This weekend I went to House Dance Conference Bay Area, a three day celebration of the art of house dancing. Sponsored by MVMT Dance Studio in Berkeley, the event featured competitions, dance parties and dance classes. Best of all, it was completely free!
I've been to a number of different kinds of dance weekends, from swing to hip-hop to folk dancing. The House Dance Conference really brought home to me the values of community, sharing and joyful expression that the house dance movement is known for. Everyone from toddlers to grey-haired dancers shared the same space. And the gender balance, while male-dominated, featured lots of powerful female dancers in the mix all weekend.
Here's some of what I learned at the House Dance Conference:
1. A Round of Competition Can Last for an Hour (or Longer)
One highlight of the weekend for me was the "Abyss" house dance competition that took place most of Saturday day and evening. Thirty-some dancers entered the contest, with a series of 1-on-1 battles for the preliminary rounds. From that pool, 18 were selected for a final, epic, one hour continuous cypher / dance circle.
My brain exploded with all of the amazing dancing that I saw on display. As a newbie to house, it was hard for me to distinguish merely good from amazing, but the other spectators helped me to spot the stand-outs. One female dancer had incredible body control, mixing in popping with her house. Another had expressive and smooth floorwork that I've never seen before. Some mixed in wacking, b-boying, african, and many other influences that I don't even know.
It was cool seeing my house teacher Shinobi Jaxx in the comp, doing her thing. Shinobi has such great lines and perfect control, she's always a joy to watch.
2. Judging Is Done by the Competitors
Here's the rules of how the competition was judged:
The 12 finalists will choose a winner amongst themselves. Each dancer will have one vote, but cannot vote for himself/herself.
The dancer with a majority of the votes will be the winner.
Should there be a tie(s), those receiving the highest number of votes will be given a chance to concede to the dancer(s) that they believe is the winner. If the dancers choose to continue, they will return to the cypher for an additional 30 minutes or the final exchange. During this final exchange, all dancers have the right to concede and proclaim the opponent(s) the winner. If no one concedes during or after the final exchange, the Advisory Committee will choose a winner from those remaining, based on technique, musicality, originality and artistry.
Did you read that? The winner is chosen by CONCESSION.
In the event of a tie, two competitors go another round, and themselves decide who the winner is by one of them conceding that the other one did better. That's an incredible way to decide a tie-breaker!
Here's the semi-finals of HDC 2009 featuring Tsunami versus Richie.
3. New Style Hustle is a Thing
There were a few couples dancing together at the party on Saturday, doing a style I didn't recognize. I asked my friend Shawn what they were doing. That's the New Style Hustle," he said. It's basically a blend of the Hustle with House and other street styles.
Apparently you can learn New Style Hustle with others once a week in Berkeley at MVMT Studios.
4. When House Dancers Put Talcum Powder on the Floor, it's ON
Late in the evening on Saturday, a couple of dancers brought out talcum powder and started spreading it around the floor. It was getting hot and sticky in there, so the dancers all gravitated to the powder to make their shoes slip better.
Afterwards, the cyphers blew up with more slidey goodness.
5. Cyphering is Inspiring and Intimidating
A cypher is a circle of dancers where typically one person at a time goes in the middle and shows their stuff. At a house dance party, generally there can be one or more cyphers going on at a time. Since house dance can be acrobatic and take up a lot of space, it makes sense that it's often done in a cypher, since everyone flailing away might just kill somebody.
I've been working on building up my confidence in going out in cyphers and jams on a regular basis. Early in the evening at the Saturday party, I did a little cyphering with the few house dancers who were there. It felt good and casual, just messing around to the music.
But as the evening wore on, the room became packed with awesome house dancers. My 3-4 moves felt lame in comparison to the epic-ness happening in the cyphers. I did go out a couple more times, but it was pretty intimidating.
Here's some footage of a cypher in Oakland a few years ago.
6. House Dance Is About Being / Finding Yourself
More than any other dance I have done, house dance seems to have an enormous range of expression and movement and character. While there are fundamentals that most house dancers do (the jack, the farmer, the skate), there's also so many other influences that come into the dance from salsa to breaking to jazz. In the end, a house dancer aims to find her own niche and style, and not just imitate their teachers or videos.
On the last day, Junious Brickhouse, a house dance icon from DC, summarized what every house dancer faces when they step on the dance floor. "What is your dance purpose?" Junious asked us. "Cause there must be some reason why you are spending five hours today in this hot studio learning this dance." He explained that what was important when entering a cypher, a battle, or a competition is knowing what your purpose is, and connecting with the people around you.
It was a challenging question, and one that I keep trying to answer for myself. Here's what I summarize as my dance purpose:
My dance purpose is to access my truest self. To feel alive. To be seen. To forget about time. To be connected to other people without the complications of words or negotiations.
My challenge is to not collapse into myself when I dance, but to connect with others in the midst of the dance. As Brickhouse advises, acknowledge others, then make them go away, and just do your dance.
House dance is definitely helping me on the path, and connecting me with others who inspire me.
Thanks, CoFlo and the rest of the HDC organizers for making this weekend possible! If you want help finding your own dance, MVMT Studios in Berkeley features a number of different street styles, from house to breaking, capoeira and contemporary. Hit them up at http://www.mvmnt.co.
Photo Credit: Oren Ferrari