Because Outlet was only able to have 20 dancers for Air Jam, the group will be holding auditions on Oct. 25 at 9:30 p.m. to welcome new members for their upcoming showcases and performances.
Members of Ball State's Outlet performed in the first show of Air Jam on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. Outlet was the independent winner and overall winner of the first show, and was the overall winner of the two shows with the highest score. Grace Ramey // DN
The last practice before Air Jam is an exciting one for Outlet dance troupe.
Some come to the studio in costume, clad in jean outfits and light-up sneakers to see how the clothing affects their dancing.
They start slow, going through their routine all together and making sure each dancer is in the right formation. As the practice goes on, they gain momentum doing the routine full out.
The anticipation for the upcoming competition is almost palpable.
As the team splits off into groups to run through the routine, screams and cheers overpower the music blaring out of the room’s speakers — the bond among the members is evident.
The dancers seem to feed off of each other, and the shouts of encouragement only push them to hit moves even harder, better.
Though each dancer seems to have their own style, they move together as one, and the semester’s worth of hard work comes together as they put the finishing touches on what they promise to be a knockout performance.
Members of Ball State's Outlet dance troupe rehearse for Air Jam in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center practice on Oct. 18. Grace Ramey // DN
Dance is their life
For some competing in Air Jam, it’s just a fun event to do with friends. But for Outlet, it is much more.
“It’s exciting for everyone to see what our passion is and how we put everything ... onto the stage,” said Outlet’s treasurer Olivia Aguirre.
Outlet, Ball State’s hip-hop dance troupe, began in 2003 for students to have a place to dance and get away from the stress of school and life, according to Benny Link.
The group, which is made up of members who re-audition to stay each semester, become close throughout their time together. They even call themselves the “Outlet Fam” — and the bond they share shows when they watch each other dance.
“We’re literally fangirling,” member Eliah Johnson noted in between screaming “YES!” when another dancer did well.
Almost everyone in the group comes from a dance-heavy background. The group’s president, Alyssa Morgan, has been dancing since she was 3, but she didn’t begin focusing more on hip-hop until high school.
Her love for dance is her biggest motivator.
“It’s always made me so happy,” Morgan said. “It’s always been that one thing that I’ve always just had.”
This is Morgan’s first year as president, a role that can be stressful but extremely rewarding.
“I love that my team is so open and willing to allow me to take them to new heights," she said. "Performing more, doing more competitions, just doing new things — they’re completely on board with it and there’s just a good relationship as far as my expectations for them and what their expectations are."
Along with a mutual respect among everyone, they all have large respect for dance itself.
“I’ve been dancing since I was 8, so pretty much dance is my life. I would say dance is my favorite part [of Outlet] but a close second is just meeting the new people that come in every year,” said Keenan Hutchinson, Outlet’s vice president.
Shannon Kaminski, the group’s public relations chair, has also been dancing since childhood, and Air Jam actually played a large part in her joining Outlet. This spring will mark her fourth year in the group.
“I’ve been competing with a studio since I was 6, so I knew I wanted to dance in college, I just didn’t know where,” she said. “I went to Air Jam … my freshman year with my roommate and I saw Outlet onstage and I said, ‘Dude, I wanna be in that.’”
Kaminski’s experience with Outlet has been unlike other teams she’s competed with before.
“Since I’ve been on so many teams, it tends to get competitive within the team, but this team has never really been competitive, and I think part of the reason is because we’re all so close in age and there’s no coach and we all throw in ideas together and we give everyone a chance to do [choreography]. It’s just really fluid,” she said.
Kaminski also noted other differences Outlet has with other dance studios. Because they aren’t a competition-focused group — aside from Air Jam — it comes down to the love of dance for these students.
“I think it’s really cool that every Tuesday and Thursday we take time out of our jobs and our lives to come and do this and there’s no outcome,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re not striving for a first place anywhere, because we don’t really compete except for in Air Jam. We literally take time out of our day to come here just to dance because we miss it, because we love it."
