All Hyped Up

It’s a new year in a new home for Hypersquad Dance Company, which presents its annual concert this weekend

Yu Shing Ting
Friday - January 06, 2006
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Janelle Matsukawa, Brittnie Aguilar, Chelsie Lihilihi and Alyssa Ragasa
Janelle Matsukawa, Brittnie Aguilar, Chelsie Lihilihi and
Alyssa Ragasa

Russell Ledet
Russell Ledet

William Soares, Chris Dayoan, Aaron Eliazar and Donovan Alcalde
William Soares, Chris Dayoan, Aaron Eliazar and Donovan

Matt Batulayan, Henry Languit, Kailani Young and Allen Pascual
Matt Batulayan, Henry Languit, Kailani Young and Allen

The Hypersquad Dance Company has a lot to be hyped up about this year. First, it has its annual dance concert called Seven this weekend, and second, it has a new home in the Waipahu Industrial Court.

“We were in the Waipio Gentry Studio but we outgrew it and the parking situation became an issue,” says Jason Ulep, owner/director of Hypersquad. “In the last year, we were shoved from temporary studio to studio. We’re up to about 300 students, and probably lost about 100 kids throughout the year, and I don’t blame them. It’s been a roller coaster.”

With a permanent place to practice, the students can now concentrate on getting their moves down for their highly anticipated, purely original dance concert featuring about 200 dancers in a variety of dance forms.

The dance company, which currently has 17 chore-ographers/teachers, has been in business for nine years. The group performs at various events and shows about four times a month, and enters a national competition about once a year.

Their annual concert is normally held in July, but their recent location situation set them back to January, and only two months to prepare.

“I think dancing builds character more than anything,” says Ulep. “It also gives them something to do. Some people do it for exercise. Some want to become professional dancers. And some join to make new friends.”

Classes offered include, ballet, jazz, hip hop, street, breakdancing, popping and locking, and lyricals. And students range from age 3 to their mid-30s.

“I get nervous when I perform, but I just look at the wall and I don’t look at anybody,” says 11-year-old Kiersten Havelock, who recently appeared on the hit TV show Lost. “I like performing because I like that there’s an audience. And I like the costumes - they get really itchy, but they’re really nice. And I like that there’s different styles of dancing.

“I’ve been dancing for about four years, and in the beginning it was hard to learn because it was new to me. But my friends and the choreographers pushed me to get better. They teach you it until you get it. On scale of 1 to 10, I’m probably a 7.”

In 1996, Ulep was asked to privately train a group of four girls for a dance competition in a little garage out of Mililani. The competition was a huge success, and Hypersquad was born. Shortly after, Ulep and his childhood friend, Gerald Bolosan, partnered up to open a dance studio in The Town Center of Mililani.

Within a week of business, the studio had grown from four students to about 25. In a month, it jumped to about 75, and in less than a year the studio was over 100 strong.

“Our program offers a second home away from home,” says Ulep. “We consider ourselves not just a studio, but a family. Although the obvious might seem that we teach people to dance, and yes we do, but we also push our dancers to be successful in life. We stress the importance of not just being the best dancer you can be, but the best you can be.

“My main focus is everybody becoming one unit. We do everything together.”

Ulep believes that anyone can dance. Even the most uncoordinated. He’s even had a student who was deaf.

“Learning to dance is kind of like learning to ride a bike - it’s about making the kids believe in themselves,” explains Ulep. “What I try to instill in them is that I’d rather see them do the dance totally wrong and big and just have fun, than really trying to memorize every move and be really robotic.

“When they’re having fun they let their guard down. The secret to being a good dancer is not caring what you look like. Those are the ones who are able to excel. They don’t care, and they just let their emotions go.”

For 22-year-old Atsuko Tanji, learning to dance has not been easy. An exchange student at Hawaii Pacific University, she joined Hypersquad about a year ago.

“It’s hard in the beginning, I even cried in the studio because everybody could do it but I couldn’t,” she says. “But the choreographer always supported me and kept encouraging me to keep on trying. I could’ve quit, but I knew that if I gave up then I wouldn’t get better. Also, I learned that to get better in dancing you have to embarrass yourself at first because you don’t know how to do it, so you look stupid. But you have to do it to get better.

“My friend brought me to the studio after the last concert, and I just fell in love with the style of dancing and the people were so welcoming. Dancing is my passion. I love it.”

Sixteen-year-old Evan Balmilero has been dancing with Hypersquad since its start nine years ago. Through the years, not only did his passion grow, but his skills as well - at age 11 he won the Urban Jamm in Los Angeles taking home $1,700 in prize money.

“My brother, Ian, taught breakdancing, so I started taking classes from him and it just grew from there,” he recalls. “When I perform, I still get nervous once in a while. My goal is to just keep pushing myself so that I can reach beyond my standards.

“I’ve learned so much from dancing, such as being respectful. Also, it’s a workout. To me, it doesn’t seem like I’m losing anything, but it is a workout.”

Dana Bonifacio, a member of the University of Hawaii Rainbow Dancers, has been dancing for about eight years and joined Hypersquad about a year ago. She also serves as the dance director for the Performing Arts Academy, and hopes to one day be a dance teacher and counselor at a high school.

“Dancing is my escape,” she says. “If I don’t dance then there’s no meaning to life. Performing is really fun because you get to show off to people how much you’ve learned and how much you’ve progressed.

“In the beginning, my confidence level was low. It wasn’t until the first show that I realized that I should-n’t be scared. Even after eight years of dancing, I still get nervous. But now I just think about my dad, Danny, who just passed away last year. He gives me confidence to not be scared. If I were to mess up, I know he would help me to remember.”

Behind the scenes, Hypersquad is truly a family operation. From the business side, Jason’s dad, Brad, serves as business manager, while mom, Leona, handles the everyday operations. His older brother, Sunny, builds sets and handles renovations, and his other brother, Kaleo and sister, Lei, create visuals in the lobby. Also, younger brother Josh is a dancer and teacher/choreographer. Then there are the countless parents who are continuously sewing costumes and helping with the stage setup.

Seven, A Contemporary Dance Concert, takes place this weekend at the Leeward Community College Theatre. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6; 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 8.

Tickets are $12 presale, $15 at the door, and available at Hypersquad Dance Company (375-4586 or, Step N Up Hawaii (942-7837), and LCC Theatre Box Office (455-0385).

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