Friday, December 10, 2010

LA's Poppin' Scene: A Revival in Event Production

At the end of 2010, we're seeing a revival of jam & event producers in LA's poppin' scene. Street dancers of this style have never had any consistency in jams that they can attend. While bboys & bgirls have more recurring competitions catering to their tastes, poppers comprise a smaller demographic. So at times, it's felt like event promoters in the bboy world have treated poppers (and lockers) as second-hand citizens. For example, we just had Freestyle Session at the Music Box Theatre over Thanksgiving weekend and the poppin' and lockin' communities have criticized FSS promoter Cros One and Grass Roots Productions for putting them on the roof in cold weather on the first day while the bboys were given the full floor inside the theater. While the top 8 poppers were later given the stage inside the theater on day two, it was a gesture that came too late.

Support for the poppin' and lockin' communities has been sparse over the past ten years. The only internationally recognized event for these styles held in LA has been How Tha West Was Won (, created by Hugo "Mista Smooth" Huizar and Gerardo Meijia. The annual event started in 2003 but recently concluded in 2009. The other big event has been the Homeland Jam held every summer, but it has maintained more local notoriety than an international reputation. Only in the past two years (2009-2010) has the Homeland Jam gained exposure outside LA through a wide distribution of its battle videos online. And on occasion, there have been independent promoters like Preying Mantas who have hosted smaller jams at club venues like Respect, but they are a rare breed.

Maybe we're on the brink of a culture change. One of the most exciting local promoters in recent months has been LA Funky Soul. Check out their website at Based in a small dance studio in the heart of Koreatown, Funky Soul has breathed new life into the competitive formats by introducing new ideas like a call-out battle format for a top 16 selection of poppers. In such a format, any one of the top 16 competitors can choose who she wants to battle in a 1-on-1 face-off. Funky Soul also brought back a 2-on-2 format combining one popper and one locker as a team (we had seen this format in recent years via the Undadog bboy competition hosted by promoter Maximum Stylez, but that competition hasn't appeared on the scene in 2010). Funky Soul has also hosted classes taught by Slim Boogie and promises another event coming up on December 18 that will cater to both poppers and lockers. We like what Funky Soul is doing: they're prolific and hosting regular events.

Many of us know him as the dancer with flexible legs in a classic Levi's commercial, but Burst Rock is equally talented in producing events with his crew Funny Bones. Over the past year, we've seen several jams initiated by Burst Rock including the Funny Bones Crew 8th Year Anniversary which brought several hip hop elements under one roof: bboying, popping, locking, dj-ing, emceeing. It was a true hip hop festival that celebrated the greater community. More than Freestyle Session, Burst Rock's events have shown a deeper concern for community, younger generations, and legacy of our art forms. At their 8th Anniversary event, Funny Bones initiated several members of their junior crew - the Rockbots - bringing them into their fold. It was a clear signal that Burst and his crew are looking to invest in younger souls who can carry on the dance culture. Check out Burst Rock and Funny Bones crew on facebook.

A third promotional crew that has made a splash in 2010 is Keep It Live Productions ( They produced their first jam in early October during the same weekend as BBoy Summit, and generated significant buzz by gathering a crowd of over 100 dancers from multiple countries despite competition from Summit's event. Keep It Live has consistently built its media presence online through releasing Youtube videos of its battles along with regular promotional videos about upcoming events. They just hosted a cypher party in North Hollywood last weekend and are putting out the early word on future events in 2011. From their media representation online, it's exciting to see how they are bridging the gap between different cliques in the poppin' and lockin' worlds.

So maybe all hope isn't lost. When poppers and lockers aren't shown any love by bboy promoters, proactive individuals will take matters into their own hands. We encourage all promoters and go-getters within the poppin' and lockin' communities to stand up for themselves instead of letting others determine what they're worth. Who needs to pay $20-30 for a bboy event when you can pay $10 for a poppin' jam where you'll have a better time?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can Street Dance Find Its Footing in the Fitness World?

We're entertaining the possibilities that street dance could find an audience in worlds outside of our community. For example, what about the fitness world? Yes, we've seen the cheesy hip hop aerobic videos that fill the shelves at your local Target and convenience store. But let's think about it seriously for a moment. Dancers from our culture spend a great deal of time training and conditioning their bodies to a level where they're truly athletes in their body awareness. So why not bring some of that sensibility to interested folks in the fitness world?

