When John Tanner first got to USC, he was against all forms of dancing. Training in Taekwondo since he was five, Tanner saw dancing as more of a workout rather than a community he could belong in.
It wasn’t until his friend took him to a salsa night his freshman year that Tanner, now a senior majoring in computer science and business administration, fell in love with Latin dance — all thanks to Break On 2, USC’s premier Latin Fusion dance team.
Break On 2 has two divisions: a performance team and a club annex. Although students are required to audition in order to join the team, anyone is welcomed to join the club annex.
Neha Patel, a senior majoring in business administration, joined the club without any formal training in dance. After one semester of being a part of the club annex, she successfully tried out for the performance team.
“[The club annex] is a relaxed, casual environment where there’s no pressure about being good at salsa or knowing the technicalities behind it,” Patel said. “You kind of just show up and it’s just there for fun.”
Break On 2 teaches students basic dance steps at its monthly salsa nights in Mudd Hall. The team clears out the chairs in the room, leaving its marble floor ready to use. Dancers enter and soon enough the space is converted from a dull classroom to a buzzing dance studio.
A typical salsa night starts around 8:30 or 9 p.m., when two team members lead everyone through fundamental steps, such as partner dancing. From there, a team member puts on a playlist and everyone in the room goes through various forms of Latin dancing — from salsa to bachata to samba — ensuring that there’s a style of dance that appeals to anyone who might be interested.
“[The variety] attracts members who come from different backgrounds or who are curious about Latin dance or just dance in general,” said Natalie Balladarsch, a December 2019 graduate who majored in public relations. “It’s also cool to just fuse different cultures and different origins of dance and kind of understand the history and compare fundamentals.”
Apart from learning the steps to the dance, the club also focuses on teaching cultural context. During its bachata unit, Break On 2 teaches its members about the history of the Dominican Republic and Afro-Latinx people. For Alexandra Da Silva, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, teaching the background is important so that members understand how these dances came to be and why they are mainstream today.
Balladarsch joined Break On 2 to connect with her Colombian heritage. As a child, she danced ballet and competed in figure skating, but now wanted an opportunity to get back into dance.
“I always kind of grew up with salsa loosely being a part of my family and my culture, but I never really formally learned the dance and the formal technique,” Balladarsch said. “I was always interested in learning more of the technical side of salsa. So I thought it would be like the perfect way to do that.”
Salsa nights have become a staple of Break On 2; it’s during these events that members create some of their favorite college memories. For Tanner, some of his most memorable experiences came from late-night runs to Spudnuts Donuts with team members after salsa night.
“The only thing open is like every restaurant on Figueroa and pretty much half to the entire team, we all cram into Spudnuts and just snack after dancing for four to six hours and working the event,” Tanner said. “We’re all tired, we’re all sweaty, and nobody cares. It’s like a family event kind of thing.”
Da Silva recalls her interaction with a Department of Public Safety officer at a salsa night as one of her best experiences. After calling DPS to come unlock the room for set-up, an officer asked Da Silva what the event was. She told him she was a part of Break On 2, and to her surprise, the officer told her about the fun times he had at salsa night when he attended USC.
Salsa nights and weekly practices lead up to Break On 2’s big performance showcase in the spring, when the team spends the entire day at Bovard Auditorium. Before the show begins and audience members fill up the auditorium, performers do lighting and technical rehearsals, ensuring every detail of the show is perfect. The showcase is about an hour and a half long with opening and closing numbers featuring everybody on the team.
It’s the moments behind the stage, however, that they remember the most.
“You have like 70 or 80 people crammed into the back of Bovard and all of us are cheering each other on,” Da Silva said. “It’s all the work from the spring semester all culminated into this one event. So everybody is just in general really supportive of each other [and] all the work that everybody put in.”
The supportive nature of Break On 2 does not stop at its showcase. The entire organization is laid back and encouraging, allowing members to let go and be themselves, according to Da Silva.
“There’s a ton of different Latinx culture clubs, and there’s a ton of different dance clubs, but I think that our club specifically kind of bridges those two together in a judgment-free environment,” Da Silva said.
The club has allowed students like Patel to grow more comfortable in their skin. Patel, who said she hadn’t been in touch with her creative side, found a new way to express herself outside of her Marshall bubble.
“It’s really helped me be more confident in other aspects of my life,” Patel said. “I think being confident with dance and how you move in your body … definitely indirectly leads to having more confidence in public speaking or just going up to someone and talking to them or not being afraid to just let loose at times.”
Apart from dancing experience and newfound confidence, Break On 2 has provided its members with a tight-knit family. Every member cares for each other and dancing enables a special bond that cannot be easily replicated anywhere else.
During their annual retreat at the beginning of fall semester, members of Break On 2 are able to bond with each other outside of dance practice. The retreat is a weekend-long, off-campus excursion where members play icebreakers to get to know each other better. These icebreakers typically involve physical touch, such as holding hands or carrying each other, so members become more comfortable with partner dancing.
“It’s interesting getting over that hurdle so early and getting to know people because it allows you to become that much closer to everybody,” Da Silva said.
The retreat also allows students to share more about their lives as they get to know both new and old members.
“We do this thing where we go around in a circle, and we kind of share what dance means to us and why we joined and what our favorite thing about being on the team is,” Balladarsch said. “It’s just a really heartfelt moment where you get to see everyone’s passion for dancing really come through and [to] connect on that level.”
The friendships that team members have with each other go beyond dancing; Tanner said Break On 2 is a family of over 60 siblings who are willing to help each other at the drop of a dime. Tanner has had experiences with lending space in his home for members who needed a place to stay, and they have offered the same help in return.
“It’d be like if my family called me up on the phone and said, ‘Hey, John, I need you right now,’” Tanner said. “I would drop everything I was doing for those people.”