Olakunle O. Oladehin '07

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With finals on the horizon and sunny spring break destinations beginning to seem a distant memory, who wouldn’t love a getaway to Las Vegas to compete in the final casting process for a reality TV show?

Such is just another day in the life of acclaimed hip-hop dancer Olakunle O. “Kunle” Oladehin ’07, who was recently a finalist to appear on the upcoming Fox reality TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance?” Oladehin’s national recognition provides the final touch to an accomplished four years in the Harvard dance community.

Comparing the selection process for “So You Think You Can Dance?” to that of “American Idol,” Oladehin gives a sense of the tough odds he faced to make it to Vegas.

“The first-round auditions were held in early March at the Manhattan Center, on the corner of 28th and 8th Avenue. And so the line went from that corner, all the way down 28th till 9th Avenue, wrapped around 9th, and then went down 29th all the way to that other corner,” he recalls.

Surviving two days of grueling cuts, Oladehin freestyled and performed a solo of his signature popping moves—the sequential tensing of muscles to a hiphop beat—to beat out nearly 3,000 talented hiphop, lyrical, and ballroom dancers and become one of the 50 individuals to advance to the finals.

While Oladehin was ultimately cut in the second round of the finals, he notes that he met a lot of strong dancers that were cut right from the get-go.

“It came down to if they liked your hair, if they like the clothes you wore, if you looked good on camera,” he says. “They told us when we got there, ‘A quarter of this is dancing, the rest of it is reality show.’”

Yet fellow dancers at Harvard can attest that—contrary to the ways of TV—Oladehin’s force on campus is really all about the dancing.

“It’s worth noting that Kunle shapes discourse around dance at Harvard. When somebody brings up dance, they say, ‘Oh man, have you seen Kunle dance?’” says Curtis K. Chan ’08, the president of the Harvard Breakers Organization. Oladehin has been a member of this undergraduate street dance group since its inception, and currently serves as its vice president.

In addition to choreographing for and performing popping routines with the Breakers, Oladehin has also been a central figure in Expressions Dance Company, serving as co-director of the company and director of the audition-based sub-company EXP since his junior year.

One of Oladehin’s roles as co-director of Expressions has been to create innovative choreography for the “Company Piece,” in which all Expressions members dancing in a given show take part.

“He hears beats in the music that other people won’t hear and decides everyone needs to dance on them. He takes you out of your comfort zone, but always for the positive,” says Expressions member Ingrid R. Maurice ’07.

Maurice also stresses Oladehin’s supportive leadership skills. “For some people, having Kunle choreograph can seem a little daunting because he’s so good, but he always reassures them that they can master a dance if they practice it over and over. He will take time out of his schedule to make sure that people are comfortable and enjoying their time in Expressions,” she says.

To see the clean precision of Oladehin’s popping, you might assume that he’s been dancing for years. Yet Oladehin explains that he actually ran track while growing up in Memphis, and only decided that he wanted to learn to dance during his junior year of high school.

“I started out just watching music videos,” he says. “Anything I could look at—Usher, Ginuwine, Michael Jackson—because I didn’t know how to dance. And a lot of people can just be fine with that, but for me, I wanted to know something.”

Intending to continue running track at Harvard, Oladehin auditioned for the Freshman Talent Show on a whim, and so found himself dancing outside of his bedroom for the first time in no less a venue than Tercentenary Theatre.

“I definitely never thought I’d perform in front of that many people from the get-go,” says the Lowell House resident, laughing.

You could say the rest is history. Now, after four years of performing with Expressions and the Breakers, volunteering with City Step, and teaching dance classes at a studio in Randolph, MA, Oladehin, a biology concentrator, plans to spend next year pursuing research in town while applying to medical school.

Yet while he choreographed his final piece for Expressions to a Janet Jackson song, called “Got ‘Til It’s Gone,” Oladehin isn’t ready to retire his dancing shoes just yet. He plans to continue teaching dance classes and competing in popping competitions throughout the Boston area.

“Dancing’s something I love to do now,” he says. “Once you start dancing, you just have fun with it.”