How would this play out? Some dancers might find opportunities to become personal trainers to fitness models or bodybuilders. They might help their clients get a sense of rhythm and stage presence. Certainly special workout routines could be designed, inspired by elements of street dance foundation. When you go to a studio class with some element of street dancing, newcomers who aren't aspiring dancers often are taking those classes because they want a good workout. Why not appeal to that demographic with our skills?

The counterargument is that these endeavors could change the raw nature of our street approach. We're entering into a commercial market when we start appealing to another demographic. But is it possible that the health benefits could outweigh these concerns? The expertise that we've gathered over years of training could potentially help those who are seeking to enhance their fitness regimen. Sometimes, it's humbling to realize that whether we're dancers or fitness aficionados, we're often sharing the same common ground when we talk about personal health.

Maybe that's the big realization when we start talking about street dance in the fitness world: that as dancers, we often think too highly of ourselves and can be exclusive with our culture. At some point, all of us discovered this dance first-hand and we stepped into this underground world. So we were newcomers at one time too. Will we be willing to invite others one we get past ourselves?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Does Our Dance Future Lay Outside of the U.S?

Let's face it. Our scene isn't growing within Los Angeles. We are maintaining a status quo but are the level of education and training and the professional opportunities for our street dancers at the level we want them to be? We would be short-changing ourselves if we felt that today's level is the best we can do. Here's what we're facing: our local communities of bboys, poppers, lockers, and other street styles remain an insular subculture with a few individuals finding the opportunities to make careers out of their passions. Our jams are not growing in consistency. In fact, many have come and gone. And the awareness and in-depth understanding of our culture among the public is fleetingly better, but it's not enough to inspire a critical mass to adopt our passions.

Many of us in LA's community often turn to Europe and Asia as the new frontier for our street dance culture. We look at Battle of the Year, the U.K. BBoy Championships, Juste Debout, KOD in China, and Old School Night in Japan as premier events were street dancing is valued, sponsored, and celebrated. Is it true that street dancers have a better standard of living in these other countries outside of the U.S? Is it plausible that a larger public appreciates arts education and culture in Europe and Asia than stateside? It's hard to know without concrete facts and data. Maybe it's just a case of the grass being greener on the other side. If street dancers truly had it better in Asia, for example, wouldn't we see whole industries of aspiring dancers performing, teaching, and making money with their skills? We don't see immediate evidence of such an industry. Instead, one could argue that a young artist should aspire more to be a pop singer than a dancer given the more prevalent opportunities for musicians than dancers in Asian entertainment culture.

One thing is for certain: those of us in the Los Angeles street scene really need to get our act together if we hope to sustain the culture financially. Without rich benefactors or sponsors, it's incredible to see how local promoters can keep producing jams and shows. Venues are expensive in LA unless you can get them for free. And it still takes a budget, no matter how small, to hire a DJ and rent suitable audio equipment. If we want to grow beyond these circumstances, we need to consider better production value and event planning. We don't need to copy the way others are doing it in Europe or Asia. We simply need to find what works in our current environment and make the most of it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Reality TV Show Mentality

It looks like we're not seeing the end of reality TV dance shows in 2011. Paula Abdul has a new show on CBS. MTV is premiering a sixth season of America's Best Dance Crew in April. And Fox juggernaut So You Think You Can Dance will likely chug on. Advertisers and networks must be under the impression that the niche audience for these dance shows are still viable. Or they're fresh out of any new ideas. Reality TV has been a double-edged sword for street dance culture. It has exposed many new faces to mainstream America. But at the same time, it has created something like a television ghetto for dancers. Before this TV wave, street dancers would fight for the rare opportunity to appear in a commercial, music video, or national tour spot. Now, it's getting on a reality show and hoping that it becomes the springboard for more opportunities.

The strategy has worked for some. If we look at the graduating classes from ABDC, the JabbaWocKeeZ moved on to their current show in Las Vegas. Quest Crew and the Beat Freaks appeared in multiple commercials and film cameos. And Poreotics continues their wave of success performing and teaching outside Los Angeles where they've found new fanbases around the U.S. and the world. But it's been three years since ABDC first premiered. It's been close to six years since SYTYCD debuted in our home screens. And there haven't been significant strides in how dancers are seen as commercial performers by the mainstream public. It can be argued that dancers are not seen as storytellers. People may pay to see some "amazing dancing" in a live show, but they aren't expecting us to make them laugh or cry with a story.