Members of Ball State's Outlet dance troupe work on spacing during their rehearsal for Air Jam in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center practice on Oct. 18. Grace Ramey // DN
A history of excellence
Out of the nine years they’ve competed in Air Jam, Outlet has been overall grand champions seven times.
With a record like that, the pressure is on to be even better than before.
“It’s so much pressure because the people that have been in it before, we know how passionate and hard it is to win something like Air Jam,” Hutchinson said. “That’s a lot of people you have to beat out for the overall championship.”
As the group’s president, Morgan feels the pressure to do well even more this year.
“Especially since this is my first year as president I’m a bit nervous, just because we do have a good streak going,” she said. “The fact that we’ve won so many years in a row, it’s a lot of pressure and that is really motivating me to make sure that we’re on task with everything.”
Something the team changed this year was to better organize practices and the team itself.
“One thing we did tweak is our structure, the way we hold ourself as a dance troupe,” Hutchinson said.
Though the team is ready to take the stage, nerves are still present.
“Beyonce once said, ‘If you are not nervous then you do not care enough,’ so I’m always nervous before every performance we do. But I always know I’m going to get through it, I feel like we’re nervous because we’re human, so regardless we’re going to be nervous,” Hutchinson said. “You just gotta be like, ‘You know this, you know how to do this.’”
Ball State's Outlet dance troupe earned the highest score of the night for their performance in Air Jam on Oct. 20. The group also was the independent winner and overall winner of the first show at 7 p.m. Grace Ramey // DN
Continuing the legacy
The group started planning for Air Jam over the summer. The first order of business was to nail down a theme. This year’s? Time travel, which complements this year’s Homecoming theme, Blast from the Past.
“We’re traveling through the past decade, through the things our team has done in the past 10 years,” Morgan said.
Though the plot is a bit of a throwback, Hutchinson feels it brings a fresh twist.
“It is new but with a hint of who Outlet is and how Outlet has been in the past. I definitely think [there’s] a very good storyline and plot to it and I feel like everybody would enjoy it,” Hutchinson said.
To pick their music, the team looked back through Outlet’s past Air Jam performances and chose music from each. From there, they planned out the choreography to pair with the songs they chose.
“It’s almost like a real time machine — we’re going back in time,” Morgan said.
Hutchinson said it took the group about three weeks to pick out this year’s music, because they wanted to make sure they were doing the “blast from the past” theme and storyline justice.
As far as learning the choreography, Hutchinson said everyone is different, but it usually doesn’t take longer than a week for the team to pick it up.
This year’s costumes are variations of jean and white clothing items, which Hutchinson said was inspired by renowned choreographer Parris Goebel.
The team plans out every aspect of the Air Jam performance down to the last detail. After nearly 10 years, it’s become second nature.
“Seven years. That’s a lot of wins. We’re trying to keep it to where it can continue to be Outlet winning every year because it’s what we do. We dance,” Hutchinson said.
Members of Ball State's Outlet performed in the first show of Air Jam on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. Outlet earned the highest score of the two shows. Grace Ramey // DN
'Hard work paid off'
All the planning and months of practice showed this year when Outlet performed Oct. 20 in John R. Emens Auditorium. The group was met with screams and cheers as they took the stage at the first Air Jam show at 7 p.m. It was clear on each dancer’s face they were there to win — and for the eighth time, they did.
When Outlet was announced as the winner for the first show, the dancers jumped into each other's arms, overwhelmed with happiness and excitement.
"I feel awesome, I feel so happy, I feel like all of our hard work paid off and I feel like everyone enjoyed it," Morgan said.
Though the group was confident in their performance, it wasn't until their name was announced that they knew they had really done it.
"People seem fed up that Outlet wins so often, so [we] come harder every year. We didn't really know this time, but we were hopeful to win and we practiced as though we were going to win," Morgan said.
After the second Air Jam show, Ball State Homecoming posted on Twitter that Outlet was the combined overall winner with the highest score of the night.
The team felt their continuous push for success had made this performance even better than those in the past.
"Best team yet," Kaminski said. "Each year we keep getting stronger."