“We believe in this saying: by the community and for the community.”
For elite dance crew A-Team, pushing the boundaries of dance means learning from every experience and offering their very best selves to the world—and not just as performers.
We got the chance to talk to MJ Arda, one-half of The Ardas—the founders, choreographers, and directors of the multi-awarded dance crew. With him and his sister Angelica Arda, the duo are leading a team of driven, talented dancers to take on the world, one step at a time.
Arda talks all about how A-Team has grown over the last decade and how they’re using everything they’ve learned to give back to the community that’s uplifted them from the very beginning.
BUILDING A LEGACY
Founded and led by MJ and Angelica Arda, A-Team is an independent street dance and hip-hop group known for their explosive, artistic, meticulously-curated, and impactful performances. Beginning as a small group of young dancers in 2011, A-Team has grown to be a community of dancers championing dance and movement in the Philippines.
As the first ever Filipinos to win the gold medal in the Megacrew division at the World Hip Hop Dance Championship in 2014, A-Team has earned renown and respect from participating and winning competitions all over the world throughout the years.
While they immediately started off participating in international competitions as early as their founding year, it was a long road to get to where they are.
Arda muses that dancing wasn’t celebrated before the way it is now. But as appreciation for the arts and movement grows and as pioneers make their marks, showing the world the value of what they do, it’s clear that much has changed.
“We really started from the bottom,” Arda shares. From small studios and a handful of members, to international titles and opening FIBA World Cup 2023, the team has grown so much not just in reputation, but in terms of who they are and what their role is in the community. They’ve learned from each competition, each performance, and each other.
In the international scene, “There’s so much more you can improve on. You’re not the best. There’s so many ‘bests,’ and you’re competing with all of them.” Constant improvement is a principle they strive to abide by. The global stage isn’t easy to step on, but it does provide an avenue for learning, discipline, and improvement.
Challenging themselves every day not just sharpens their skill, but also strengthens their own idea of who they are as individuals, as a team, and as dancers representing their nation.
As time passed, A-Team was able to form a stronger, more cohesive idea of who they are and who they want to be. By telling stories through each performance, they also tell their own.
Because before each story is shared to audiences through movement, there’s also everything else—music, direction, mentality, style, and all of the other pieces of the puzzle.
Music and style are important aspects of a performance. For Arda, he refers to music as the most important thing. It is the “water” while the dancers are the “boat”. They ride the waves, letting their movements intertwine with the music to make a piece nothing short of magical.
And not only does the crew feel the movement magic in the music and steps, they also channel it through their looks. Watch any A-Team performance, and you’ll quickly see that fashion and styling are distinct essentials to their identity.
“Fashion, styling, clothing…that’s our bread and butter. It’s who we are.” The team, known to always be decked out in cohesive, well-put-together outfits, takes pride in what they wear. It’s an extension of their performance, and an extension of themselves. Their style is an outward expression of their identity and pride at being dancers.
The influence they’ve earned now paves the way for them to help develop the mentality that dance is more than just a form of entertainment. Their members also aren’t just dancers—their roles have also shifted and changed along with the freedom and creativity that a change in mindset allows. They’re leaders and teachers, coaches, artists with a future.
It’s important to A-Team, and to Arda, that the identity they forge with their dancing isn’t just about them. Sure, going out to chase outside experience is good, but he asks a very relevant question: “why do we keep chasing the opportunity or the talent when we have it here?”
Several Filipino dance teams have won renowned global dance competitions—A-Team’s Megacrew division gold medal win, for one. And just recently, Filipino teams HQ and Legit Status brought home gold medals in the Adult and Megacrew divisions, respectively, in this year’s World Hip Hop Dance Championship.
Given the heaps of talent we have in the Philippines, from well-established crews to independent dancers, the world should be acknowledging that we could learn so much from local Filipino dancers and choreographers. Clearly there is no lack of talent nor opportunity for Filipino dancers to tell their own stories and to share their gifts with the world.
