New Hip Hop Team in Pilsen Strives to Make Competitive Dance Accessible

Launched at the height of the pandemic, 8TEENth Hip Hop Crew provides a positive outlet for teens on Chicago's south side

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A new competitive dance team, focusing on the hip hop genre, is providing an outlet and sense of community for kids on Chicago’s South Side.

8TEENth Hip Hop Crew launched in Pilsen in the fall of 2020, in the midst of a national movement to fight racial injustice and at the height of the pandemic.

The name is a nod to the busy and popular 18th Street in Pilsen, and also refers to the age group of the team, teens.

The founders, two local dance teachers, wanted to make competitive dance more accessible to teenagers in low-income neighborhoods.

“The opportunities, especially to compete, are a lot harder to offer in this area because it’s extremely expensive,” said co-founder and coach Jackie Gaytan. “To enter into a competition and to perform one routine for three minutes is around $600-800.”

Following a summer of unrest, the coaches questioned whether it was the right time to launch the program. Ultimately, they decided to give kids a creative outlet and somewhere positive to focus their energy.

“All these kids need an outlet especially because our team is mostly brown and black kids. We wanted to give them something to look forward to and be able to do together,” said Gaytan.

Both Gaytan and her teaching partner, Jessica Romero, grew up in the competitive dance world. They know firsthand how expensive it can be and the burden that puts on families. They also grew up on Chicago’s south side.

“Both Jackie and I really wanted to give this opportunity to kids in low-income areas,” said Romero.  “It’s a lot more than just dancing. They’re also being held accountable and have a sense of responsibility. Being on a team isn’t just coming. It’s being there for your teammates and knowing what you have to provide and step up with so your team knows you’re there for them.”

Romero and Gaytan are both teachers at Steadfast Dance Center in Pilsen. The studio owner allows them to practice there free of charge. They pay for costumes, makeup, and competition fees through fundraising. Students pay a $100 entry fee and $10 a month, if they are able.

“Sometimes I pay my own dues because I want to help out, not put the burden on my parents,” said Diego Gutierrez, a senior at Curie Metro High School.

Both Diego and his sister, Monica, are on the team.

“Our mom is in school right now trying to be a nurse, so it’s kind of tough on us,” said Monica. “Having that support our teachers give us, even if we don’t have the money, we got you, don’t worry about it. It’s nice.”

The squad has participated in two competitions so far and hopes to expand their participation in the future. Their ability to perform is dependent on fundraising efforts.

Their final performance of the season is on May 23 at the first ever “Chicago Dance Festival” in Pilsen. The next season begins in August.

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