Thursday, October 15, 2009

Flashback On: JabbaWockeeZ on ABDC

Today's flashback feature is on the first season winners of MTV's America's Best Dance Crew, the JabbaWockeeZ. Compared to our earlier flashback features, they're a much more recent example of dancers infiltrating mass media. But in the 2000s, their rise to stardom has been one of the highlights in the resurgence of hip hop and street dancing in the public spotlight. (Photo above is from their Wikipedia entry.)

You can see their website here: You can also see an official video of them performing on Oct 6, 2009 on Dancing With The Stars here:

Many of us in the street dance community knew of the JabbaWockeeZ even before they appeared on America's Got Talent or ABDC. In 2003, the group came together with members spread out over San Diego, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Performing at local clubs and events such as the Choreographer's Carnival at the Key Club, the JabbaWockeeZ distinguished themselves with their trademark masked look and penchant for imaginative stageplay in their choreography. Fast forward to spring 2008 when they first appeared on ABDC's first season. Having just appeared on America's Got Talent in 2007, the crew was just one of a handful of first season competitors including Kaba Modern that would test the waters on the new MTV show. In recent years, it was a first for this kind of show, which featured dance crews competing via showcases in front of judges and a televised audience. Previous reality dance shows focused more on individual dancers and partner dancing. Over the course of this season, it's clear that the JabbaWockeeZ captured the hearts of a new generation of dancers and dance fans. They were exactly what MTV needed to launch ABDC into the public consciousness. And by winning the season, the JabbaWockeeZ branded themselves with their memorable performances, group persona, and fashionable look to jumpstart their mainstream careers.

For the greater hip hop and street dance community, the rise of the JabbaWockeeZ and other crews from ABDC would open the doors for a larger public to be exposed to elements of bboying, popping, and locking. It's no secret that some of the most heavily searched videos on Youtube are for the JabbaWockeeZ, Kaba Modern, and ABDC. For better or for worse, these crews were part of a movement to consumerize hip hop and street dance to the masses. A show like ABDC made it easier for someone to become exposed to aspects of street dance culture without actually being physically involved or connected to those communities. Dancing with a crew became "cool" and a strange mystique - in the eyes of the uninformed - has developed around anyone who dances in our community. Soon, many new faces were trying out for collegiate hip hop dance crews, attending more classes, and showing up at practice sessions. A new wave of online videos have flooded Youtube with folks creating tutorials, dancing in their garages, or performing at their high schools. Without a doubt, new blood has entered the scene.

Another significant development from the JabbaWockeeZ is that they've translated their signature style into many commercial opportunities whether it be performing with the New Kids on the Block on tour, starring in Gatorade commercials, or performing a remixed version of "Singing in the Rain" on ABC's Dancing With The Stars. They've shown the larger public that they can cross over into multiple mediums and be entertainers on many levels. Perhaps it's their imaginative group persona. Or their mysterious masks. Whatever the reason, their career track is good news for other hip hop and street dancers who can make saavy business decisions should they choose to enter this arena to make a living. The public is willing to be entertained by dancers who can bring something unique to the table.

Perhaps one of the most subtle but greatest influences the JabbaWockeeZ and other crews on TV have had is how they've portrayed themselves as a crew. For those who aren't involved in the hip hop and street dance communities, the idea of being part of a dance crew may not have crossed their minds. It might even have been laughable. But shows like ABDC, in their best moments, have revealed the dancers in crews as surrogate families who support and care for each other. We're living in difficult times these days. Seeing dancers as part of crews just makes us more human since we all have a universal need to be part of a family.

There may be no one definitive moment that captures the JabbaWockeeZ crossing over into the public spotlight. But they and other crews that have appeared on ABDC created a new conceptual understanding for mainstream America about our culture. The future of where this goes remains to be seen. What's clear now is that we have a lot of work to do to further educate, to protect, and to promote the beauty of hip hop and street dance.

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