Joseph De Vera Ulep started his first dance group in junior high after a teacher saw him and some friends dancing in the hallways and bathrooms and asked them to do something for the school.
Today, De Vera Ulep leads the nonprofit Da Project, which is aimed at teaching leadership skills to youth. Part of that comes in the form of a dance group called United As One, or U-1 for short. It works closely with another local organization, Hmong Empowerment Resources & Outreach, or HERO.
Usually this column deals with musicians, but this week we made an exception for U-1. The group won first place in the dance competition at June's Kababayan Festival, a large Filipino event at Great America in Santa Clara that drew thousands.
The event included a performance from popular dance crew I.aM.mE., which won season six of MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew."
U-1 is giving its first local performance since KFest. The group is part of Fresno's Ani-Jam on Saturday at the Fresno Convention Center. U-1 performs at 8 p.m., but the festival runs all day Saturday and Sunday. (Go to ani-jam.com for more info.)
We talked to De Vera Ulep about U-1's origins, how it felt to triumph at KFest and more.
Tell us how the dance crew got started. It was back in December of last year. With my background in dancing when I was younger, I had the passion. It gave me an opportunity to put an organization called Da Project together. I asked my nephew if he knew anybody that likes to dance. To make it short: He introduced me to his cousin and from there we got the first batch of guys.
What styles of dance does the group specialize in? It's a mix of hip-hop and b-boy. When we first started, it was all b-boy, break-dancing.
Who's in the group? We have 12 people, ages 14-25, 11 boys and one girl. After we first started, it grew and some people dropped for personal reasons. Then we got that set 12. Usually at certain events, we can set it so there's five, or sometimes the whole crew. It depends on the event.
How do you think winning the dance competition at KFest affected the kids in the group? It affected them in a big way. When we first started, I told them this is where we can can get to if you follow the steps. We were shooting for that goal. Just being there and experiencing the atmosphere was exciting -- seeing the "America's Best Dance Crew" winners up close and meeting other artists, being on the big stage in front of thousands of people. There were butterflies and nervousness, but we stayed focused.
Were you surprised to win? Yes. We were surprised because the other competitors had a lot more experience than us in competitions like this. All I said to the crew was stay focused and be positive. Remember, we're representing Fresno and the community.
What can people expect from U-1's performance at Ani-Jam this weekend? It'll be excitement and a lot of aerial performance, fast-paced excitement.
For more info: Go to facebook.com/daproject808.
Know a local musician more people should be familiar with? Send details to Mike Osegueda, email@example.com.