If there’s any place to enjoy EXO’s Love Shot on repeat, Shape of You remixes, or to people-watch (K-pop edition), look no further than a RICE Crew practice.
Sporting athleisure ranging from white cargo pants to parachute joggers and flared denim over white sneakers, members of the performance group congregate twice a week to rehearse the most popular soundtracks in the western urban and K-pop scene. The atmosphere is neither formal nor intimidating — even though the dance crew’s home resides in the familiar Leibner-Cooper room just off the entrance of the GAC, it almost feels like you’ve stepped into a parallel dimension, one where mistakes are traded for laughter and friendships are forged over mutual blood, sweat, and tears.
RICE Crew seeks to integrate Asian and Asian American cultures through the art of dance. Their song selection is comprised mostly of K-pop and is catered to what they think members will enjoy, although they are currently diversifying their covered genres with a shift into urban pop. The group’s YouTube channel, which features recent covers of “BTBT” and Seventeen’s “HOME;RUN,” has over 5,000 subscribers, with their most popular cover of BLACKPINK’s “Forever Young” from four years ago at almost half a million views.
It’s almost rare to encounter someone on campus who hasn’t at least heard of RICE Crew. Their prominent presence on campus, rejuvenated with each cultural performance and their highly-anticipated annual spring showcase, has a large fanbase extending beyond the Rochester community to include viewers from around the world. Acclaimed for their legendary charismatic concerts they’re known to deliver, RICE Crew has certainly made a name for itself home on campus — and the drastic uptick in recruitment was only the first of these reverberations. According to the Executive Board (eboard), coming into this school year, membership essentially tripled overnight — and the challenges of navigating larger practices, selecting dancers for showcases, and figuring out how to communicate effectively between management and members was a steep learning curve.
“The challenges we face this year — it’s not like something we can ask previous eboard for advice for because it’s not something any previous RICE Crew year has experienced,” Publicity Chair and Media Art Director Helena Peng, a sophomore, said. “It’s also the struggle of making sure every member feels seen and feels heard, and is enjoying the experience — even though you can’t cater to every member personally because there are so many.”
Sophomore Gideon Oh, RICE Crew’s Social Chair, echoed this sentiment. Due to the sheer size of the organization, it’s guaranteed that there will be outliers opposing the eboard’s decisions. Communication between different leadership groups, from eboard to teachers to general members, is key, Peng and Oh both noted.
Perhaps the members’ favorite part about RICE Crew is the welcoming, inclusive atmosphere. Upon entering the rehearsal space, it’s a low-stakes platform to try out things or meticulously refine choreographies, new and experienced dancers alike. In front of the wall-to-wall mirror, Oh leads about 20 members through the choreography for “Love Shot.” 20 pairs of shoes hit the ground, legs twist, feet shuffle, heads jerk back in synchrony. Between run-throughs, the members mingle amongst each other, exchanging jokes before rushing back to their positions as Oh provides guidance. There’s an undercurrent of serenity amongst the raw vigor, an unmistakable aura of pride in the air in being able to coordinate 20 people from all different backgrounds with nonjudgmental humility..
In the end, RICE Crew is more about cultivating a safe space for dancers regardless of expertise. It’s never a competition, and as they wrap up rehearsal by filming subgroups performing the chorus, the members cheer encouragingly after each group of five leaves the main floor. “Maybe they’ll be messing up moves or they don’t have the best technique, but that can be fixed later. From the beginning if they’re able to just enjoy themselves, that stands out,” sophomore Naomi Weiser, a teacher for the spring showcase, said.
The best part? “You don’t have to know how to dance,” Oh insisted. “A lot of people just come to just try it out. Even if you think you can’t dance, there’s no one who can’t dance.”
RICE Crew’s upcoming showcase for the Asian American Student Union is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. in the May Room.