Monday, August 13th, 2007

B-Boying & Hip-Hop Theatre In The NY Times :: How History Gets Distorted

I’m way past the point of being excited by seeing hip-hop dance in a place like the Times, but this piece is notable.

It tries to account for the global sophistication of b-boy/b-girl competitions in talking about the rise of South Korean b-boys and their journey into evening-length works. It also touches on Benson Lee’s fantastic new movie Planet B-Boy, which captures a year in the life of Thomas Hergenrother’s essential Battle of The Year, an event that is beginning to look like the b-boy/b-girl World Cup. Trac 2 also gets a strong mention in the piece.

At the same time, it’s waaaaaaay off the mark in terms of looking at how b-boy has moved to the theatre stage. “Battle of the Year is largely responsible for the trend toward longer, more artful works featuring characters and plot,” the author, Julie Bloom, writes.


The transformation of hip-hop dance into narrative theatre is a history that has been recounted thoroughly by Jorge POPMASTER FABEL Pabon in Total Chaos, as well as in this long piece I did on Rennie Harris and his group Puremovement. (PDF download)

Bloom even contradicts the Times’ own dance critics, who have been covering hip-hop dance theatre since the Rhythm Technicians took to the stage at PS 122 in 1991 with the acclaimed play “So What Happens Now?”, years before BOTY’s competition expanded beyond Europe. (That play could also be said to be the birth of hip-hop theatre itself.)

This is not at all a slight to BOTY’s influence on global b-boying/b-girling, which has been HUGE. It’s simply to say that Bloom overstates the case drastically, and there are effects.

This is not an incidental point. As many pioneer dancers remind me, part of the reason hip-hop dance remains the least understood of the original four elements is because few people really care to get their facts right. Many see this as a campaign to erase and deracinate hip-hop’s origins. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t. But the effect can be the same.

So mad props, love, and respect to the German and South Korean massive for continuing to expand and change the game. But I’m sure even they would tell you that the history isn’t always what it’s made out to be by the mainstream media.

posted by @ 8:23 am | 10 Comments

10 Responses to “B-Boying & Hip-Hop Theatre In The NY Times :: How History Gets Distorted”

  1. Ninoy Brown says:

    Nice to see dancers getting their coverage. Too many times, this is the “element” that is usually overlooked and begins to be looked at as a sideshow with bystanders being wowed by whoever can do the most flips rather than understanding the technicalities of clean ass footwork.

    With that said, I think Bloom’s praise for BOTY is somewhat justified. BOTY was very instrumental in adding the performance aspect in b-boy/girl competitions, where crews would be forced to create routines as a sort of crew showcase. There may have been other events that took on this formula, but the scale of BOTY made it the most recognizable.

    I remember watching a video years back where Style Elements rocked it with their routine (and a lot of b-boys know the Christina Aguilera/Justin Timberlake choreography career path several members of Style Elements took).

    The article also makes a point to discuss the upcoming Freestyle Session event in LA, which will likely see a tremendous amount of crew routines, as opposed to years past when crews would usually let each individual dancer perform alone within the circle. There has emerged a much greater performance and pre-planned execution aspect to many b-boy battles. To many purists, this has taken away many the rawness and integrity of the circle, while some applaud it’s innovation to take b-boying to a different level.

    I hope this makes sense.

  2. ninoy brown says:

    *Make sense to a non b-boy, that is.

  3. Just Chris says:

    Hmmm. Lot to digest here.
    I won’t quite say I hate the Battle of the Year comps, but I dislike the mixed format of long performances to get you to the team battles??? It just doesn’t settle with me.

    Routines in Freestyle Session don’t bother me though. I do enjoy crew routines if done right, or more so, I enjoy creative, fresh ways to Commando your opponent. If I’m not mistaken, I think FSS and team battles in general have been doing routines for years. I especially remember routines in FSS7 and maybe earlier, and gangs of them in FSS8.

    But as the years have gone by, I think I’ve started to enjoy “unjudged” exhibitions and cypher battles more and more like the “purists” Ninoy notes, events like “Who can roast the most” and on…

    but I guess even when B-Boys are battling individually, the best of them have sets that they script and practice ahead of time. although these sets are still often dynamic in their performance.

