As soon as her class ended at Leidy Laboratories, Kelley Yu (C ’20) dove right into the dance studio at Platt Student Performing Arts House—she had an upcoming workshop to prepare for. Kelley, a current sophomore in Strictly Funk, will be hosting a master class this upcoming Sunday night.
Strictly Funk, two words with a cadenced sound, is one of the most popular performing arts groups on campus. This hip–hop and contemporary dance group sold out their spring show tickets almost instantly, way ahead of their show time. On a weekend of late March, outside Iron Gate Theatre, where Strictly Funk hosts their shows, the waiting line for entry was so long that it had to circle around the corner. Inside the theater, seats were occupied ten minutes before the official opening. This is how popular Strictly Funk is among Penn undergraduates.
Kelley found Strictly Funk by accident her freshman fall. As early as elementary school, Kelley had practiced ballet; however, it was only after high school that she began to fall in love with dancing. Her school, Shanghai American School, required students to practice either visual or performing arts. Kelley chose hip–hop, even though she was not very flexible. “In high school, my dance teacher used to sit on me while I was holding the splits for 30 minutes at a time,” Kelley said. “It was really painful, but it was definitely helpful with dancing.”
Including contemporary, smooth, voguing, hip–hop, and hard hitting, Kelley’s dance style is enriched by a variety of genres. Her choreography inspiration can strike whenever and wherever. No matter whether she is taking a shower or walking down Locust, new dance moves can pop into her mind spontaneously. She also looks for some dance ideas from online video clips, such as those of 1Million Dance Studio based in South Korea.
The sequencing of different dance moves eventually comes naturally as part of her muscle memory as she spends more time practicing. When she performs on stage, she thinks about nothing except for the moves. Choreography can sometimes be a painstaking task. Kelley recalled the six–minute dance piece she co–directed, which took four to five hours of practice per week, a total of 20 hours to complete.
In addition to dancing, Strictly Funk dancers are versatile, handling many other tasks for the group. Dancers who are on the executive board are split into creative, production, and business teams. Their videos, not only the trailers but also the ones used for the show, are all shot by in–house members.
If you have ever seen one of those dance videos, you would know that Strictly Funk has nicknames designated for each member. Kelley told me that those nicknames are chosen by the older members and are often inside jokes. The dance group also has three lineages—Gliste–lin, Chillin, and Bad Bitchlin.
Strictly Funk’s themes vary each semester according to the directors. This past fall, Funk presents Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Lo–Lo Lomax (C ’18) co–directed the show and said the theme was meant to “connect people to their childhood a bit more since that brings good memories back.” The spring show is named “Legacy” in order to celebrate the dance troupe’s 20th anniversary and to honor the contributions of everyone who came before. Karen Wu (W ’18), the co–director of the spring show, said through her four years at Funk, she has seen many turnovers in the group, but she is always proud of the group's diversity in terms of race, gender, major, and the like.
Strictly Funk's weekly practices can last 10–15 hours, and up to 20 hours for those with leadership roles in the club. With such an intense schedule, the question emerges: how do Funk dancers balance school work and practices? “I didn’t!” Kelley laughed, “Just kidding.” Dance has gradually become an expressive outlet for Kelley to escape from the stress of her schoolwork. Whenever she feels drained by school, dancing helps her to adjust.
This year, there will be 17 seniors stepping down from Strictly Funk, a number that comprises almost half of the group size. Always a go–getter, Kelley has her eye on becoming more involved on board next, possibly in an assistant chair position. In spite of these graduations, we're confident that Funk will be doing just fine come fall, especially with Kelley involved.