Unity in Diversity on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew

A popular slogan, “Unity in Diversity” refers to our attempts to achieve a sense of union despite or through our diverse religious, ethnic, or national associations. One approach has been to look for commonalities and minimize our differences; another has been to embrace difference and to forge respectful and appreciative relationships through them. As I watched last weeks episode of ABDC (Feb. 25, 2010) I was struck by how the dancers express the ethic of unity in diversity in their membership, costume, and choreography.

The faces and races of many of these street dance crews reflect a full range of ethnic America, especially if they are from more urban—and hence generally more diverse—areas. African, Asian, European, and Hispanic dancers, male and female work side-by-side. There are exceptions of course: an all female group won last year and some groups are heterogeneous by chance or choice. As the American people become more creole with each generation, it becomes more difficult to distinguish between racial-ethnicities. It may, in fact, be making the whole question of ethnic divisiveness moot. Still, each member of a crew brings their own cultural heritage into the mix, each perhaps with specific ways of communicating, resolving conflict, or responding to stress. Based on the video introductions to the groups, it is clear that the treat each other with respect both in and out of the studio. Many act as siblings and count each other as family thus overriding what might have been contentious diversities.

The costumes created by a crew may also demonstrate united diversity. Though some crews dress in identical uniforms, most create a look that maintains individuality within a set of common structures. In general, the uniform consists of some combination of baggy pants, tee-shirt, jacket, sneakers, and a hood or hat. Sometimes the girls will wear a sexier variation; sometimes the leader will wear something contrasting with the rest. And even if a crew does chose identical uniforms, they may throw around splashes of individual flavor. Two weeks ago, Stagger Crew layered on to their uniform, fabric swatches located differently on each dancer signifying diversity.

The costumes for seven-member crew, Royal Flush, typify this aesthetic beautifully. Jeans, tee-shirts, and sneakers, in greens and blacks were the common theme. Two members wore black jeans, five wore tan. The tee-shirt styles differed in pattern: solids, stripes, plaid, and graphic designs in several hues of green and black. They each accessorized individually. The individuality of the specifics gave the crew a dynamic appearance, but the overall effect is of union. This aesthetic works so well that we aren’t entirely aware of the great variety of detail we are seeing, making it a truely creole style.

Choreographically, crews are expected to create an organic piece filled with a range of styles and traditions. The judges insist on this and will comment if a crew exhibits only one style, like only hip hop or roboting. JC Chasez told them he wants to see “everything”: cranking, crumping, rock, pop, voguing, and tutting. Ethnic varieties—like clogging, stepping, or African—are greatly “appreciated” and “respected.” The more variety of elements (successfully performed), the higher the praise.

Unity in Diversity. These kids make it seem so natural and maybe for them, it is. I find that very hopeful. The social and cultural effects of their efforts, their music and dance especially, point to a promising future and a new expression of America’s democratic ideal, E Pluribus Unum—Out of Many, One.

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