A home, a shelter for people.
A children’s game.
A television series.
Soul, funk, dance.
And everything in between.
In lower Harlem in New York City, from July 8-10, in Aaron Davis Hall, dancers from all over the world gathered to showcase, workshop, discuss and compete (“battle”) in the categories of House, Vogue, Experimental and Waacking. This three-day extravaganza, otherwise known as House Dance International (HDI), was dedicated exclusively to the art form of house dance.
Conceived by Executive Director Santiago Freeman, HDI’s mission is to celebrate the different kinds of house dance and the culture and music that surround it. And people from all across the globe, whether it be the West Coast, East Asia or Europe, fly in to spectate, compete and support.
When I arrived at the venue on Saturday, many of the dancers were already gathered in loose circles here and there, warming up with one another. As the music pulsed in the background, those who were watching throbbed along with the bass, taking in the person at the center of the circle, who would dip and rock, sharing and showcasing what he knew. They took turns weaving in and out of the center, never taking too long but also taking their time. Some were warming up on their own, while others mingled, stretching their feet and arms above them, laughing as old friends were recognized and new ones were made.
When it came time, I made my way to the Harlem Stage, where the battles were actually going to take place. I was more accustomed to these kinds of street battles taking place in an open area with a designated dance area where the audience would gather in a circle to watch. As I settled down into my plush seat, I realized that by having the battles on stage, it seemingly elevated the battles to a performance piece.
And it was.
House: Hideki (Japanese) vs. King Charles
We went through the semifinals for House, Experimental, Waacking and Vogue, all of which were judged by Desiree Faltine and Yugson Hawks, Evelyn Santos, Tyrone Proctor and Cesar Valentino, all legendary pioneers in their respective underground street dance. Each had worked extraneously to teach, promote and bring attention and respect to his or her dance form. All of them have had extensive experience working with and on projects that are highly regarded everywhere and boast impressive resumes. Among their achievements include, but are not limited to, founding dance crews and clubs, working as a choreographer on the film Maestro, being a featured dancer on Soul Train, and dancing in music videos and touring with celebrities.
The host himself was no newcomer to this kind of work and dedication. Ejoe Wilson is a notable and highly influential house dancer, one of the best in the world. As he pumped the audience for energy, scolding people for nodding off lest they do so in his presence, he introduced each dancer to the floor and made sure that those who did not qualify for the next round was acknowledged for his hard work.
When quick intermissions were taken, the audience would leap up to their feet and dance up and the aisles, amongst the seats with each other, as once again, the music was brought up a notch or two. The judges would later come down to join the dancing or chat with other dancers.
From 7:30 pm to 2: 00am, dancers came up to face off, each battle getting more and more intense as fewer and fewer dancers were left to battle.
Since my discovery and exploration of dance, I had quickly learned that Asia was a formidable presence in the underground dance scene. Some of the best were from Japan and Korea, which I was amazed to hear. As a child, what I had seen of Asian dancers was not the best; sometimes, it was horribly embarrassing. To me, the choreographed dance I saw for BoA’s hit K-Pop song was awkward and juvenile, nothing compared to Beyonce or Usher’s. But as my research on YouTube expanded, more and more Asian dancers were popping up. When I spoke with my peers, they confirmed it.
Experimental Prelims: Future (Japanese)
Having learned this before my arrival, I was not surprised to see Asian faces that were interspersed among the black and Latino dancers. Many of them had traveled a long, long distance from home to participate in this event. Although most of the dance categories were dominated by non-Asians, each category had a solid number of Asians competing in them, most of whom were respected and had established a name for him or herself.
Waacking: Junko vs. Ebony
It was exhilarating to see Asians among the crowd, excelling at something that was not so rigid and academic as engineering or some science-based discovery. Some of them placed or came very close to placing.
But this wasn’t about what country you were reppin’ or who won the title for this year’s winner in X category of HDI 2010.
This was very much about sharing what you knew, appreciating what you received, and being able to see past an individual’s race, color, ancestry, creed, age, sex or sexual orientation. Here was where we could transcend that and come to speak one language, despite our ethnic or multiracial backgrounds and different upbringings.
We were all speaking the language of House.