Wednesday, January 19, 2011
I Danced at a Hip-Hop Contest!
The reason my friend Ken came to Wuhan for the weekend was to compete in a Street Dance competition. France hosts a global contest annually, called Juste Debout, and this happened to be the China portion of that contest. Dancers from all over China poured into Wuhan for this two-day event. Luckily I only had to secure return train tickets for my friend and his dance team, not for all of the dancers that competed.
Incidentally, you can google Juste Debout China 2011 and watch footage of the contest. It was pretty spectacular.
Normally I would not attend such an event, even though I find street dancing fascinating. The origins of street dance come from the gang torn streets of New York City, and started back in the ‘70’s. To settle territory claims rival gangs would dance in the street; whoever had the most impressive moves won the territory in question.
Dancing was used as a substitute for violence thanks in large part to the efforts of DJ Kool Herc. He did not apply for the job; indeed there never was a job posting that read: “Record scratching DeeJay needed to MC rival gang street dances. Pay negotiable if DJ is not shot or otherwise killed. Maimed DJs are entitled to danger pay.”
Clive Campbell, DJ Kool Herc’s real name, got tired of all of the fighting on his block and organized the first dance-off. He recognized the youths’ need to assert their presence on the block, but would not advocate fighting. Thus, dancing became the substitute and DJ Kool Herc became known as the father of street dancing.
The movement caught on and street dancing became an institution. Now it is a global phenomenon and nowhere is that more evident than in China, where violence is strictly forbidden, the concept of ‘territory’ is unknown and gangs are just now burgeoning. From all of my asking and researching I have gleaned that, in fact, many Chinese dancers of hip-hop or other styles of street dancing have no idea of the history of the dance style. They just adopted it as a practicable symbol of the West, a culture many of these youths aspire to emulate.
Among the types of street dance, Hip-Hop is the most popular. Under that general header come ‘breaking’, ‘locking’ and ‘popping’, all subcategories of hip-hop. There are many other styles of street dance, but these four were what this competition addressed. My friend Ken dances Hip-hop, the general variety that incorporates moves from the three sub-categories in freestyle form.
I was very excited to see him dance! It had been a long time since we had seen each other to begin with, but it had been even longer since I had seen him dance, something he loves to do. Therefore I had to go watch the competition.
As we entered the hall, the music was already pumping from the auditorium, clearly audible in the lobby. Although I can live without listening to a lot of the lyrics to the music that dancers ‘break’ to, the beat is entrancing and, if you have any sense of rhythm at all, you will be compelled to move your body in time to it.
Confession time: I did not really dance at a hip-hop contest as part of the competition. I danced in the lobby and in the aisles, way up in the bleachers where no one could see me. Partly because it was so cold in the auditorium – no indoor climate control in China, remember? And partly because… well, because the enthusiasm of the contestants was contagious!
The contest was supposed to start at 11:00 but somehow it got to be 2:00PM before any judged dancing took place. Most of the contestants already surrounded the dance floor and, because the music was pumping, they were working their moves. Let me tell you something: these kids have some moves!
I was actually surprised at how good they are. Some of the teams look like they do nothing but dance morning, noon and night. Their bodies are so fluid and their moves are so clean! They make it look like they were born to dance, they do nothing but dance and they probably even dream about dancing. While the more showy dancers practiced their moves ringside, my good friend Ken worked it way up high in the bleachers alone. That is just the type of guy he is: he has to get ‘in the zone’ before he turns up the power and blows out the lights. Once he was assured he was in the right frame of mind to compete, he and his partner worked out their routine.
At long last the MC introduced the judges and the contest started. Dance teams – two members per team, were summoned into the ring in groups of 5, and they were given one minute to show their moves. Ken’s team, Reborn, was team #9, so he was in the second group of dancers.
This type of competition is difficult because you do not dance to music you select. The DJ plays a one-minute snippet of music that the dancers may or may not be familiar with and that is their chance to secure a place in the second elimination round. Fortunately the beat does not change from snippet to snippet and that is what the dancers respond to.
Each two-person team advances to the center of the ring when their turn comes and usually the moves are synchronized. After the ‘approach’, generally a form of salute is made to the judges, and then each dancer in turn takes the floor and shows what they’ve got while their partner moves to the background. The dancers then switch places and the lead dancer fades to the background while the second member of the team dazzles. Once the guest MC signals that their minute is over with, the dancers salute the judges again and recede into the background, leaving the floor open for the next dance team.
I am sad to say that Ken and his partner did not make it past the first elimination round. To be fair, he was up against kids that dance all day and all night, wear coordinated clothing and have all the time in the world to work on their routine. And, there was this team of little kids, maybe four or five years old, that stole the show! Nevertheless, we were all thrilled that there was even a competition in which Ken and his partner could showcase their moves, if only for one minute.
Ken vows he will practice more and return to compete next year. I will probably secure his return train ticket, and dance in the bleachers again. Afterward, we will most likely enjoy spending time together. We are good friends, after all.