Ask hip-hop dancers to describe what they do and they might have a hard time. Instead, ask them to show you.
There’s a new school of hip-hop dance that is evolving beyond ‘80s-style break dancing or the moves you see on MTV. It’s new enough that it has yet to form a solid identity.
Step Up 2 the Streets
Briana Evigan, Robert Hoffman, Will Kemp, Cassie Ventura, Adam G. Sevani, Telisha Shaw, Sonja Sohn
(Touchstone Pictures; US theatrical: 14 Feb 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 21 Mar 2008 (General release); 2008)
Another difference is diversity. What used to be a primarily an urban art form has jumped to places like Orange County, Calif., particularly among Asian Americans.
It’s also no longer underground. This year, urban dance has popped up in movies such as “Step Up 2” and in reality TV shows such as MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” and “So You Think You Can Dance?”
“It’s not a fad,” said Elm Pizarro, founder of Boogiezone.com, a social networking site devoted to hip-hop dancers. “It’s a culture, a way of life.”
Pizarro picked up hip-hop dancing as a teen while living in Seattle—practicing in his back yard, at the clubs, anywhere but inside a studio.
“For me, it was the ‘90s when hip-hop dancing emerged, right around when I started watching music videos for MC Hammer, Kwame and Public Enemy,” said the 33-year-old, who now lives in Aliso Viejo, Calif. “A lot of my dancing now is still rooted in that basic style.”
Arnel Calvario, founder of Kaba Modern, dances during the freestyle round of open auditions for the crew at University of California, Irvine. (Christina House/Orange County Register/MCT)
FROM LOCAL TO NATIONAL
When Pizarro moved to Orange County about five years ago, he was surprised to find a thriving hip-hop and street dance scene with collegiate and exhibition teams performing in an established competitive circuit.
There are an estimated 15 to 20 urban dance crews in Orange County now, from various teams at the University of California, Irvine like the Chinese Association Dance Crew and Common Ground, to exhibition teams like Mavyn Entertainment and Breed, which was formed by Pizarro to market the Boogiezone site.
The first was UCI’s Kaba Modern, founded in 1992 by Arnel Calvario. As a UCI freshman, Calvario joined the campus’ Kababayan, or Filipino student organization. Every year, the club sponsored a culture night, an event that drew a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 for a showcase of traditional Filipino dances and performances.
Calvario—who had been dancing hip-hop routines with his friends at high school talent shows and at house parties—wanted to add hip-hop dancing to the event.
“I thought it would help blend the traditional with the more American aspects of our generation,” Calvario said. Calvario was approached by so many students who wanted to dance that he started Kaba Modern and modern hip-hop routines became a regular part of the culture night.
From there, the group performed at import car shows and other community events. Soon, other Filipino student organizations in California followed suit, forming groups like Cal State Fullerton’s Team Millennia and Cal State Long Beach’s PAC Modern.
That eventually led to annual competitions like Vibe, which draws some 3,000 spectators and some of the best collegiate hip-hop dance teams from all over California to vie for trophies and notoriety. Stage shows are elaborate and consist of co-ed teams of 30 or more dancers performing choreographed routines.
Today, there are at least four major events in the competitive collegiate dance circuit, including Prelude, in both Northern and Southern California, Fusion in San Diego, Vibe in Irvine and Body Rock in San Diego.
“The scene is definitely exploding,” Calvario said. “I think it’s a good thing for the dance community to grow and for more people to recognize hip-hop dance as an art form.”
Riding the top of the wave right now are six members of UCI’s Kaba Modern dance team. They are one of several groups across the country vying to win the title of “America’s Best Dance Crew” on MTV and a $100,000 cash prize.
University of California, Irvine student Jason Saengkhamphong, 19, stretches before open auditions for Kaba Modern dance crew at UCI. (Christina House/Orange County Register/MCT)
EVOLUTION OF MOVES
In the early 1990s, when guys like Calvario and Team Millennia founder Danny Batimana started, hip-hop dance styles were less complicated.