WITH HEART AND PURPOSE IN EVERY MOVE
Every A-Team performance is eclectic, meticulously designed with much consideration in mind regarding each one’s purpose. Preparation for a performance is fraught with having to make difficult creative decisions to exhausting conditioning sessions. There are “a lot of ups and downs,” Arda admits, and preparing both physically and mentally is a mountain to be climbed.
“The stronger the body, the stronger the mind. The stronger the mind, the stronger the body.”
And while producing, choreographing, and directing a dance piece for a large-member crew is a long, painful process, he admits it’s very fulfilling.
Their recent large-scale dance showcase DEMO Vol. 9 required a lot of patience and preparation. The DEMO is one of A-Team’s biggest projects, and it’s also one of their favorites, because it’s not done to win anything, but to express who they are and why they dance.
“You’re exhausted after that, but at the same time it’s full of emotion.” The emotional rollercoaster that is a performance, tied with the physical toll it takes, could get dancers to reach a sort-of “Nirvana” state that Arda refers to, where they realize just exactly why they do what they do.
“Because of these things, these experiences, that make you feel something.”
What makes A-Team is the artistry, athleticism, mentality, and community behind every performance. It takes so much out of every dancer mentally, emotionally, and physically, and it takes a village to create something electric, something wonderful to share with the world.
At the end of the day, dancing is not just about the creative process or how excellent a piece is technically. “At the end of the day, dance is a feeling. You get to feel something and you get to share that to a lot of people.”
Today, A-Team strives to “create newer paths” in the world of Filipino dancing. Their new era is marked by endeavors that will—more than just bring home more trophies—empower the dance community and inspire aspiring athletes and creatives. They own Zero Studio PH, where they host classes and workshops, and they constantly try to uplift the dance community and celebrate local artists.
“We believe in this saying: by the community and for the community.” Arda shares that the strengths of the members of A-Team is that they’re able to connect with the community on a daily basis. They encourage their members to create their own paths and build communities that love and appreciate the art of dance.
So when they announced the Ultimate Dance Cup, a dance competition to be held in October 2023 to highlight Filipino dance teams, they brought together everything they’ve learned to give back to the community.
The Ultimate Dance Cup is the third in their line of competitions meant to, literally and figuratively, put the spotlight on members of the local dance community. They began with the Choreographer’s Cup for local choreographers and the Freedom’s Cup for freestylers.
“The whole concept behind the ‘cups’ is for us to have a space and platform where everybody is given the equal opportunity to be seen.” UDC gives opportunities to teams who just want to try, those who may not have the infrastructure, support, or visibility in the dance scene. Dancers, established or new, young or old, have the opportunity to sign up to compete in the Cup.
The Ultimate Dance Cup ties together what A-Team was, is, and what it could be as it showcases their efforts to empower Filipino dancers and highlight dance excellence in the Philippines.
Grounded and driven by passion, a commitment to the craft, and a love for the community, A-Team is steadily pioneering a new era that brings performance art to a whole new level.
Outfit Credits: MJ: Revibe Culture Reworked Jacket, Paxon Pants, Jordan Boxer Shorts/APES: Reworked Zara Top, Miss Sixty Mini Skirt, Nike Boxers/JAJA: Neric Beltran Bralette/NICA: Nike Skirt/ANGEL: Paxon Pants, Stone River Body Jewelry/YSAI: Blackbough Swim Belly Chain worn as Necklace/SHAWN: Toqa Tank Top, Give Me the Loot Vest/KOBE: MM6 Oversized Tee, Give Me the Loot Pants/JOSH: Revibe Culture Reworked Jacket/CHAEL: Revibe Culture Reworked Jacket
Photographer JAN MAYO
Assistant Photographer ENNUH TIU
Creative Director ANGELO DE CARTAGENA
Stylist LYN ALUMNO
Assistant Stylist RAF VILLAS
Special thanks to MUD Studio Manila
Continue Reading: 6 Filipino Dance Crews That Rocked The World