Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Rick D'Elia
GCU News Bureau
Students waited in a line that snaked throughout campus, burst at full sprint through the Grand Canyon University Arena doors, down the tunnels and into the stands, where they proceeded to dance for an hour, nearly 7,000 strong clear to the roof singing along to thundering music.
Then Lip Sync Battle started. It is the biggest student-run event of the year. It is no karaoke contest.
The Tuesday night production of the annual contest included seven teams with expertly produced videos, choreography, acting and moves like Jagger, who would be pleased with the 1980s theme.
By the time student host Kevin Beaudin brought down the house by announcing that the crowd had voted the 19-man team of 6 Beats Apart this year’s champion, the stage had literally been mopped by sweaty flopping and flipping and sliding students.
The hardest part was the end “when we had to stop dancing,” a breathless member of the team Just Try To Dance told Beaudin on stage after its performance.
The team of 6 Beats Apart showed up the competition in that department, ripping through a set that started with the masked characters from the movie “The Purge” in precise maneuvers. They moved from pelvic thrusts on stage to scripture on the video screen behind them, from 1970s Earth Wind & Fire and “Rocky” to 2021 pop star Olivia Rodrigo.
“None of us could dance to save our lives,” said team captain Christian Juhl, clutching the trophy afterward. “You should have seen our first practice.”
Juhl, a senior biblical studies major, had a dream months ago, which he articulated in a group text to his then-dance-challenged buddies. Hey, guys, let’s have some fun. Or something like that.
“I told them this is going to be a part-time job without getting paid, but it’s totally going to be worth it,” he said.
Juhl and the team sought out expert coaches with dance experience to help – students Liv Chavez, Isabelle Aff, Cassidy Alexander and alum Megan Rodgers. Then they practiced for weeks every Tuesday through Friday from 8-11 p.m. and added weekends near the end.
The end result of all that work had the crowd in a frenzy, featuring the big group of, hang on here: Juhl, Noah Logan, Ty Hall, Micah Willis, Aiden Sundin, Martin Garcia, Rees Sperry, Travis Hall, Josiah Leonard, Alec Blomquist, Timothy Young, Hunter Worley, Noah Reninger, Lucas McKerrow, Nick Fischer, Nolan Francis, Samuel Andersen, Ethan Daharsh and Michael Poppen.
The clincher in Juhl's mind was a rotating globe created by the dancers on each others shoulders.
“I loved the aspect of all of us guys coming together and having a common goal,” Juhl said.
The Canyon Activities Board production was met with the kind of return-to-near-normal enthusiasm that has marked the academic year, especially since last year’s Lip Sync was a pandemic cancellation, said Cassidy Legros, CAB’s Director of Special Events. (Here's a slideshow.)
She said the hard work of the teams produces serious dance moves, but if they inject humor “everybody loves it.”
The opening video montage played on that humor, with Dean of Students Dr. Tim Griffin taking attendance in class by reading names and then a typical “here,” though one missing student’s name meets silence: “Mueller? … Mueller?”
It’s a play off the 1980s movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” when Bueller skips class. The video continued with GCU President Brian Mueller hearing a loud parade outside his office window, when Bueller (played by Beaudin) sings “Twist and Shout” atop a parade float through campus. Mueller looks out the window and does a little twist.
Parents loved it, too. A few even traveled from out of state to see their offspring on stage. CAB’s Alli Davis was busy just before the intro video taking photos with her Tucson dad, who said he had to come because it’s all he’s heard about for months.
The wait was worth it, as Beaudin channeled his inner Bueller and told the crowd that Lip Sync can go by pretty fast, so “if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
While there were similar nods to the '80s, the cultural references and music spanned 50 years of favorites amid inside-campus comedy on The Rivers apartment construction and the pull of certain caffeinated beverages. The video productions shown on the big screen behind each team gave viewers two shows in every performance, a nod to 2021.
The Captains team had fun with the Bee Gees and a crack at trying to find Panera Bread on campus, the much anticipated dining outlet that hasn’t opened yet. The Blockbusters did what became a go-to for teams, a “Footloose” number.
The Seniors turned what began as a vaguely ageist set into heartwarming intergenerational motivation when grandma busted out to Abba’s “Dancing Queen.”
And Oceans 49, a team of shirt-ripping hunks and one of the three finalists along with The Captains, hit it hard with another go-to, “Let’s Groove” from Earth Wind & Fire. The Hip Hop Club finished the evening strong with the kind of precision that comes from students who regularly get together just to dance to Rihanna and Justin Timberlake.
But it was 6 Beats Apart at the wire.
“Holy cow. Super humbling,” Juhl told the crowd. “Those were amazing teams we competed against tonight. To be considered the winner is amazing.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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