COLUMBIA — The music starts. Twelve bodies saunter in single file, to the rhythm of the music, taking wide steps to the right, then to the left. They bring their hands in and then ball up their fists and strike an imaginary musical triangle to one side. This routine continues until 12 pairs of arms and legs move to the beat and reach their final spots on the floor.
This performance isn't on a stage, but on the tiled floor of a high school cafeteria. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, the tables and chairs are put away, and Hickman High School's cafeteria serves up something a little more creative than the standard fare — hip-hop dancing. It is on these days that members of Just Hip-Hop, Hickman's dance club, learn their latest routines.
Club captain senior Jessica Fair started Just Hip-Hop in 2006 so she could have something to do after school. Fair has been dancing since she was five or six years old and wanted to add another option for after-school activities at Hickman.
"A lot of kids aren't interested in clubs," Fair said. "I wanted to make them interested."
Originally the club consisted of Fair and a group of 10 or 11 girls, but now the club holds tryouts. This year, 25 to 30 students tried out, and the squad was narrowed down to nine girls and three boys.
Hip-hop organizations are gaining popularity in Columbia as well as other parts of Missouri. A hip-hop dance club started this year at Jefferson Junior High School. The club was started by ninth-grader Sarah Hemme, and more than 30 students showed up for tryouts. Rock Bridge High School's U.N.I.Q. Dance Squad, which was created by students four years ago, started out with hip-hop but is now doing stepping, a percussive dance usually performed in groups, which places emphasis on footwork. The student-driven squad performs for the student body as well as for other schools.
Gateway and Metro are just two of several St. Louis high schools that recently added dance clubs.
Just Hip-Hop is not an official school organization but hopes to be recognized later this year. Members perform at school basketball games as well as at the multicultural assembly in January.
Senior Demetraz McNeary joined the club last year. He said before he joined, he had always been shy. He thought the dance club could bring him out of his shell. McNeary's favorite part is performing.
"It's an adrenaline rush," McNeary said.
Special education teacher Chris Delong, one of the club's four sponsors, thinks the club has a positive impact on students.
"They get a chance to have a sense of pride in doing something they enjoy and showing off their talents," Delong said.
Last year, Just Hip-Hop competed in Columbia's Rock da' Mic, a singing, rapping and dance competition for high school students, and Rock the Park, a competition for all ages. The club placed first in both events. This year, the students are raising money to participate in a national hip-hop dance competition in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The club hopes to compete on BET's 106 & Park "Wild, Wild Wednesday," a TV show where selected groups are chosen to perform and viewers vote on their favorites to compete face to face. The students will submit a video in the spring to see if they are chosen to compete on the show.
For now, Just Hip-Hop will continue to practice. Fair plans to incorporate activities that build teamwork into practices to prepare for their upcoming competitions.
"I'm not nervous about competing," Fair said. "It's exciting!"