Does reality TV have something to do with this? On these shows, dancers are portrayed as artists and colorful personalities. But they're not given an opportunity to shape their own stories. A reality TV show is a game, after all. You get on the show and you play by the pre-established rules in order to advance. You're only able to show aspects of yourself that the producers will allow. So because of reality TV, dancers of all genres are only valued for what they can do in a prescribed format. We seem to exist only to perform on a stage with music, doing a routine. It's unfortunate to see a whole generation of new talent being taken advantage of by studios and networks. They'll have to work so much harder in order to break out of that box even with the recent opportunities they're getting.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Digital Face Mapping via Tron Legacy

One of the biggest holiday movies appears to be the upcoming Tron sequel from Disney titled Tron Legacy. The original film has developed a cult following since its premiere in 1982 at a time when computer-generated graphics were starting to appear in feature films. Now, the sequel is generating buzz among fans for the digital face mapping techniques that allow for a present day Jeff Bridges to face off against a younger version of himself. For years, Hollywood has debated when such a technology would hit the mainstream because it could lead to a revival of appearances from actors who have passed away long ago. Can you imagine Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman in the latest film by Inception director Christopher Nolan? There are even rumors that George Lucas is looking to purchase on-screen rights for deceased actors. You have to wonder how all this amazing visual technology could be used in street dance culture if we had access to it.

Would we see Greg Campbellock Jr appear in again in videos and films in the future? Many of us mourned his passing earlier this year and the lockin' world lost a great teacher who was well-known for investing in a younger generation of students. Would we see Skeeter Rabbit of the Electric Boogaloos doing a new routine in a film with current EB members like Popin Pete and Mr Wiggles? How would this be achieved? If we look at how they're doing it in Tron Legacy, it involves mapping the face of one actor on a body double and weaving the two together seamlessly in the computer. This setup presents a much harder challenge for dancing where we don't have archives of motion capture data from lost legends. And to imagine a body double capturing the same feel and technique of a dance master presents another obstacle. It's rare to find two dancers that perform exactly the same way with all the same nuances.

The possibilities are enticing though. Street dancing has never been considered a viable field for experimentation with visual technology. The closest example may be the use of 3D camera work in Step Up 3D, but frankly that didn't enhance the performance of the dancing at all. It only made it feel more "in your face." For general audiences, we're not sure if they found that more engaging or more annoying. The box office receipts for Step Up 3D indicate that 3D camera work didn't necessarily translate to larger audiences than the first two films in this series. But dancing is such a beautiful art form of movement that it's hard to ignore. Perhaps one day we will see a filmmaker brave enough to embrace digital face mapping techniques or more clever 3D camera work or the latest visual technology to enhance our experience of watching dance on film. Why not dream big?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why We Need More Produced Dance DVDs & Films

Funny Bones Crew, led by Burst Rock and Warlock, is one of the most prominent poppin' crews in Los Angeles. They're releasing a crew DVD with footage from the local community within the next few weeks. It's a production created by photographer Adam Roberts and preview clips have been circulating on Youtube and forums recently. Check out a trailer here:

Perhaps this production will jump start a wave of new filmmaking and documentation within Los Angeles' street dance scene. In an age when so much of what we experience is recorded on raw Youtube clips, it's refreshing to see a DVD that is filmed, edited, produced, and directed with aesthetic sensibilities. For any filmmaker, it's a creative process putting a story together in moving images. Our community can benefit from productions like this Funny Bones DVD because it acts as a curating experience into our culture. Anyone who isn't informed about our scene can watch this DVD and get a sense of who we are.

The DVD will certainly put Funny Bones on the map to a larger global audience. Our LA community knows and supports FBC but few of the members have traveled worldwide or done workshops. Now, they will have a wider reach through this media production. Another good result of this exposure is that the world will see a variety of dancers inhabiting LA's street dance culture. Many styles will be represented, which could also reflect the cultural mix of heritage, nationalities, and experiences in a sprawling metropolis like LA. The textures of our city will be visualized on screen.

So, this is an exciting time for filmmaking in Los Angeles dance culture. Higher end cameras are more affordable and it's easier to broadcast our images to a worldwide audience through online video sharing. Our stories can be produced faster and travel across greater distances to audiences on the other side of the world. Where will we take this next?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Does Street Dance Appeal To Men More Than Women?

