The four elements of Christmas 

RACE Dance Collective, a visionary group that makes dancers, sustains dancers, and gives back to OKC through performance and community outreach, is performing Hip-Hop Nutcracker this holiday season.

RACE Dance Collective was founded by Hui Cha Poos in 2008 with the goal of creating more professional dance opportunities in the OKC metro area, especially for dancers who want to stay in Oklahoma long-term.

Poos saw what it would take to create and sustain a vibrant local dance scene, and did it through collaboration with other local dancers who shared
her vision. 

Poos, a dance professor at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), had years of experience behind her when she decided to found RACE. Her extensive resume includes performances all over the world and in a wide range of venues from film, music theatre, concerts, and even the circus. While she loves performing, she discovered a passion for teaching. “... there was something about teaching that connected deeply with me and I couldn’t ignore that,” Poos said.

Creating an enduring scene in any performance art requires dedicated experts, high-quality training opportunities to bring up the next generations of performers, a compelling performance season, “hands-on” experiences for the community to deepen appreciation for the art form, diverse representation in programming, and avenues for access to performing arts education for
underserved populations. 

RACE Dance Collective does all this and more in their holistic approach to developing and sustaining OKC’s
dance scene.

UCO was immediately supportive of Poos’s mission and provided rehearsal space in the early days. After years of growth RACE now has their own studio on Film Row where they offer classes for professionals, children, and adult community members who want to experience dance firsthand.

RACE stands for “Radical Application of Creative Energy,” and their mission lives up to their name. From the RACE website: “We believe in being deliberate in our artistic choices as a collective as we provide multi-genre performance opportunities, mentoring and training to our community. We strive to cultivate a culture of intrinsic growth, professionalism, and collaboration through dance and movement.”

Diversity and inclusion are integral to RACE’s mission. After living and working in LA, Poos was acutely aware of the need for diverse dance experiences in OKC. “One of the main take-aways from living in LA was that I saw more opportunities for people of color than I had here in Oklahoma.  I was aware of the overt segregation and racism that exists here and wanted to help defy it using entertainment as an outlet to speak out and fight back,”
Poos said. 

OKC dancers and audiences were hungry for Poos’s mission for an inclusive, collaborative organization like RACE Dance Collective. From the beginning, they have had support. 

“At the time (2008), we were the only dance company with this mission so audiences were instantly curious and supportive...they appreciated that we offered opportunities for thought, challenge, and change while offering entertainment with a tangible take away,” Poos said.

Brandi Kelley (RACE Co-Artistic Director) and Sheri Hayden (RACE Executive Director) described how diversity and inclusion have been fundamental to the organization’s development. “...over the last 13 years we have made more intentional choices to embody these practices internally and in our programming. We have actively sought out more diverse representation for our Board and company members, as well as class offerings and community partnerships. Additionally, we have scholarships available for students who need financial assistance to be a part of RACE Academy, our training program for middle and high school students,” Kelley said.

The organization has also worked to emphasize collaboration and minimize a sense of hierarchy. 

Within the last few years, we changed our name from RACE Dance Company to RACE Dance Collective because we wanted to emphasize the circular nature of our organization that believes in community and collaboration, versus a more traditional hierarchy. Whether you are someone who comes to take classes, supports our shows, or are a part of our performances, you are a part of our Collective,” Hayden said. 

In the years since its founding, RACE has grown to include training for future professional dancers in the RACE Academy, dance classes for adult students in RACE the Space, and dance education and mentorship for Oklahoma City Public School students in the annual Hip Hop Nutcracker (HHN) program.

Hip Hop Nutcracker is a “re-imagining of the classic holiday story as you follow [the main character] Carlos on his hip hop journey to self-discovery through magical lands filled with larger-than-life characters,” the RACE
website states. 

This program places RACE dance instructors in OKC schools for 2-3 months as they learn the choreography for the Hip Hop Nutcracker performance. The participating schools this year are U.S. Grant High School, Capitol Hill High School, Classen School of Advanced Studies (CSAS) Middle School, John Marshall High School, and Southeast High School. The show is scheduled for Dec. 3 and 4 at OCCC’s Visual and Performing Arts
Center Theater. 

The program is immersive for the students who participate. 

“This process provides the opportunity for students to build a relationship with a professional dancer, engage in collaboration and teamwork with their cast, and offer a space for their artistic expression to be valued. During show week, students learn firsthand what it takes to...create and execute a professional dance show. They are [also] involved in Tech Rehearsals, Dress Rehearsals, and final Hip Hop Nutcracker performances which require them to be accountable and responsible for their contribution to the production, and offer support and encouragement to their fellow performers,” Hayden said.

Like sports for many kids, dance teaches many of the same skills necessary for success later in life. 

“The discipline that is required of a performance art is something that can be used for any endeavor in life: the focus, the attention to detail, the accountability, and the creativity that comes from artistic pursuits help shape us into well-rounded and responsible individuals. When we rehearse with our high school dancers, we’re teaching them life skills that will help them be successful in anything they pursue; they learn to ask questions, they learn to express themselves, and they learn the importance of teamwork. We’ve seen so many students dance with us in HHN that come to train with us in our Academy, and then further their dreams as successful adults in university dance programs,” Hayden said.

RACE teaches that dance is a worthwhile activity at any age. If you missed out on dance as a kid and want to reap these benefits in adulthood, the studio offers classes for adult learners in their RACE the Space community program. The dance styles currently on the class schedule include contemporary, jazz, hip hop, musical theater, K-pop, modern, jazz funk, and tap. 

Kelley and Hayden shared how they connected to dance. 

“I fell in love at a young age with how dance made me feel both connected to the world around me, and how I felt most like myself when I was dancing,”
Kelley said. 

“I actually got into dancing when I was 7 years old because my dad wanted to give me a coping outlet to deal with my parents’ divorce at the time. Little did he know that I would become my life’s greatest passion,” Hayden said.

“Dance has the ability to bring us into the present moment and allow us to feel connected to our deepest selves and the world around us. Dance training, whether in a studio, at home, or as a cultural practice, can provide a sense of community, self-regulation, and overall confidence. Dance can teach us how to embody kindness, appreciation, love and joy for humanity,”
Kelley said. 

Hip Hop Nutcracker performances are scheduled for Dec. 3 and 4 at OCCC’s Visual and Performing Arts Center Theater. Two other performances have already been announced for 2021.

The RACEy Show will take place Feb. 25 and 26.

 “This cabaret-style dance show explores ideas of intimacy, sensuality, and pleasure, creating an atmosphere of empowerment for both dancers and audiences. Audience members must be 21 and older,” according to the site.

Finally, illume is scheduled for June 10 and 11. 

“This triple bill is a multi-genre experience about humanhood, with sections covering the layers of grief, individual perceptions on an “ism” (a distinctive practice system or philosophy), and joy.”

Learn more about RACE Dance Collective, their 2021-2022 performance season, and sign up for a class at racedance.com.

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