Breakin’ Convention: Healing Charlotte through Hip-Hop

By Kallan Louis

October 2, 2016

Back for the second consecutive year, Breakin’ Convention brought the noise to Uptown Charlotte this past weekend. But don’t let the name fool you, the two-day event is not just about b-boys and girls. In addition to street performers, dance and graffiti art workshops, a portion of the street near Spirit Square was blocked off for other activities, turning the surrounding area into a haven for hip-hop enthusiasts. I was at Knight Theater to catch the featured performances on the main stage Saturday night and I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of it. More importantly, the diversity of the dancers themselves, their performances and messages were welcomed images for a city trying to heal.

The hosts, Jonzi D, Artist Director of Breakin’ Convention, and Bluz, local spoken word and slam poet, tried to hype up the crowd to start the show with a sing-a-long of Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy nominated track “Alright.” Unfortunately, it fell flat as they asked for participation from the moderately sized audience of mostly kids and their parents. I saw the hosts’ intent. This was the first weekend since Charlotte officials lifted the curfew following turbulent riots and peaceful protests surrounding the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott. 

As for the show, there were a total of eight performances. Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights):

Nu Paradigm took us time traveling as its routine; The 40’s Rebooted introduced us to its interpretation of how hip-hop and street dance would look like in the 1940s. Personally, I needed something more hype and less theatrically themed as the opening act. And honestly, I don’t want to imagine hip-hop fused with 1940s swing. 

Familia Vongola Dance Company was probably the first crew of the evening to really get the audience’s attention. The dynamic street dancers from Charlotte had high energy and a number of stunts.

The last group before intermission was the first from a different country. Pro-Motion, from the United Kingdom, had the most interactive performance of the evening and was one of my favorite. The all-male crew of popping dancers from across the pond had a few funny interludes and involved the crowd.

During the 45-minute intermission, dance cyphers took place in the main lobby accompanied by DJs while local radio personality Matthew “Chewy” Torres emceed. Those not brave or experienced enough to get in the mix, watched from the stairs or balcony above. Others wandered the lobby admiring the work of artists selected to painted murals placed on the pillars. Many of the images portrayed themes related to unity, peace and justice including local artist Bree Stalling’s, “The New Face of Queen Charlotte.” It was her take of the matriarch clothed in a kimono consisting of the three flags: the United States, Black Lives Matter and a rainbow flag representing the LGBT community. Outside, you could grab a bite from one of the food trucks or hang out under the tents and listen to local female DJ, Fannie Mae spin.

Jonzi D experienced an intimate moment on stage as his wife, Jane Sekonya-John, as she performed a moving and timely routine he directed entitled Spoti, a South African slang term for fisherman’s hat. In the piece, Jane, who is from Johannesburg, South Africa, plays an African woman recalling a childhood tragedy and how it scarred her physically and emotionally. Many elements of hip-hop dance are derived from African culture – as presented in Spoti.  

The most interesting performance of the evening came from Canada’s Tentacle Tribe. The eclectic duo performed what they call “conceptual hip-hop” or “deconstructed street dance”…whoa. Their moves were fluid, graceful and complementary. They fused breakdance, contemporary and possibly a little ballet. It was by far the longest performance but that was ok because I was fully engaged. It was almost hypnotizing at times.

It would be hard to dispute that they saved the best for last. Just Dance Productions, a b-boy crew from South Korea was outstanding. Their music selection and moves were a marriage of hip-hop culture with their South Korean heritage. They wore masks on their faces, similarly to internationally acclaimed crew Jabbawockeez, except Just Dance Production’s masks were Asian-themed. The group’s performance was complex, agile, strong and full of energy.

Somewhat disappointing was the fact that it wasn’t a packed house. Hopefully next year, the momentum builds and Charlotteans further support the event, and those who do attend, come out with more energy. 

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