Dance crews from Tucson, Gilbert and Mesa won first, second, and third places respectively in the United States championships in the mega-crew division of Hip Hop International, hosted in Phoenix last week, making the Arizona hip-hop dance scene one of the strongest in the country.
More than 100 Arizona dancers in the mega-crew division filled the entire stage in the award ceremony, beaming with pride to chants of “Arizona! Arizona! Arizona!”
The mega-crew division, the most anticipated and hyped event of Hip Hop International, is for crews of 16 to 40 people. The competition showed Arizona’s talent for authentic street styles as well as complicated formations, dazzling choreography, and acrobatics enough to impress any gymnast.
This is the first year that Hip Hop International, which started in 2002, has been hosted in Phoenix. HHI is the largest hip-hip dance competition in the world and drew more than 4,300 dancers from 48 countries. It’s the Olympics of hip-hop.
The winning Arizona mega crews are The Drop (from Tucson, first place), the Elektrolytes (from Gilbert, second place), and the Jukebox Family (from Mesa, third place). The Drop placed ninth in the world championships, which were held Saturday at Grand Canyon University arena.
A fourth Arizona dance crew, the Exiles (from Coolidge) won second place in the division of adult crews (these teams have far fewer people than the mega crews). The Exiles placing so high in the nation was not something the crew expected, says Michael Holmes, 26, a member of the Exiles.
“Arizona dance has always been amazing,” Holmes says. “I'm so proud of each and every team! We have a tight-knit dance community and a healthy competitiveness. We all push each other and at the same time support each other.”
The Exiles are part of the United Dance Studio, which has strong ties to the church REACH USA in Coolidge. Holmes is the youth pastor.
Arizona made history this week by sweeping the United States championships and winning second in adult crews, says Ruben Dorame, owner of Tucson's The Drop Dance Studio, and leader of the The Drop dance crew.
“I would say AZ is pretty ecstatic!” Dorame says.
Crews and individual competitors from Arizona put in an extraordinary amount of work, says Rae Rae Bancod, co-owner of the Jukebox Dance Studio, in Mesa. Bancod competed with the studio’s mega crew the Jukebox Family.
“It fills us with a lot of pride and joy knowing that the work we've put in has gotten us to a higher platform,” she says. “This has given us the opportunity to share our heart and message to a larger audience.”
The crew categories included the divisions of junior, varsity, adult, and mega crew.
The other categories were for individuals of any age in the styles of popping, locking, breaking and duos for "all styles." Several Arizona dancers scored in the top 16 in the world in these categories.
The hip-hop dance scene in Arizona has long been vibrant and rich with ability and authenticity, but rarely gets accolades, save for when the Gilbert dance crew the Elektrolytes won the television show America’s Best Dance Crew in 2012, and won Hip Hop International’s United States adult-crew division in 2011. When the Elektrolytes won America's Best Dance Crew, the Arizona dance community celebrated them, even though competition between dancers is strong and sometimes fierce during dance battles.
“I believe the Arizona street dance scene is really great at supporting each other," Dorame says. “Going to each other's events and recognizing other dancers as they accomplish things.”
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Crews are like families and for members, the community they share is a second home. However, outside support can be lacking. The events the dance community hosts sometimes draw sparse crowds and funding is low.
"I'd love to see more community support from outside sources such as the media or companies to help grow our dance scene," Dorame says. "Having more opportunities through sponsorships or donations would give our dancers much more opportunities to spread our art across many different platforms.”
Dance battles are held almost every weekend throughout the state. To find hip-hop dance events near you, follow the studios mentioned in this article on Facebook or Instragram. Arizona's first dance crew, Furious Styles Crew, also posts events and has a Facebook page for a dance-battle series called Worth the Weight that occurs through the year.
If you missed Hip Hop International this year and want to attend, luck is on your side: The dance competition is coming to Arizona again next year.