UW-Milwaukee students dressed as Batman, The Flash, Link and Zelda from The Legend of Zelda and more flocked to the UWM Wisconsin Room for the 2017 UWM Cosplay Dance Party on Feb. 25.
Cosplay – or costume play – is when people dress up and role play as characters from popular culture. Think the character performers at Disneyland. Many make their costumes themselves and often employ techniques and materials used for professional costume making. Many role play their characters to a T while others are happy just dressing up. The practice is widespread with most geek culture conventions welcoming hundreds or even thousands of costumed guests. It even inspired a TV show known as Heroes of Cosplay focusing on the lives and struggles of famous cosplayers as they compete in contests.
UWM Geek Culture Corp Treasurer and UWM mechanical engineering student Tyler Winslow believes that the main appeal behind cosplay is that you don’t just hide behind a character but become them.
“Your favorite people you watched – whether it be TV, anime, movies, any facet of media – you can become them in any form,” he said.
The dance floor of the party radiated with video game and anime soundtracks provided by DJs Kahato and Tetsuo the Robot. Attendees – more than 200 of them – danced of course, but most found equal fun in simply batting around a balloon. Students also grabbed a free photo taken by PTP Cosplay Photography. Those tired from dancing could also partake in the four different video gaming stations or tabletop gaming. Dressing up wasn’t required at the dance party but most guests showed up in costume.
The main event was the cosplay contest, with contestants judged by a panel of avid cosplayers Tater-Tot Cosplay (GCC President and UWM conservation and environmental science student Tatiana Merium-Helen Gritsevskiy), Kowai Queen Cosplay (GCC Vice President Sydneye Olkowski), The Cosplaying Baguette (Thomas Brousseau) and Apple Strider Cosplay (Bastian Hill).
First prize went to father and daughter couple Kevin and Amber Jackson (aka The Cosplay Dad and Koala Cosplay respectively) who went – fittingly enough – as feudal Japan-inspired Darth Vader and Princess Leia.
Amber, who studies theatrical costume production at UWM, has been cosplaying for the last 10 years now. She and Kevin, who teaches IT courses for GE Healthcare, have been cosplaying together for the last nine. A friend asked Amber to try cosplay on a whim and then she and another friend when out to their first convention. Kevin initially refused to cosplay with Amber but she finally got him to do it by saying that he loves dressing up for Halloween for the kids and cosplay is pretty much the same thing.
The costumes they wore were inspired by a line of feudal Japanese-inspired Star Wars action figures by Bandai Tamashii Nations that they saw at San Diego Comic Con 2015. Amber got off from work at the UWM University Information Technology Services help desk at 8 p.m. and rushed into her costume in time for the contest at 8:30 p.m.
The thing that attracts Amber Jackson the most about cosplay is the building of costumes and the rush of the build. She also loves seeing other people and having a good time together. Kevin Jackson loves the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world.
No matter what people did at the dance, they were happy to be in each other’s company laughing and complimenting each other on their outfits. Inclusivity is the main goal of UWM Geek Culture Corp (GCC), who ran the event. The organization currently has over 80 members on its orgsync page with about 30 members coming to each meeting.
Gritsevskiy founded the organization about a year and a half ago with Olkowski to create a community where it’s okay to be geeky. The organization is a vehicle for getting people to become involved with more UWM organizations. They cover one subject for a little bit such as comic books and then direct members to another organization like Bam! Pow! Comic Book Club so they can explore their interests in more detail and meet other people who share that interest. Many people stay with GCC because they prefer how they cycle through different topics.
“There’s something for everybody,” Gritsevskiy said. “Doesn’t matter what kind of things you’re into.”
For Gritsevskiy and Winslow, cosplay fits in with GCC’s message of inclusivity. That feeling is felt with all kinds of communities, not just geek culture.
“Everybody’s got their groups they like,” Winslow said. “It allows people of like interests to all come together and share that without feeling any judgement or discrimination because you don’t like what other people like. Gives you a place to call home.”
The cosplay dance has been happening for a couple of years now but this year marks the first time the event was run by GCC. The event used to be run by Tactile, a student organization specializing in fiber arts, but they had too much on their plate so they handed it off to GCC.
Gritsevskiy worked to improve the event from last year. GCC marketed the event more extensively with social media and fliers. They also opened up the Wisconsin Room for more space and added in the video gaming and tabletop gaming stations while getting rid of the arts and crafts stations from previous years.
The only big challenge they had in running the event was in the marketing. Gritsevskiy was under the impression that someone reserved marketing, but no one did. So they had to do it at the last minute.
Reflecting on the event, Gritsevskiy said that everything went according to plan. The video game and tabletop gaming stations received a lot more attention than she expected. She’s glad to see that everyone had a good time.
GCC will be running the event next year and probably the year after that. They plan to change the name to “Cosplay Rave” to better communicate the style of music they were going for – more EDM/House than the high school homecoming dance vibe people were expecting. They’re also formulating ways to get audience interaction with the DJs including song suggestions. They hope to add a third DJ, expand the video game area with more modern consoles, and increase attendance even more.