Dance squad teaches life lessons, builds community and prepares for THON

Cate Hansberry
February 17, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- RAM Squad has expanded to become both a performing organization and a tight-knit group of individuals who love to dance. The dance group performed on Jan. 31 and now sets its sights on performing at THON.

The atmosphere in Heritage Hall, HUB-Robeson Center, has never been more dynamic than it was for the 12th annual Rhythm Spotlight, hosted by RAM Squad, on Jan. 31.

The energy was tangible when RAM president Damon Raynor, a senior in aerospace engineering, took the floor for an all-styles dance battle.                                                                                                                            

The lights turned off, the music turned up and the crowd went wild, synced up to DJ Fleg‘s rhythmic beats. This boundless but carefully deliberate energy could only be generated by RAM’s effortless liveliness.

RAM (Raw Aesthetic Movement) Squad was born in 2003 out of a “need for a space to dance,” Raynor said.

Since then, it has expanded in the number of members and the number of dance styles it embraces to become both a performing organization and a tight-knit group of individuals who love to dance.

“We are a really strong community,” Raynor said. “We call ourselves a RAMily.”

Treasurer Tonnam Balankura, a graduate student in chemical engineering, said his involvement with RAM Squad is a big part of his student life at Penn State.

“RAM Squad members have grown to be my best friends and family,” Balankura said. “They are awesome people, and when we come together, we build off each other.”

More than just a dance

Hip-hop, while now associated with a style of music or dance, began as an entire cultural movement. It started with four pillars – breaking dancing, graffiti, emceeing or rapping and disc jockeying.

“Hip-hop is like a culture,” Raynor said. “It’s like a living, breathing thing. It’s more than just a dance.”

He explained how the dancers in RAM Squad do a variety of different styles of dance, each with their own unique flavor. Styles include b-boy and b-girl, or break dancing, krumping, choreography, groove, wave, popping, locking and many others. Although there are many styles, Raynor said each has its own characteristics that make it identifiable.

Raynor, who specializes in b-boy, described breaking as “the only dance where the majority of the focus is intentionally spent moving about on the ground (not standing on your two feet) in what we call footwork. That is breaking's most defining feature.”

“As with all dance, it’s an art,” he said.

Balankura, who dances in the styles of krumping, popping, choreo and locking, said in addition to choreographing parts of RAM performances, he teaches fundamentals of hip-hop to the Penn State dance community.

Raynor said dancing, as with all of the hip-hop culture, is “something that’s real, something that we’re trying to preserve, that needs to be handed down.”

Dance for a cure

As a performance group, RAM Squad’s largest audience is easily the one that comes during the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon every February.

“THON is something we look forward to every single year,” Raynor said. “That’s something we put a lot of time into.”

RAM Squad’s performance group, consisting of about 25 of its more regular members, has been preparing for THON since the fall semester.

“THON is a huge part of RAM,” Raynor said. “It’s an event where we can’t slack off. We have to be on point.”

To prepare, RAM must get an early start practicing, choreographing and selecting music for their performance. This process takes a lot of organization and energy.

Raynor said preparing for THON every year is interesting because the new members have often never experienced the dance marathon before.  It’s difficult for new members to grasp the emotion and effort the weekend involves because “they don’t know the amazingness of THON” yet, Raynor said.

However, all the hard work will pay off when RAM performs at the Bryce Jordan Center packed with dancers, students, THON children and families on the weekend of Feb. 20.

“When THON weekend actually happens and it comes down to our performance time,” Raynor described, “we’re sitting by the stage waiting, looking up at the thousands of people out there, and then we get on the stage and thousands of peoples are watching us…it’s amazing. It’s going be extremely worth it.”

Blending art with science

Raynor said the creativity aspects of RAM Squad and his engineering career go hand in hand.

He said being able to be creative, and “training your creativity,” translates into engineering.

“It’s also important to branch outside of the major, in order to bring it back in,” he said. “That’s where a lot of ideas can come from.”

Raynor said his RAM skills also are valuable in the professional world. He uses his experiences when it comes to job interviews.

“With RAM, I’m working with a diverse group of people, I’m in a team, I’m the president of an organization,” he said.  “As a leader, these are things that I have to do. I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons from that.“

While Raynor, Balankura and other engineering members can find the balance of dance and science in RAM, Raynor said the squad is for anyone and everyone who is interested.

No experience is necessary – you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

“For the person coming into RAM, you’ll be shaping your life inside of RAM,” Raynor said. “I can attest to that. I love it.”

  • RAM Squad's Damon Raynor

    RAM Squad president Damon Raynor prepares to compete in the all-style competition at the 12th annual Rhythm Spotlight in Heritage Hall on Jan. 31.

    IMAGE: Cate Hansberry
  • The Penn State RAM Squad performed in the 2012 Penn State Dance Marathon at the Bryce Jordan Center on the University Park Campus. Proceeds from THON support the Four Diamonds Fund at Hershey Medical Center.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Lance Phillip does a flip during RAM Squad's pre-THON performance prior to the 2011 THON to get the dancers and crowd excited.

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated February 18, 2015