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Follow the groove: Free street dance classes celebrate culture at USF

Students who enjoy walking around USF at night may have noticed the addition of a new soundtrack to campus. The music comes from DisFunktionals Tampa and its energizing street dance classes. ORACLE GIF/ CLARA ROKITA GARCIA

Have you ever watched a movie and got so captivated by a dance battle scene that you wished you were a part of it? You can start by taking your first step at USF.

DisFunktionals Tampa is a freestyle-based group focused on street dance that has held free weekly classes at USF since May 2023, according to 29-year-old Jehoshaphat Jacinto, founder of DisFunktionals and USF alumnus. Jacinto is commonly known by his stage name Jepstar.

Classes are held on Wednesdays from 7:30-10 p.m. in the Student Services Building (SVC) breezeway and are open to anyone who wants to learn. Jacinto said he arrives early and can stay after sessions for one-on-ones. 

Jacinto said attendance varies from 15-20 students but sometimes can be higher because the group is extremely active on social media. Classes usually consist of a mix of USF and non-USF students, he said.

“It is even better if you are a beginner,” Jacinto said. “I love having beginners because of the pure joy they express when they first start dancing.”

DisFunktionals is unique because of its focus on cultural appreciation, Jacinto said. The group teaches movement and tries to acknowledge history to ensure stories are being preserved, he said.

“A lot of these are Black American dance styles, and there are stories behind them,” Jacinto said. “What we want to instill is that you’re not just celebrating dance, you’re celebrating the culture behind the dance, which is a beautiful thing.”

Jacinto is from the Philippines and was part of a breakdancing club in high school there. He said he moved to the U.S. when he was 19 years old and started to get involved with street dance battles.

He first went to Hillsborough Community College and transferred to USF when he was 23 years old. After getting a degree in finance in 2019, he said his trajectory did a complete 180 degree turn.

“Finance is something that I needed to do in college because my mom would not let me take dance,” Jacinto said. “It was something practical to have on the side, but my love for dance was always there.”

Jacinto said he now works for a nonprofit called Prodigy, where he teaches youths about cultural arts, painting, music and dance. He said he tries to infuse life skills in lessons so that students learn how to apply what they learned to their own lives.

He started to dance by himself at USF after he graduated because it kept him from being stuck in traffic after work. After dancing all around USF, he found the SVC breezeway to be the perfect spot because it was always empty.

When his friends started to join him, Jacinto realized dancing was even more fun in their company, so he founded the group. Jacinto said the group is “pretty much” the resurrection of the dance scene at USF because many groups stopped performing during the pandemic.

DisFunktionals is working on becoming an official USF student organization. The only challenge is that Jacinto no longer has access to his USF email or account because he is an alum, he said.

 Because students must have a USF NetID and access to BullsConnect for most of these steps, Jacinto said he hopes a USF student can eventually turn DisFunktionals into a real organization.

Turning the group into a student organization would help with visibility and promotion. Students who don’t follow the group on social media would be able to see the classes’ schedule on BullsConnect, Jacinto said.

Not many people are exposed to street dance in Tampa Bay, so Jacinto said another goal is to get more people involved to keep the style going in the area.

“The more I keep teaching and dancing, the more I realize it’s all about bringing people together,” Jacinto said.