Dancing like no one is watching is letting go and throwing away all your inhibitions.
But in a numbered circle, a breakdancer freestyles in the middle while everyone watches intently. The key to letting go with so many eyeballs on you is doing it, said Ricardo Rodriguez, 11, of Oxnard.
“The hardest part is getting in,” Ricardo said. “Then everyone claps and claps, and it’s like you’re in a room dancing all by yourself.”
“We’re like one big family,” said fellow dancer Jewels Garcia, 12.
The family Jewels is talking about is Hip Hop Mindset, a team that runs summer camps and teaches moves in Ventura County schools. A class at Hip Hop Mindset means everyone is watching but no one is judging.
Jewels said that in sixth grade at Rio del Valle Middle School, she was constantly afraid that the seventh and eighth graders would judge her. This is not the case in hip hop classes.
“I feel accepted. Here I feel joy,” she said.
For four years, Hip Hop Mindset has run a dance program in classrooms, after school and during summer sessions. With so many dancers in and around Oxnard, Hip Hop Mindset is looking to form its first dance team. The team of 15-20 dancers will be prepared for competitions and will perform at community events.
On Saturday, auditions will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Rio STEAM Academy, 3001 N. Ventura Road. Boys and girls ages 9-15 who wish to rehearse at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center twice a week as part of the dance team are encouraged to audition.
There will be a scouting workshop on Friday, the day before the auditions, from 5-7:30 p.m. also at the Rio STEAM Academy. Dancers can find out more about the team and the auditions during the workshop. The workshop and auditions are free.
The dance program has come a long way since its beginnings in 2015, when an instructor taught a weekly class at the Rio school district. Hip Hop Mindset founder William Venegas started in Rio because John Puglisi, the district superintendent, was Venegas’ principal at Mesa Union School.
There are now seven instructors teaching up to 80 lessons a week at schools in Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Ventura.
Venegas, an Oxnard resident, founded the group after feeling stuck working the cemetery at a post office. He wanted to do something different and had traveled to Los Angeles to watch hip hop dance battles.
“We should take it to Oxnard,” Venegas said, recalling the band’s origins.
Now that Hip Hop Mindset is growing, Venegas hopes to form more teams for teens and dancers as young as 5. He also hopes to open a local studio.
Mark Espiritu, who has danced most of his life, is one of the instructors. Espiritu grew up mimicking the moves of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys on television.
At Hip Hop Mindset, he’s seen kids go from hesitant and shy to begging for longer classes. A student arrived at summer camp in tears, missing the entire first week. Now she is no longer afraid to jump into a circle of numbers with enthusiasm.
“They brag about each other,” Espirtu said. “Everyone is super supportive and it really helps the kids grow.”
Dancing, especially the aggressive style of krumping, helps Ricardo release any anger he might be building up at school. Ricardo said there were gangs in elementary school and now that he’s going to middle school it will be “crazier”.
“Dancing helps me stay away,” Ricardo said.
Many Hip Hop Mindset students dance outside of class. Some dance sitting in the car while their parents drive. Others dance at school even when it annoys classmates.
“In my head, I do choreography,” Ricardo said.
Jewels said her favorite part of the day was leaving the stress at school and taking the bus to hip hop class.
“I know I’m going to let it all out,” she said.
To learn more about the Scouting Workshop and Dance Team Auditions, visit https://hipopmindset.com/.