Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Challenge of Standardization

One hot topic that's come up in recent years is if and how the street dance culture should experience some kind of standardization in contest/battle rules and judging. 

In the early 2000s, bboy Dyzee from Toronto's Supernaturalz crew had talked about a judging system that was discussed among the bboy community.

It seems a lot of disagreement at contests/battles arise from how the judging was executed. Possible categories to consider: technical execution, showmanship, facial expression, battle attitude, combination/routines/commandos, tricks, musicality, being on beat, beatfreaking, etc. We all assume that different judges will have their individual preferences for certain styles or sensibilities. 

How would the street dance community be affected if there was something like an international panel or set of rules as in the Olympics? Can we have something like the X-Games in terms of organization and categorization of events?

Of course, this treads onto the debate about how dancing is an art form, not a sport. Street dancing has never been as institutionalized as ballet or ballroom. It's hard to go to any dance studio in your neighborhood and find teachers who have the training and technique for advanced bboying, popping, locking, waacking. Often, street dancers seek out other street dancers, find practice sessions, take master classes from the OGs, and grow through practicing in crews and battling. It's a constantly evolving, organic culture that one must seek out.

Hip Hop International has laid some groundwork in terms of judging hip hop choreography teams that compete through showcases. For their competition, the judging criteria are clearly outlined on the website for all teams to see, even before they apply. 

Meanwhile, the popping and locking worlds, especially within Los Angeles, has experienced a more ambiguous setup in judging contests. Usually, we see established dancers, often OGs, judging contests. There will be an odd number of judges, let's say three, to prevent any tie decisions. But it's not clear if these judges are basing their decisions on the same criteria. 

Popping, for example, is extremely diverse in its variations and forms. So it can be difficult to judge contests between poppers who have different styles. In the early to mid 2000s, it seemed that any local LA contest would have a large amount of boogaloo dancers advancing to later rounds, while the more illusional style dancers (tutters, wavers, animators) would be eliminated. This is a generalization, of course, but it has been mentioned by active members in the LA community. Several of the judges at these contests were boogaloo-based. Many of the younger generation that started in the late '90s to early 2000s were trained in the tradition of the Electric Boogaloos. We can see that in the popularity of Animated Beat Mechanics, the number of Electric Boogaloo classes in the U.S. and overseas in Japan & Europe, and the discussions online at forums. 

From 2006-2008, there seemed to be a sea change in the styles preferred at contests. Now, more illusional style dancers were winning contests as fewer boogaloo-based judges were used. A significant event was the Homeland 2007 battle when Frantick and Tronik from Funny Bones Crew took 1st. In other circumstances, some members of the LA community have pointed out that there may even have been an anti-boogaloo sentiment in the local scene. Meanwhile, the LA popping scene started to get more organized in terms of crews with Funny Bones Crew, Machine Gone Funk, Funk Assassins, and Foreign Exchange all representing at battles. Each of these crews have members with diverse styles, expanding the depth of popping in terms of technique and musicality. A landmark battle between Machine Gone Funk vs. Funny Bones at the Soundproof 2 event on May 24, 2009 reflects the diverse styles and mentalities within LA's community.

So how do can we standardize judging rules if the community is evolving in diversity? Will it stifle creativity if street dancing was more institutionalized? The debate seems to be in constant flux as we all grow as dancers. 

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