And five…six…seven…eight. A puddle of sweat accumulates on his forehead. The dull ticking clock strikes 2 a.m. They aren’t even close to being ready. He gestures at the DJ. Again. Drops begin to trickle down his cheeks. Kanye West’s pompous voice begins resonating from the worn speaker system. But he refuses to stop dancing.

He performs the routine once. Twice. A third time. He’ll do it over and over again, until each member of his crew understands the steps. And each time, he will be flawless.

Senior humanities major Derek Gamboa is the current co-director of PUSO Modern, a hip-hop dance team at Stony Brook University. He has senior cinema cultural studies major Czarina Matic at his side; the yin to his yang, she is PUSO Modern’s other  dedicated co-director. With his edgy shaggy haircut and kind dark eyes, he somewhat resembles Zac Efron. An amazing performer, he is also a choreographer in the group. In every sense of the word, he is PUSO’s  leader.

“I love to dance because life is just too crazy sometimes,” Gamboa said. “Dance is just me in my own terms. It’s my way to express myself … and just let go. Sometimes in the crazy nine-to -five life, you need to let go. Dance is my way of doing so.”

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PUSO Modern, or PUSO Dance Crew, is one branch of three from the Philippine United Student Organization. According to the mission statement listed on their Facebook page, “The team strives to work alongside its mother organization to create great shows … Challenging its dancers to their full potential, PUSO Modern hopes to also display the hard work and dedication through impressive and notable performances.”

At first glance, the team is a mismatched crew of hip-hop dancers. But if you get to know them, they’re more than that. The members are, in fact, a family first and a dance crew second.

“Really we’re just a group of friends, a family, that get together and do the one thing we really love — dance,” Gamboa said. He adds, “Dance is simply, me.”

The PUSO Modern practice sessions are anything but a walk in the park. Gamboa, though never without a smile pressed onto his lips, becomes a drill sergeant. He ensures that every member understand the moves prior to a performance.

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Appropriately, puso means “heart” in Filipino. This definition appears to be a Cinderella-slipper fit for the team. PUSO Modern brings more heart to their weekly practice sessions than some crews bring to onstage performances.

Gamboa agreed, but acknowledges that that the road to success — both on and off stage — wasn’t  an easy one. “We’re finally seeing rewards for all the hard work we’re putting in,” he said.

Last semester, the team performed at Madison Square Garden in mid-December during the half-time show of the Stony Brook basketball game against Rutgers University.
What’s next for this family of dancers? Gamboa said he wants the group to “keep growing as a family.” After all the hard work they had put in this semester, he explained, “I think it’s time to focus inward and rebuild as a family again.”

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