The Syde Project: Inland Empire dancers foster a community driven by passion

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By Daniel Hernandez and Diego Lomeli

“Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado blares from the speakers toward the front end of the dance studio signaling to the dancers of The Syde Project that it’s their queue to begin what is commonly known as a cypher: a freestyle dance jam where dancers form a circle and take turns in the center spotlight.

As the circle takes shape and the rhythm takes over, one by one, the members of the group freestyle in the cypher’s center. Their crew mates cheer them on, celebrating each other and hyping up the next dancer in line.

“We usually cypher in session before practices just to let out whatever energy we have,” Kevin Afable, the Syde Project’s cultural adviser, said. “It’s really just to set the tone for practice and just leave whatever you have as far as baggage on the dance floor.”

The Syde Project, started by Seji Gaerlan in late 2018, is an Inland Empire based dance crew that frequently participates in music videos and dance competitions throughout Southern California. The group has grown exponentially in the past three years, becoming headliners of multiple dance competitions. It’s beginning, however, seemed to be almost an accident.

After failing to create a team in 2017, Gaerlan would join Infuse Dance Crew. The director of the team would recommend Gaerlan for a paid dancing gig — the catch being that it was a gig meant for a team.

“I pretty much just lied to him and said, ya I got (a team),” Gaerlan said. “Literally right after I got that phone call I started hitting up a bunch of people from my old team.”

After assembling a team of five or six of his friends for the gig, the team rehearsed the choreography and performed for the crowd at a country club event.

“Even though we only got (paid) 20 bucks each, it’s something that sparked this little fire in me,” Gaerlan said. “(It) made me want to say I want to keep going forward.”

The team, now in its sixth season, has a diverse cast of around 19 active members — both in culture and dance styles. Watching the team perform, one could easily come to the conclusion that the members of the Syde Project have fostered a tight-knit community. However, it wasn’t an instant connection between the team. In reality, it took a long time for the members to grow closely with one another.

“Back then we would have problems expressing ourselves at the Syde Project,” Darryl Santoso, the team’s co-captain said. “Everyone felt kind of distant, but as the years (went) by, everyone started getting comfortable with each other.”

Now the team is closer than ever which has allowed them to openly express themselves through the art they love the most.

“I feel like I would much rather be here than anywhere else,” Lisa Gonzalez, the team’s treasurer, said.

What helped create this close bond was the one uniting factor that Gaerlan was looking for during auditions.

“Each and every single one of them are underdog type people,” Gaerlan said. “A lot of them tried to audition to bigger teams, a lot of them tried to go into the industry … but they never really get picked and they would end up joining (the Syde Project) and then that’s when they find themselves.”

This underdog mentality is a key part of their motivation and is an aura they wish to take to dance competitions in the future.

With no formal competitions in the near future, the Syde Project is looking for different ways to challenge themselves.

“Competitions have lost that competitive vibe,” Santoso said. “So that’s what we wanted to do is just bring a heavy, hard hitting ‘in your face’ set.”

Which is why the Syde Project has been practicing a competitive dance piece for the last few months. Their set involves a combination of dance styles such as krump, hip-hop, house and anything else that conveys a cocky and fierce attitude with the goal of reigniting the competitive flame they believe their art has lost.

“What I want is a side project to take over the IE,” Gaerlan said. “If everyone thinks of this region at all they would say that is where the Syde project is from.”

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