Crew’s control: How UPeepz nabbed Hip Hop International gold medal

Nowadays, when YouTube gives us easy access to dance performances from all over the world, it gets kinda hard to tell which crews really are the best. Unless, of course, you look at the Hip Hop International (HHI) Dance Competition in Las Vegas. Different groups have different dance styles but all of them fight their way to the HHI stage; it is considered the Olympics of street dance, after all. But once again, a young Filipino dance crew proves that having a big heart and a strong identity can take you further than any kind of skill or trick can. Fresh from their gold medal finish at this year’s MegaCrew division of HHI, Young STAR sits down with Chips Beltran of UPeepz to talk about their vogue-Filipiniana choreography and the future of street dance in Manila.

YOUNG STAR: Hi, Chips. Congrats on your championship. But before anything else, would you mind letting us know what exactly UPeepz is and how can someone be a part of it?
CHIPS BELTRAN: UPeepz is a professional dance group based in University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. We started in 2011. Since people started recruiting (more dancers), I handpicked my best students — I coach a lot of teams from different schools — and eventually we became an open organization in UP. Right now hindi lang siya exclusive to UP students unless we are competing for UP.

Well, the street dance community in Manila has grown a lot in the past few years.
Yes, it’s really different now. Before the only groups you looked up to were The Philippine All Stars — they had the good concepts — and The Crew, which is the team that I wanted to join. Nowadays, lahat nalang sumasayaw na. Si Sir Jerome Dimalanta yung pinaka parang “Plato” ng street dance and coaching dito sa Pilipinas. He made UP Street Club. He molded different coaches and choreographers and luckily, isa ako sa mga last na naturuan niya. When the time came, all these heads made their own teams kase feeling nila it’s the right time to mold different people.

B-boy: Chips Beltran, 26, choreographer of UPeepz

The street dance culture in Manila is very much alive but why is it still important to make your mark internationally as a crew through competitions like Hip Hop International?
Put it this way, HHI is the competition to win. Some say it’s the Olympics of street dance. If you want to gain a certain name and credibility, you compete there. It has a very specific criteria developed through the years. Sobrang objective and they get judges from different parts of the world that are trained specifically for each criteria. So kung gusto mong objectively masabing magaling ka, you compete in HHI.

Would you mind telling us more about the history of UPeepz in HHI?
This is actually our second year in HHI. The first was back in 2014. Since group of friends lang kami nun, hindi pa kami masyadong established as a team. Yun din yung first time namin so nangangapa kami. In the semi finals, we placed seventh but they only got the top six crews for the finals. We only had a 0.03 point difference from Academy of Brothers from Australia so sobrang heartbroken namin. We decided to take a break from HHI for a year and we gunned for World Supremacy Battlegrounds instead. We placed fourth during the prelims so we decided to go for the finals and we won. Yun na yung naging confidence booster namin so we decided to continue our unfinished business in HHI. Kung iisipin mo, two years in the making itong HHI championship namin ngayon.

What was it like to compete against established dance crews like Royal Family? Are you guys big fans of them as well?
That was crazy. Ang goal namin nun is bumawi kase diba may 0.03 kaming kinulang last time. Nung napanuod namin yung Royal Family, nakita din namin yung mga dancers nila na nasa Sorry music video ni Justin Bieber. Yung mga teammates ko sobrang nagulat kase siempre idol nila. Pero sabi ko nalang na at this time, kalaban natin sila. Tapos they had the same last song with us, yung They Don’t Really Care About Us by Michael Jackson. Eventually, nakita namin na solid naman yung routine nila but iba din naman yung approach namin eh. But yung pinaka challenge dun was the haters after kase sasabihin nila na kami yung gumaya kase Royal Family yung mas sikat.

Lil Peepz represented the Philippines in the Junior Division of World Supremacy Battlegrounds in Australia last Sept. 9-11.

What was the inspiration for your HHI 2016 choreography?
For the longest time, I’ve been trying to find my style as a choreographer but then, cheesy as it sounds, yung inspiration ko comes from my teammates and my choreographers. I know UPeepz has the best vogue choreographer. We also have a Filipiniana dancer. So sabi ko kay Carlo and Michelle mag-collaborate sila ng vogue na mala Filipiniana yung dating. Sobrang naging unique character yung vogue namin. We also have Brod who is this choreographer that specializes in popping and isolations. Also si Pax, nag-specialize naman sa girly and waacking choreography. Gumawa din ako ng ibang parts but essentially, ako yung nagtahi ng lahat. Yung biggest inspiration ko talaga is all of our choreographers and teammates.

As a coach and as part of UPeepz, how do you shape the future of the street dance culture in Manila?
Eye-opener yung Lil Peepz, our junior team. They are the first local junior team who made it to the finals of HHI and nag fourth place sila. I’ve been hearing na marami ngayong may gusto gumawa ng junior teams and that’s good. Ang dami ko talagang nahawakan na teams from different schools so marami akong micro team. Dun ako nag-spread ng learnings and style ko. Parang naging biglang future-proof yung community as long as these kids are headed to the right direction and people. Karamihan kase sa mga bata ngayon gusto lang sumikat.

Which is more important: the crew or the choreography?
It goes hand in hand. You have to have a solid choreography because that’s what’s being graded objectively and creatively. That’s what’s going to inspire future choreographers and dancers. If you have good choreography with a bad crew — panget yung work ethic — hindi nila made-deliver yun. But kung yung choreography mo so-so lang but yung crew mo sobrang solid — nagtutulungan, maayos yung work ethic, nagtr-train ng maitndi, yung puso gusto talaga manalo, nakikinig — then I guess makakalayo yung group na yun. Eventually, magi-improve din naman yung choreographers. If you have a good choreographer with a dedicated team, then I think that’s what makes a champion team.


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