Batimana, who’s trained in jazz and funk, said he didn’t even get into hip-hop dancing until junior high.
“We’d get all dressed up in our Hammer pants and creepers and go battle,” recalled Batimana, who co-owns Team Millennia Dance Center in Fullerton. “Back then it was all about energy and entertaining the crowd ... it wasn’t so difficult.”
Today, hip-hop dancing is so versatile that it blends elements of more classical forms, including jazz and ballet. Any hip-hop or street dancer can spout off a mind-bending laundry list of current dance styles: breaking (break dancing), krumping, whacking, bucking, popping, locking, house, tutting, old-school, waving, grooving and then some. All basically stem from street styles of dancing that emerged in the ‘70s.
“It’s having a certain posture, bending your knees right, how you control your body, how your face looks and how you execute the moves,” said John Abas, who danced with Team Millennia in 1994. “I know it when I see it.”
Today’s almost-anything-goes vibe lends itself to what’s being called the new school or new-style hip-hop.
The goal now is to innovate new ways to move or contort the body in manners that don’t always resemble dance. The emphasis is to be different from everything else that’s out there. Smaller, more controlled and intricate movements also are popular.
“People out there might not realize how diverse hip-hop dancing can be,” Calvario said. “Some of the best b-boys and b-girls (break dancers) are ballerinas and gymnasts, because breaking takes a lot of discipline and poise. And popping is so difficult to do because you have to isolate every muscle in your body.”
Instead of going by counts for steps, many instructors now go by beats, too. So instead of the traditional “5-6-7-8,” instructors can now be heard vocalizing the beats to teach the steps: “Crack, boom, crack.”
University of California, Irvine students (from left) Juli Yamanaka, Kristina Bui and Aakriti Kainth, rehearse in the women’s restroom before performing a group routine during open auditions for Kaba Modern dance crew at UCI. (Christina House/Orange County Register/MCT)
BECOMING A COMMUNITY
Competition among collegiate hip-hop dance teams used to be so fierce that it kept all the dance crews segregated. So, in the days before MySpace or Friendster, Pizarro’s idea to create a Web site where all the crews could interact met with a bit of resistance.
Eventually, dancers came to rely on Boogiezone.com as a place where dance crews could promote themselves, post upcoming events and discuss topics like where to find hip-hop classes.
“Right now a big issue that’s being discussed on our forums is ‘biting,’ where crews steal or copy moves from another crew,” Pizarro said. “... It’s brought up really interesting debates on whether a crew can `own’ moves and it’s created a sort of choreography police on the site.”
Pizarro said the site has 11,000 registered members from all over the world. The site gets busiest right after a major competition, hosting sometimes-heated discussions about how each team performed.
Boogiezone also hosts workshops in Irvine, and has posted some 500 videos from them on YouTube.com, which has become the go-to source for clips of all the collegiate competitions and street dance battles.
At the recent tryouts for UCI’s Kaba Modern, more than 100 hopefuls auditioned for a spot on the 34-member team. The tryouts have become a campus event that draws some 200 students to watch and cheer.
“I’ve wanted to be on Kaba Modern since I was in middle school,” said Jonah Aki, 19. “They’re one of the teams that strive to be the best, and more importantly, they’re a tight-knit family and I want to be a part of that during my college years.”
Many of the collegiate dance teams also have formed Juniors teams for 13- to 18-year-old dancers, and even a Tots team for 5- to 10-year-olds.
“I got into hip-hop dancing because there are no rules,” said Mandy Petrocelly, 18, of Buena Park, who’s on the Team Millennia Juniors. “Anything goes and it’s all about how weird you can make your body move, but at the same time make it look natural.”
Many of the dancers juggle day jobs. Calvario works as an occupational therapist; Pizarro is an architect.
“A lot of people may think that dancing leads to a dead end, but that’s not true,” Calvario said. “Many go on to become dance instructors or professional choreographers or lawyers or entrepreneurs. It’s like any other type of discipline and there’s no reason why we can’t do what we love.”