Only man left dancing: Junior remains the only boy on the hip hop team


Tia Shackeroff

ENTERTAINING THE CROWD: John Riss explodes onto the field during halftime at the annual Beat Servite game. As an incoming freshman, Riss decided to try out dance to explore new things. Since then, he has become one of the most well known performers on campus. Riss has found a new home on the dance squad, one which he never would have expected to find prior to his time at Mater Dei. “I feel like I’m being myself when I dance. It definitely helped me come out of my comfort zone,” Riss said. (Photo courtesy of Tia Shackeroff-Reiser)

Prior to 2019, the All Male Hip Hop Team was a group of tight knit hip hop dancers who performed at rallies, football games, and competitions. Mater Dei students would look forward to the boys’ performances because of the high energy they brought.

Unfortunately, because all of the other members graduated, there is only one member left, John Riss. Since the group has disbanded, Riss has now joined the All Female Hip Hop Team members to create one unified hip hop group. This new group has brought changes and challenges for Riss, who is now the only boy on the team.

Dance is still somewhat new to Riss as he only started dancing a few years ago when he started high school. Riss recalls making the decision to join the Hip Hop Team.

“It’s something I never thought I would do in high school. When I came to Mater Dei, I wanted to try something new. I saw that we had an All Male Hip Hop Team and I [thought that] was sick,” Riss said.

Being the only boy on the team, Riss stands out. Most of the girls have other dance expertise besides hip hop while Riss has only done hip hop. Some of the choreography is sassy and may incorporate other styles of dance which John is not accustomed to. On this team, he needs to adapt and learn a more feminine way of dancing.

“I have to do a lot of choreography that I’m not necessarily comfortable with because I’ve only done hip hop,” Riss said. “For the unity piece that we did at the Servite game, having to do a different style for 90% of it was very weird. I was not used to it at all.”

Riss enjoys dancing with girls, but he also feels like their styles of dancing are a little different.

Kai Cameron, the hip hop coach, is the same coach that John has had when he was on the All Male Hip Hop Team. However, he can tell the girls are not used to it, and feels bad that they have to conform to a different style of hip hop.

“[Kai Cameron] is still trying to choreograph and integrate that kind of choreography that we did for All Male last year,” Riss said. “The girls are picking it up really fast. I’m really impressed and really happy with the progress that they’re making, but I can see how awkward it is for them.”

Willow Laws, a junior on the Mater Dei Hip Hop Team, loves having Riss on the team, though she does notice the differences in his style to that of the group. However, as an artist, she is always looking to perfect her art form and greatly admires the unique dance style he brings to the group.

“[The guys] kind of have their certain style of dance so it’s cool to have John on the team because our choreographer and John have the same style,” Laws said. “It’s cool to learn their style and embrace it.”

Having a male on the team has been an adjustment for the girls, especially for Laws. As a dancer, Laws has only ever performed with other girls, which is something most of the girls on the team can relate to.

“I have never [danced with boys]. John was the first guy I’ve had on a dance team,” Laws said. “I feel like it’s cool to have him on the team because we get to see his perspective and how he dances.”

Laws recalls visiting Mater Dei as an eighth grader, and being completely taken aback by the former All Male Hip Hop Team.

“I just remember my mouth dropped open because they were so good,” Laws said. “I feel like that’d be cool to have another all male team.”

Laws is grateful for all that Riss has brought to the Mater Dei hip hop program, even though she wishes that the All Male Hip Hop Team would return in the future.

Laws and Riss hope that more boys would join to create a more gender diverse squad, but would also love for the beloved All Male Hip Hop Team to be brought back in the future.

“I feel like with this team, you have this group of people and then there’s me,” Riss said. “When we had an all male team we all were really close, but even though the feeling is different, it still helps me out of my comfort zone and I still feel like myself when I dance.”