I’m sitting in a chair I pushed far back into the corner of the room so I could see all the dancers and stay far out of their way. We’re in a large, rectangular room with a pinkish beige floor and a wall of mirrors in the Columbia Music Festival Association building. In the corner near the door, there’s a large piano. I can’t remember ever being in a room like this myself, only seeing it in television shows or “Step Up” movies.
There’s a group of 20 or so people lined up in rows facing the mirror. They’re here for a fuse contemporary dance class. Fuse is a group of collaborating artists that put together classes, an annual showcase and other events. Tonight’s class is led by instructor Rachel Johnson in stretches. When I look up, they’re all sitting on the floor, legs spread to their sides in near splits and I can’t help but wince. I’m not a dancer and never have been, apart from a summer when I was four years old. Even then, I had to sit out the tap session because I only had ballet shoes.
But these people know what they’re doing. They finish the stretches and Johnson leads them through the first few steps of the song. They practice a few times before turning on the music and going again.
Mike Diaz is a fourth-year theater and business student at USC. Much like his majors, he doesn’t focus on just one area with his art. He was inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Scream” music video to have an appreciation for different dance styles.
As FUSE’s founder and creative director, he’s made a place for artists that lets them explore their talents not only in different dance styles, but also in different art forms as well.
USC third year public relations major Kassidy Krystek met him a year and a half ago in a near empty Strom studio. He first asked her if she could help out with some choreography, then asked if she wanted to be a part of a showcase.
“It didn’t even have a name yet ... His idea was to bring all of the arts together into one singular showcase, and that’s what he wanted to do,” Krystek said. Now Krystek is the group’s PR director.
FUSE is not just for dancers, but for other artists as well. The last showcase actually featured a painter, according to Maurice Blakely, COO of FUSE.
“We actually had an artist that was painting a unified piece while we were performing through the whole show,” he said. “She literally stood on stage right here and she was just painting as the show was just going”
In terms of dance, FUSE typically holds classes for contemporary dance, hip hop, krump and heels — which is where dancers wear high-heeled shoes. Krystek says it tends to be sultry jazz moves that backup dancers for Beyonce or Lady Gaga would do.
Kelsey Edwards, who has been dancing for 20 years, has been a member of FUSE for several months, where she has also taught classes. She grew up in Columbia, but didn’t think she could pursue a career in dance here. She moved to North Carolina for a while to attend North Carolina A&T.
“I felt I had to move other places, but I wanted to build something here,” she said. “Fate kind of just brought me, moved me back here to where I’m helping cultivate a scene for dancers here who want to be in the industry, or who just want the training, who want to have an activity if you will.”
Dance director Davon Bush was the one who introduced her and Blakely to FUSE.
“A lot of people, when they think of South Carolina, they don’t really see it as a state to come up in. That’s why people are always leaving here,” Bush said. “FUSE is that platform that we want to build for people to be able to make their dreams come true here... We want to make South Carolina a hub for artistic people.”
Diaz is not from South Carolina, but says he’s grateful he moved here because otherwise, FUSE might not have been created. He said creating something like FUSE “takes a lot of thought process, a lot of organization, and then a lot of Russian Roulette...[The most important part is] you need people around you who will tell you the truth, don’t sugarcoat anything, who you trust, who you can depend on.”