The first ever ‘Freestyle Session’ Australian Qualifier held at the ADT’s studio attracted more than 500 people (dancers and onlookers) in what turned out to be an action-packed day showcasing some the country’s best B-Boys and B-girls. Crews from around the nation traveled to Adelaide to battle it out for a chance to represent their crew and country at the ‘Freestyle Session’ International finals in Japan. ‘Freestyle Session’ is one of the world’s best and most respected Breaking events.
Freestyle Session Australian Qualifier
126 Belair Rd, Hawthorn SA
Saturday 2 Feb 2013
On entering the ballroom I’m swept up by the sounds of DJ Peanut (Massive Monkeys USA), Antonio Delorean (Funk Hustlers/Adelaide) and Madcap (Adelaide) kicking it out on the ‘wheels of steel’. Not even the noise complaint from one disgruntled local resident was going to deter these guys. Their music is classic funk, soul and rock from artists such as Jimmy Castro, Incredible Bango Band, Average White Band, Aretha Franklin and James Brown (just to name a few). Organiser Poe One said, “We dance to revolutionary music that has a big message in it – it makes the soul come out.”
The air was thick with hyped-up energy and sheer determination. A sea of literally hundreds of dancers of different age groups (pre-teen to adult) are all going through their paces; the young ones learning new tricks from the older ones and the more experienced B-Boys are practicing signature breaking moves in preparation for the heats. I even spot a young woman with a disability on the dance floor trying in on. She seems engulfed by this dance explosion as much as anyone.
Their dance vocabulary stems from the late 1960’s when the Hustle was the big dance style of the day. The tradition of dance battle was already in full swing when James Brown’s ‘The Good Foot’ became popular around the world. Dancers would gather at places like Harlem World on 116th Street in Harlem New York City and Battle-dancewise. Among those for whom old-style Breaking was especially popular were many of the youths and street gangs that roamed the South Bronx. And it was in those streets that Breakdancing really started. Often, the best Breakers in opposing gangs would battle dance wise instead of fighting. They would battle over turf. Or because someone stepped on someone else’s shoes. The battle might prove that their gang was better than the other gang. Sometimes they would make a contract that the loser would not go around to the winner’s neighborhood anymore. Sometimes they battled just to gain each other’s respect. Although not always peaceful, these days battles have mostly replaced fighting.
Immersed amongst the bystanders I’m constantly mesmerised by each of the dancer’s skills. They have the athleticism and physical virtuosity matching that of an Olympian gymnast. They have the durability of a marathon runner and in my mind I compare them to some of Gary Stewart’s dancers, the difference being that their sophistication and dance tricks appear at times to be much more complicated and they seem to have absolutely no fear. Standing with Larissa McGowan (ex-ADT dancer) I notice she too is impressed and we fling back and forth equally encouraging comments about just how good these guys are.
They drop, contort and scrunch, slide, spin, hinge, fold and thread their limbs under and around their backs, arms and legs, sometimes pausing airborne in a way a martial artist is captured in a still photograph. Their interpretation of the music is also a key element of their free styling and (I suspect) adds a quality to what the judges are looking for in this extremely tough competition.
Chris ‘Cros1’ Wright (USA – creator of Freestyle Session), Rush (Australia – Fresh Sox MZK, $7) and from Switzerland, Tuffkid are judging the battles. They sit on one side of the dance floor directly below the decks, while the audience crowds closely around them to form a circle leaving the dancers a space to dance no bigger than your family room.
43 crews from across Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia battle it out to the sounds of …. on the decks in (sometimes cheeky) groups of threes, alternating turns from each crew member to include 6 freestyle dances. The object (it seems) is to out-do, out-perform, out-trick and intimidate each other with the latest physical aerodynamics and skillfulness I’ve never witnessed this close up before. Some of the crews include Wickedness, Groove Juice, Common Ground Juice, Hyper Consciousness, Zou Rock – Ippy, Edit, Natty, Rhythm Kidz – J-rock, Lil j and Denim, Kidz with Rhythm – R.V, Harsh, Hewe-ee, Deliverance, Rhythm Rockerz – Flyin Foxy, Trouble and Will, Top Kidz – Dai, Spencer and Tito, Victoria Secret Crew, concrete thieves from perth – Cheeky, Stuicide and Keenan, Common Ground, Freak Elites / The Bronx Boys – TNT, Moon and Sho-Gun, Freak Elites + – Will the Thrill, Turtleroc and ChickP, Two Japanese and a Vietnamese, Fresh Fools – Alex, Carlos and Mikey, Juse Crew – Patson, Dayong and Khaly, 143 Liverpool Street – j~One, Sammy Sex and Mighty Duc, Hybrid Consciousness – Cole, Red and The one and only Taz, Suspended Styles – Chev, Emad and Eska, Kings Only – Tofu, Brush and B-Rock, SKB-Don, SKV2, Number One Handsome Men – Beast, Sweetface, and ZRMF, Hong Kong BoY – Lok.A.Lok , T and Lil Sun, Yung1z – Wally, Brian and Joey, Zealous – Vinnie, Christian and Jot, ALL CONSCIOUSNESS CREW – Scot Doo Rok, Junya + ?, Naacals – Katsu, NASA and Yayo, Real Art Work – Hideboo, Willastr8 and TBC, Jurrasick Flow – Def Wonder, Kar2n and Kreacha, BURNtroops TBB – Jacob, Scar and Crack, Original Manners, Knock Out Breakers – Dreaded, Kaiskee and Kid Kong, Madcap, Burn Squad – Banks, Kidz and Hachi, Burn Squad Box Terrorists – Ipskee, Street and Royale, the hood kidz from the pilbrah – Torre, Jordan and Josh, Flava Wave – Cat, Damus and Tom, NO BOUNDARIES CREW – Lil Lei, Jam-It and Lil Will, BURN FREAKS – Treble-saurus, B+ and Ray Money, AFOO – Strong Clance, The Chief and ???, 143 brothers and sisters, and Original Menace.
