Arts & Culture

Hip-hop jam showcases break dance movement

Contributing Writer
Sunday, November 6, 2011

Corrections appended.

Where can you find some good clean fun that appeals to the whole family, even a whole community? The last place you might look is a hip-hop jam like PROOV, an event hosted by Phi Kappa Psi and Ground Breakin’, Brown’s break dancing club, on Saturday night.

“You really want people with no experience in hip-hop to show up and learn what it really is all about. … You’d be surprised to see families — full on families — just hanging out there. People don’t expect that the first time,” said Sam Rosenfeld ’12, member of Ground Breakin’ and an editorial cartoonist for The Herald.

Saturday saw the auditorium in Alumnae Hall flooded with people of all ages, grooving to the music. Even the youngest attendees showed off their skills — a young boy, no more than three- or four-years old, spent the night hamming it up for the crowd. Gleefully dancing his heart out to Eric B. and Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat the Technique,” he was welcome on the dance floor, the older boys cheering him on and making sure he was a safe distance from other performers’ kicking feet.

“This event is first and foremost community-centered,” said Pierre Arreola ’13, president of Ground Breakin’ and the chief organizer of the event. Arreola said this year he worked hard to reach out to the entire New England hip-hop community and also brought in two of his friends from Los Angeles. He hopes to show Brown that hip-hop is something with universal appeal — and in the process erase some preconceptions about the genre, he said.

“It’s a real socially inclusive environment in that, regardless of race, ethnicity, regardless of disability or ability, everyone is given the same amount of respect,” Arreola said.   

The mosaic population at the event was proof positive, and it was hard to ignore the handshakes, hugs and happy reunions that were taking place all around the room.

Alfonzo “Megatron” Hunt, a big name in underground hip-hop, came down from Boston to judge the event. “The message that (Arreola’s) sending here at Brown is whether you’re an Ivy Leaguer or someone who grew up in the hood, dance is all the same,” he said.

But Arreola also said PROOV represents an effort to bring more of hip-hop’s diverse forms together. Aside from break dancers — otherwise known as b-boys and b-girls — PROOV hosted DJs, masters of ceremony and live graffiti artists from Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design. DJ Rox Swift and DJ Dynamik provided the beats throughout the night, and Rosenfeld’s jam band Sweet Beat Street also performed.

“We hope to inspire youth to look at these art forms and really find their own determinism, find their own path within hip-hop,” Arreola said.  

This year’s dancers had a chance to show off their skills in a Bonnie-and-Clyde all-style battle, where pairs of one b-boy and one b-girl performed for judges Hunt, Jennifer “Lady Beast” Viaud and Lorenzo “Devious” Chapman. Billy Perez and his partner, Mari Del Rosario Maria, said Bonnie-and-Clyde battles are a way to promote equality between male and female break dancers and to demonstrate that there should not be differences in how men and women are expected to dance. Competitors also included America’s Best Dance Crew’s Phillip “Pacman” Chbeeb and Dzajna “Jaja” Vankova, representing their crew, I.aM.mE.

Later on, b-boys competed in a one-on-one battle, also judged by dancers Donnie “Keebla123” Senna and Eddie Ed.  

During the battle, the crowd stood cheering as dancers jerked in carefully orchestrated sequences of abrupt halts and freeze frames, creating elegant architecture with their bodies. They provoked whoops of admiration as they jolted back into a smooth, fluid glide, some tipping their bodies to the floor to balance artfully on one arm. Other dancers wowed the audience by driving their bodies into rapid tremors, vibrating with the deep beat of the music.  

Kelvin “Poppin Groove” Romero, part of Providence’s All City Rockers dance crew, said he loves dancing just for the feel of moving to the music. But he also said hip-hop is a way to keep himself out of trouble.

To cynical ears, Romero’s statement seems suspiciously like a line from an after-school special. But in truth, his experience speaks to hip-hop’s authentic history as a movement for social change.

“Hip-hop is not fully represented at Brown as the powerful social movement that it is in the world and in Providence,” Rosenfeld said. He detailed the origins of hip-hop in 1970s New York City, where reformed gang members used it as a way to express themselves creatively. For them, it was a way to escape the adverse circumstances of low-income urban environments, he said.

Both Rosenfeld and Arreola got a chance to teach last summer as well, thanks to a Royce Fellowship. They worked in Los Angeles with the group the GR818ERS, holding dance, music and art classes for kids as part of a gang reduction program that received recognition from the California State Legislature, Rosenfeld said.

He wants to continue those efforts now that he has returned to the East Coast, he said. Having events like PROOV at Brown helps the hip-hop community see that a major academic institution is interested in their movement. A portion of the proceeds from the event went to fund the purchase of safety equipment for Studio 360, a hip-hop community center in Providence.  

Arreola said hosting these events is not easy. Contemporary artists whose music promotes violence, objectification of women and drug use have created a stigma preventing people from understanding hip-hop’s original purpose, he said.

“If you listen to any of the classics, like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa … they were talking about using hip-hop as a way to escape drug use and to escape violence,” Rosenfeld said.

Arreola and Rosenfeld both said they would like to see hip-hop bring Brown closer to the community at large. “We believe that there’s a fundamental misunderstanding between people of different socioeconomic classes, of different races,” Rosenfeld said, “Hip-hop brings everyone together — real hip-hop.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to a participant in the event as Sam Rosenberg and the name of a group as G818ers. In fact, the participant’s name is Sam Rosenfeld ’12, and the name of the group is GR818ERS. The Herald regrets the errors.