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Hooligans bust down moves in annual breakdancing event

The breaking jam hosted by the Hooligans Breakdancing Club Saturday invited the Charlottesville community to take part in breaking culture

<p>Each team competed against one other with three judges determining who would be moving on to the next round based on criteria such as technique, expression and flow. &nbsp;</p>

Each team competed against one other with three judges determining who would be moving on to the next round based on criteria such as technique, expression and flow.  

A lively combination of dance music, applause and cheers spilled out of the entrance of Observatory Hill Forum Saturday afternoon from The Hooligans Breakdancing Club’s 6th Breaking Grounds event. Community members and students alike were welcome to stop by and watch 27 teams of two compete against each other in a tournament-style competition for a grand prize of $400. 

Doors opened at 3 p.m., with a free entry for University students and a $10 fee for non-University students. Individuals interested in performing were able to sign up at the event, regardless of experience level. Daniel Rothwell, third-year Commerce student and president of Hooligans, says this was a conscious choice of the club. He believes that removing barriers to participation in breakdancing and encouraging diversity are important ways to encourage urban dancing.

“Looking at all the competitors and spectators at Breaking Grounds you’ll notice how diverse the community is coming from different racial and ethnic backgrounds,” Rothwell said. “At a predominantly white institution, I hope Hooligans Breakdance Club can provide a space for people of color to feel heard, safe and welcome.” 

The Hooligans Breakdancing Club was formed with the goal of spreading breaking culture to the wider University community and acting as a welcoming space for individuals to practice and experience different dance genres. 

“The mission of Hooligans is to provide a community for people who are interested in breaking, general dance and hip hop culture,” said Rothwell. “We really emphasize that we accept everyone regardless of prior experience because the community is so much more than just how good you are, it’s about celebrating each other, supporting each other and having fun.”

There were five rounds of the Breaking Grounds competition — a preliminary round of all 27 teams, a top 16 round, a round of the top eight, a final four and then a final round. Each team competed against one other with three judges determining who would be moving on to the next round based on criteria such as technique, expression and flow. 

The judges, going by the stage names of Prolix, Ookie and No Cents, are active members in the Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina breaking communities, respectively, and were chosen for their previous experience as judges in other breaking jams. As described by Derek Wu, fourth-year Engineering student and Hooligans executive member, judges selected for breaking jams, such as Breaking Grounds, have significant influence over the progression of breaking culture as a whole.

“Judging is very subjective,” Wu said. “The judges have different styles, so depending on the judges you choose, they’ll choose a winner with a certain style that will inspire the next generation. So the winners of competitions will inform the next generation's style. That's why, as a jam holder, you have a lot of power in what kind of judges you want to bring in and what kind of style you want to see in the scene.”

Inspiration is another important foundation of the breaking community. Wu describes how individuals are always looking to cultivate their skills through their peers. The jams provide them with a creative and welcoming venue to exchange moves and feedback and spark inspiration.

“In the community, feedback is so important,” Wu said. “People constantly ask, ‘how can I get better?’ And we build off each other in a jam. You show people what you got, and then people are exchanging or talking. A lot of the time, you leave a jam feeling more inspired than before.”

The exchange of culture happens both in and beyond the University. Though many of the teams who performed were involved in Hooligans, several teams were also student representatives from other breakdancing programs around Virginia or were Virginia college alumni in the breaking community. George Mason University’s Breakfamous team, James Madison University’s Kinetix team and Virginia Tech’s Flowmigos team were among some of the other collegiate teams present at Breaking Grounds. Wu believes the state-wide involvement is a testament to the community-centeredness of breaking.

“[Breaking] is so approachable and has some elements that people desire,” Wu said. “It's just engaging, it's fun, it's exercise, you can progress at it, it's inherently community-based and it's just really cool. Whether it's hip hop, rap, breaking or any other type of dance, it is very freeing, and a lot of fun to do.”

Daniel Zhao, second-year College student and member of Hooligans, echoes this sentiment and expresses that the breaking community is a welcoming one and that he’s found mentorship and a close community since joining Hooligans in spring of 2021. 

“Hooligans was the only one of the clubs I joined last spring that was in-person on grounds,” Zhao said. “Daniel Tran, the former VP of the club, held lessons and taught us breaking during that time. He was a big inspiration to us and gave me a sense of community despite times of social distancing.”

Beyond good music, breaking culture takes pride in its origins, history and expanding worldwide popularity. 

“Breaking Grounds increases exposure and awareness to hip hop and breaking culture,” Wu said. “And I think that spreading awareness kind of gives people a more well-rounded perspective of the world and of homegrown culture. Hip hop is about survival, it's about adversity [faced by] poor African-American and Puerto Rican communities in New York. So Breaking Grounds is not the whole thing, but it is a piece, a sneak peek, of what breaking and hip hop culture has to offer.”