in the dance crew. It’s a sentiment echoed by many of those in UDC.
“Joining UDC reminded me to always make time for the things that I love. It's also given me a new family that I can be myself around,” said Wuerker. “I always enjoy meeting other dancers, because I'm so humbled/inspired by the amount of talent other people have, especially when it's something that I can't do. UDC has made me a better and stronger hip-hop dancer, but also a better leader and team member. I'm excited to see what the future has in store for the team.”
Martin said the team gave her a home and place to be herself after she left for college.
“It helped me transition to college life at UT and gave me a safe place to continue to do what I love most,” said Martin, who has participated in the Fall and Spring Dance Happenings, Delta Sigma Pi and is a President’s Leadership Fellow and the new UDC president. “This team has given me some of my best friends, and we’ve created so many long-lasting memories that I will cherish forever. I don’t know what I’d do or where I’d be without UDC.”
“Joining UDC reminded me to always make time for the things that I love. It's also given me a new family that I can be myself around,” said Sarah Wuerker ’21.
In the five years Nicolo has been at UT, he used dance as the theme for any homework assignment he could. He earned his undergraduate degree in human performance with a minor in dance and his graduate degree in exercise and nutrition science. He was a finalist in UT’s 2016 Campus Movie Fest for his film, “Dance Saved Us.”
He teaches hip hop at several studios in Tampa and would love to be a traveling choreographer as well as operate his own dance studio at some point, and will continue to teach and perform locally, since he graduated this summer. He’ll remain with UDC as an adviser.
Auditions for UDC are Sunday, Sept. 9, at 10 a.m. in the Edison Dance Building. For more information, follow UDC on Instagram at @utsunifieddancecrew, @anthonynicolo and @utampadance.
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