While the quaint, nearly empty road of Main Street stood quietly on a cold, snowy Saturday evening, one spot was waiting to be packed with energy. At Vinnie’s Jump and Jive Community Dance Hall, a classic urban event was about to take place: Battle Royale 2011 Winter Edition, a break-dance tournament.
Over one hundred teens and young adults, as well as several children accompanied by adults, crowded into the hall’s large one room studio. Turntables sat surrounded by wires as DJs, including DJ N.E.B. of Connecticut and DJ DP One of New York, set up equipment in the corner of the studio, headphones in ear. Songs like Jackson 5’s “Life of the Party” blasted from the large speakers. Young break-dancers, or “b-boys” and “b-girls,” ranging from ages sixteen to up to thirty-years-old, greeted each other with handshakes and hugs, some with their crew names imprinted on their shirts or sweatpants such as “Part Time Models” and “Problemz Kru.” As the night proceeded, b-boys and several b-girls started practicing their signature moves in the open space made in the middle of the floor.
Break-dancing is synonymous with “b-boying” and “b-girling,” which comes from the terms “break-boy” and “break-girl.” As a prominent street dance style that developed as a major part of hip-hop culture, breaking originated in the 1970’s from New York City, innovated by crews like Rocksteady Crew and NYC Breakerz. Sections and breaks of dance records would be played and looped by DJs so that dancers could improvise to the rhythms, displaying their strongest skills through choreographed or free-styled routines. An MC would host the battle, tonight being the dynamic I King David, with rapper El Vee spitting lyrics to the music played by the DJs.
While break-dancing continues to thrive in urban locales, especially in New York City, the b-boying scene has spread to suburban and rural settings, where anyone with access to television and internet, especially YouTube, has the opportunity to learn right at home. Simply type “break-dancing” in the search bar on Youtube, and over a million hits follow. B-boys and b-girls who have grown to perfect their art have brought break-dancing into the local dance studios, including Vinnie’s, teaching break-dancing just as anyone would teach styles including ballet, jazz, and tap.
Rick Doyle, 50, drove his daughter Angela, 11, from Manchester to Battle Royale after seeing Bryan Giles’ invitation to the event on Facebook. “I never knew much about hip-hop culture, and assumed I wouldn’t be welcome at hip-hop events,” said Mr. Doyle, when asked about his past perception of the hip-hop scene.
But that changed when his daughter, Angela, started learning break-dancing at the age of 9 with Ray Owens at Manchester’s Julie Lang studio. After meeting Giles, Hayes, and other b-boys who showed Angela some moves, she began attending b-boy classes taught by John Bendezu of the Hartford City Ballet, going nearly every Sundays in the spring of 2010. Since then, Angela has won a prize in an open jam for children ages 8-15, and paired with Owens in a 2-on-2 battle at Trinity College’s Hip-Hop Festival that season. They noticed that most of who they considered to be the best local b-boys would be battling at Battle Royale, and came through.
At this event, Battle Royale Winter Edition, a two-part yearly tournament, the battles run three-on-three: three dancers from one crew break-dancing against another three from another crew. In May, battles run five-on-five. Traditionally, break-dance battles are turn-based, where each individual takes turns in displaying his or her moves. But in this event, battles would be time-based. Once crews are eliminated, the winner is determined by “last man standing,” where individual break-dancers continue to try and outperform the other with complex and fresh moves, until the time and music end.
Founders of Battle Royale, brothers Bryan and Kevin Giles of Middletown, represent “Of Shadow and Earth” crew of Middletown, a DJ production and promotion crew called “Connect Beats,” and “Losst Unknown,” a larger b-boy crew as well as clothing company based in Boston, Massachusetts. Their role in helping keep the Connecticut b-boy scene alive was essentially established after their success of throwing a b-boy jam in 2004. “It was weird because we are the exact opposite from each other,” said Kevin. “Sometimes, [break-dancing] is the only thing that keeps us talking to each other.” Ever since, break-dancers from all over the New England and tri-state area attended the Battle Royale events to face each other off, with intricate top-rocking footwork, daring somersaults, windmills, head-spins and unique freezes.
Expect to be judged not just by how strong a move or freeze is, but by a more total package. When it comes to selecting crews and individuals, proceeding them to the next round, the Battle’s judges – Bryan Giles, Patrick “Pat-Tricks” Hayes of United Outkast Crew and Flying Squirrel Productions, and Tom Parrot of Middletown – watch for it all: floor-work, top-rocking or floor-work displayed in a standing position, style, and overall power. Breakers are discouraged from repeating moves, encouraged to stay original and be diverse in movement. 52-year-old Tom Parrot, known in the local break-dancing community as “B-Boy Old School,” laid out the essential qualities judges look for in b-boy battles. “The best is if the crew can exhibit a nice blend of style and power, because they have an answer for everything that the other crew might be doing,” he said.
Brian Lim of Lynn, Massachusetts, attended the Battle with his fellow members of Problemz Kru, originally established in Connecticut, now with members also from Massachusetts and New York. “I kept up with break-dancing because of the feeling it gave me,” he said. “I felt limitless and free to do what I wanted, which was great because after practice, you come back to the real world where there are rules for everything you must follow. You can incorporate anything into break-dancing, including other dance styles, martial arts, and gymnastics, and even make up your own moves and styles. The possibilities in this dance are endless.”
Although the title of the event may suggest intense competition, the room radiated sportsmanship as competitors would handshake, and pat each other on the back after each battle round. “It’s creative and the people are happy,” said Angela. “It’s fun to learn new moves and see different styles.”
“I’ve been surprised at how friendly and approachable everyone is at the events,” said Doyle. “It’s an exciting, healthy atmosphere. The b-boys and b-girls know how to have fun – it’s a great activity for Angela.”
Individuals who appeared in video: Bryan “Lingba Flare” Giles, I King David, El Vee, Erich “Air Rich” Reyes, Fernando “Layze” Guevara, Eddie Shellman, Jeremy “Remy D” Flores, Malak “Rugrat” Williams, Elliott “Midnight” Sanford, Part Time Models Crew, Full Time Models Crew, Brian Lim, Problemz Kru, Patrick Hayes, Tom “Old School” Parrot, Funk the Universe Crew, DJ N.E.B., DJ DP One, Also thanks to Vinnie’s Jump and Jive Community Dance Hall in Middletown, CT
Contributions made by: Kevin Giles, Dan Vang, Randon “Tiger” Luangpraseuth, Zulu Bratz Crew, Taylor “Rthym” Lomba, Felix Schilling, Eddie Quinones, Andrew “Mercury” Dill, Swift Characterz Kru, Misha “Kid Misfit” King, Dan “Dan-ski” Mackey, Edris Montes de Oca (Bboy Impure), Jake “Silent Jake” Greenwald, Antonion “Taipan” Gomez, James “Lokito” Curtis, Kenneth “Analyst” Rivera, Richard Doyle, Angela Doyle, Carlos Costas, Franky “Sure-Step” Cruz