It's hard to find concrete numbers on the demographics of people involved in street dance culture. But a casual observer would notice that it's male-dominated. Men outnumber women in the bboy, poppin', and lockin' scenes here in Los Angeles. Why is that? Since the culture's beginnings in the late '70's to early '80s, this trend has been maintained up to the current generation. We see strong female dancers and crews in LA, but only scenes like the rising new school waacking community are dominated by women. Is this gender imbalance a reason for why our street dance community has stayed underground?

Let's look at the collegiate choreography scene in southern California. Check out the VIBE showcase in late January at UC Irvine or the World of Dance competition in Pomona in the spring. This collegiate scene is populated by teams that feature female choreographers and often have more coed team members. Men and women dance together in stage routines, encouraging partner work and choreography with large numbers. There's a greater sense of community and teamwork in this collegiate scene than in LA's street scene. With a more coed population, the collegiate choreography scene is continuing to grow in size and enter into mainstream media. Several dancers from these teams have been part of MTV's America's Best Dance Crew and Fox's So You Think You Can Dance.

The promotional and media production from the collegiate scene has also attracted a larger fanbase than its street counterpart. Ratings numbers for tv reality shows like America's Best Dance Crew and So You Think You Can Dance show a predominantly female audience. Many of these fans are also participating in supporting the collegiate choreography scene. So there's a crossover between these communities. But we're not seeing that happen with the street scene. From the viewership culled from Youtube videos on street dance culture, the mostly male fanbase is insular and female viewership hasn't grown. Is it the combative attitude and drama that comes from the battle aspect of our street dance culture that is driving away larger audiences? It's been debated within the poppin' community of Los Angeles that recent years of conflict between different factions have driven away newcomers, both male and female.

The end result is that our community takes on the air of being unsupportive and non-encouraging. That's unattractive to anyone regardless of gender. While battling is a key part of our scene, we certainly can develop our accessibility to teach and educate others about our dance styles. We don't need to take on the drama that has plagued our scene for years. It's no wonder that a newbie dancer would be attracted to the collegiate choreography scene where there's more available support and nurturing in large teams. As a whole, in Los Angeles, the street dance scene hasn't presented itself as accessible, encouraging, or supportive. We have some work to do.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Disney Channel's "Shake It Up"

Recently, the Disney Channel premiered a tween-female buddy comedy series set in the world of a Chicago area dance show called Shake It Up. A few familiar faces from LA's professional dance scene have appeared including BBoy Monster (Luis Rosado) and members of Quest Crew. While the show is a sitcom following the misadventures of its two female leads, we have to wonder what impact a show like this could have on a young generation of TV viewers. After all, in the past ten years, we haven't seen any high-profile narrative-driven storylines on primetime or cable networks. We've mostly been inundated with reality shows like Fox's So You Think You Can Dance and MTV's America's Best Dance Crew. Are we going to see more dance-driven narrative series on the horizon?

Shake It Up captured 6.2 million viewers with its premiere, according to Nielsen Media Research. That's the second highest premiere for the channel behind the 2006 premiere of Hannah Montana. With heavy promotions that included releasing the premiere episode on iTunes, Disney is clearly putting marketing muscle behind the show to give it some legs. It's a clever strategy since the channel relies on grooming future young stars that are triple threats in acting, singing, and dance. So for a generation of pre-teen and tweens out there, a show like Shake It Up can glamorize aspects of the dance lifestyle, making it more accessible to a mainstream audience.

We're not sure yet how Shake It Up will handle the cultural education of dance to the masses. For now, at least in its premiere episode, dance education isn't on its agenda. It's not that kind of show. Like another Disney Channel hit Sonny With A Chance, Shake It Up adopts the "show within a show" format that places its viewers in an aspirational environment. Some kids idolized Hannah Montana for her lifestyle of being a modern day pop princess. With Sonny With A Chance and Shake It Up, there's a subtle nudging towards creating a colorful, enticing vision of the entertainment industry. It makes Hollywood look kid-friendly.

Perhaps Shake It Up could become a vehicle for new viewers to get exposed to different dance styles. If a kid sees BBoy Monster for the first time on the show, will she be inspired to learn how to do a six-step? Let's hope that the casting folks on this show are keen to expose our young dance fans to some fresh talent. Like American Bandstand and Soul Train, this Disney Channel show might be one in a long line of TV gems that inspire kids to get up and dance.