With Poe One on the mic with Mistery giving it up for the crews with the occasional, “Lets hear some noise”, the crowd swarms around the dancers in close up fashion. When the battle is over the music stops, the judges decide and the crowd counts to three – the winning crews are decided with judges pointing to the side that outdid the other. If they can’t decide a judge crosses his forearms in front of his chest forming a letter X. The music plays on and they simply go in for another battle and repeat the process.
During the breaks of the semi-finals the B-boys and girls cheer, holler, clap and collectively encourage each other in a small circle just big enough to swing a cat. These seem to appear out of the blue just as quick and easy as they can disappear. One minute there’s a lone dancer going over some tricks and within a moment they’re surrounded by both guys and girls wanting to get in on the act. At times there can be several circles happening at the same time spread out across the ballroom floor.
I get a sense that this community is tight – they’re connected through the culture, the music, the fashion and the dance and none of this seems to exist without the other. As an outsider, it seems anything goes, just as long as it’s impressive. They wear Hawaiian dress shirts, skivvies and oversized t-shirts, baggy pants, tight jeans, boardies and long socks, baseball caps, bandannas and beanies and everyone wears some kind of fashionable trainer. There’s definitely an American influence in all of this and the ‘look’ (of course) seems to be a major component.
Amongst the onlookers I spot Gary Stewart (artistic director, Australian Dance Theatre) who seems just as impressed as I am by the knee and head spins, baby freeze and hollowbacks, belly swim, L-kick (Aú Batido: a kick also seen in Capoeira), boomerang flips, rabbits, helicopters, one-handed balances, head slides, back flips, suicide corkscrew, lunar eclipse, flying saucers, coffee grinder and rockets. When their combination of moves are occasionally performed in unison, I get a glimpse of the possibilities Gary might be seeing from a choreographic perspective. I wonder if he approached any of the dancers to invite them to spend time with the company when they return from their European tour. There is a lot of talent in this room.
Unlike any sport or game I’ve ever played, there is a healthy level of competitiveness in this dance culture. The usual bitchiness that I’ve experienced in other dance circles doesn’t seem to be apparent, at least I don’t sense it. Perhaps this kind of attitude is broken down because here the boys and men outnumber the girls. I’m sure there is a different version of this depending how deeply I investigate, but I wonder what everyone thinks of the puffed up peacock that struts and paces like a vicious animal about to attack his prey? It seems odd when the other dancers are much more jovial about their ‘battle’. Perhaps it goes back to the Bronx where protecting ‘turf’ was more important and a tougher gig to uphold, but this is Adelaide, in the Wonderland Ballroom.
As the competition unfolded, seemingly from out of nowhere these guys pulled out more and more impressive moves and I sensed the competition really heated up in the final between Nacaals (Melbourne) and The Wickedist (Brisbane). A trip to Japan in November this year was on the line.
Richard Seidel, one of the original B-Boys in Adelaide who supported this event with a cool $5000 cash sponsorship courtesy of Country Arts SA, received thanks and gratitude with a plaque. “Everyone’s a winner”, said Poe One “because we ‘re in this together, but there can only be one crew selected to represent the country.” The DJ played a version of the drum roll on the decks…. the winners, the Melbourne-based crew Naacals (Katsu,Yayo and Nasa). Poe One will travel to Japan with Naacals to support them on tour. Katsu, Yayo and Nasa will be battling against the top crews from 8 other countries including Japan. This means the top 8 crews that are picked from Japan will be battling the top 8 other countries until there is just one crew standing as the winners of “Freestyle Session” Finals.
The very first Freestyle Session Australian Qualifier marks an historical event for dance in this country and with the national curriculum coming into place very soon, I expect to see many of these crews traveling across the country visiting schools to demonstrate and teach young students. It’s easy to relate to why this dance genre is so popular and the young ones especially seem to go nuts for it.
“We have incredible talent here in Australia within our Breaking community and I am working hard to get this scene recognised on an international level. We want to take the world by storm at all the major Breaking events around the globe”, said Poe One. He adds, “The Breaking scene will continue to grow and be more recognised by the higher arts as an art form in itself that has its vocabulary, structure and foundation and will be taken more seriously within the non-Breaking community.”