    But to get back on topic, I agree that Battle of the Year holds significance, but I would think its contributions are more so in pushing the level B-Boying/B-Girling internationally to where it’s at now.

  4. Zentronix says:

    hey yall,

    thanks for all this. yes, my thing here is not to criticize BOTY at all. i really admire what they’ve been able to do (and i know there are haters)–it’s really quite an amazing feat to bring together folks from 20 countries in the way and scale that they do.

    i’m not qualified to say whether the way that BOTY structures its team competitions are good or bad for the artform. i can say that the argument that “BOTY is largely responsible for for the trend toward longer, more artful works featuring characters and plot,” is just plain wrong, maybe even irresponsible itself.

    in the battles and in the theatre, b-boying has always been about artful work featuring characters and plot. character is at the heart of every great dancer. and everytime a b-boy or b-girl steps in, anyone who knows anything sees a beginning, middle and end to a routine–whether freestyled or prepared…

  5. Sugarbread says:

    kim chee dancers unite!

  6. ronnie brown says:

    in America’s so-called love for all things “multicultural” the push to deracinate Hip-Hop’s (like Jazz, and rock and roll before it) African diaspora origins has become par for the course. you say, “sometimes i agree, sometimes i don’t, BUT THE EFFECT CAN BE THE SAME…please elaborate, my friend.

    btw, caught your piece on Brother Obama in the latest Vibe…niceness.

  7. Zentronix says:

    hey brother,

    well as you know we’ve spoken about this a lot.

    i’m simply saying that it’s not a zero-sum thing: all coverage of non-black or non-latino b-boys isn’t necessarily about taking away from coverage of black and latino b-boys or more specifically black and latino pioneers. sometimes it just is what it is, a documentation of what’s going on.

    (the other thing to be really real about is that hip-hop, and b-boying/b-girling is not an exception, has always been about stylistic change and innovation, and not every article needs to have a shout out to the masters or the originators.)

    but if there are a number of pieces moving in that direction based on a false view of history, the additive effect can be to diminish the real story or to amplify a trend away from proper and correct acknowledgment of the roots of this tree. (and i know i don’t need to belabor why this can be a very bad thing.)

    that’s why i did this post and that’s why i know of a number of letters that have been sent this past week to the new york times on this particular…

    thanks for the word!


  8. Ucka says:

    people are sometimes too lazy to search to understand the real and complexe story of a living culture as hip hop. that’s why these type of journalist try to tell a good and simple story with heroes who don’t distub “THERE AUDIENCE”. because for them it’s a show . Looking us trying to make hip hop theater is a show itsel.

    kind of “savage ground-kickers trying to be civilized”.

    it look like those people with good intentions are interested by us but not enough to try to really know who and what we are.

    I’m french dancer and choréographer, Living in paris and the first hiphop theater i saw was in 1991, a french piece named “sobedo”and an other named “ghettoriginal” by the rockesteaddy crew just one year after. In France we got a tradition of Hip hop theater since that. “more than in the Us” like Renny harris said to me one time.I use to see and to do hip hop theater Long time before the “change of direction”in 2000 of the battle of the year.

    Anyway, i understand and i respect the fact that the Boty trying to give a stage education to the B.bOys/B.girls .whatever the virtuosity or the impressive quality of B.boying , the dancers are still deadlocked when they want to live with it ,without distorting themself.The boty, with the Impact it got in the whole of world now, try to give theme EXIT.

    I love your work,man! i just finish your book ” can’t stop won’t stop” and you help me understand better my own culture . thanks a lot brother.


  9. Brother OMi says:

    even my six year old daughter says “not another routine…”

    i feel you CHang… i hate when this happens. i don’t expect the writer to know everything about hip hop but i expect them to do their history….

    what about that joint by GhettOriginal?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Just experienced the sold out “Big Apple Turns to Cider” at NY’s Producer’s Club. It was amazing Hip Hop theater! If you like Hip Hop theater, you will love this. Its playing this weekend and next if you can get tickets.

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