Meeting RAM Squad
It is 5 p.m. on a gorgeous Friday at Penn State.
Syllabus week has just come to a close. The weather outside is perfect. Not a cloud mars the clear blue sky. It’s hot enough to break out the shorts.
Most students are probably out relaxing, heading downtown to hang out with friends, getting ready for the football game or just chilling out in front of the television.
But one group of students has gathered in a room on the ground floor of the White Building to spend three hours of their Friday evening dancing.
And from the looks of it, they just might be having more fun than the rest of us.
As I walked down the hallway and heard the sounds of upbeat hip-hop music, I knew I found RAM Squad. When I walked in the door, I saw a group of energetic students standing in a semi-circle with one student doing freestyle dances in the middle. Almost everyone was clapping along with the music. I felt drawn in by how energized everyone was, in spite of how hot and humid the room felt.
A few students took turns dancing before everyone split into two groups to learn dance techniques in time with music. One group learned “breaking,” while another group tried to master the skill of “popping.”
Na Eun “JiGGy” Yoon, RAM Squad’s president, approached me as I sat with my laptop computer. After I introduced myself, she smiled and asked, “Aren’t you going to dance?”
“Maybe later,” I said. It looked like a lot of fun, but I have to admit I was a little reluctant to get in on the action. I took about three months of jazz dance one summer and danced in a few musicals, but I am by no means an expert. And of course, the type of dance RAM Squad does hardly resembles what I’ve done onstage while singing show tunes.
For now, I was content to just observe.
What I noticed most was that everyone always seemed to be having fun. The atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming. During the ten-minute break between workshops, club members wasted no time mingling and chatting with one another.
After the break, I figured it would be a good time to jump in and try my hand at “popping.” The other club members were more than willing to let me participate. I soon found out why it was called “popping.” We isolated particular parts of the body and moved them in popping motions, starting with the wrists and arms. This, I could keep up with.
Yet, once the simple movements transitioned into a full routine, I could not keep up. I made it about halfway through the dance before I got so lost that I gave up and retreated back to the safety of my laptop. Even though I was no longer “busting a move,” it was just as much fun to watch the dancers “break it down.”
I then moved to the back of the room to watch the rest of the club members try to master break dancing. I didn’t even want to attempt this type of dance. The leader mimed a scooping motion and said with a touch of humor, “scoop your ice cream.”
I watched with fascination as RAM Squad performed the routine. I knew I could never keep up with the fast and energetic pace.
After both workshops had finished, it was time for some more freestyle dancing. These dancers did even more intricate movements than were performed in the workshops. Their dancing was met with the wild cheers and applause of the other club members, who stood watching and talking casually. The atmosphere felt much more like an impromptu dance session on the city streets than a formal rehearsal.
Near the end, “Cupid Shuffle” by Cupid came through the speakers. “You gotta do this one,” Yoon (junior-telecommunications) said. This time, I was eager to join in with the club members.
When the rehearsal officially ended, most of the club members lingered, talking, laughing and joking with one another. I sat down with Yoon, Public Relations chair Derek Mon and Vice President Damon Raynor to find out what makes RAM Squad tick.
It didn’t take me long to realize the most salient feature of RAM Squad is the close relationship its members enjoy. Yoon calls it “RAM-ily.”
Mon (junior-business marketing) said he spends a lot of time with members of RAM Squad.
“There is just so much love being passed around,” he said. “We are just like one big family.”
Yoon added that beyond rehearsing together three to five times a week, club members also eat together, study together and schedule classes together. During finals week, she said many club members danced in their seats as they studied together.
The other aspect that makes RAM Squad stand apart from other dance organizations on campus is it does not hold auditions. Raynor (junior-aerospace engineering) said some club members have experience in salsa or ballroom dancing. Some do not have much dance experience at all. The group is open to anyone who wants to participate.
“People don’t have to feel pressure,” Yoon said of RAM Squad’s atmosphere. “Everyone who comes to RAM Squad, even if they’re only here for one practice, they leave better than they were before.”
It sounds like RAM Squad simply does not have an “off” switch. When club members are not rehearsing or hanging out together, they are performing. Other organizations frequently invite them to perform. They have also made appearances at Homecoming and at the Interfraternatity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. When recalling RAM Squad’s past performances, Yoon laughed and said, “We constantly perform. There is no number. We do infinity.”
Mon said that RAM Squad tries to tackle as many performances as it can.
The infectious energy of RAM Squad has rubbed off on audiences just as well as it has rubbed off on me. All three officers agreed that audiences always respond well to RAM Squad’s performances.
“I feel like hip-hop isn’t very exposed to the Penn State community,” Yoon said, which is why audiences appreciate the club’s uniqueness.
Mon echoed Yoon, adding that “a lot of heads turn” when the group performs.
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