Three of hip-hop culture’s four pillars — MCing, DJing and graffiti writing — are alive and well in Asheville. As for B-boying, while it has flourished in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and even Fayetteville, the fourth pillar is largely absent on the local scene.
“It just hasn’t soaked in so much,” says Brett Rock, a local DJ. “If you’re looking to spin fire or do aerial acrobatics or belly dancing, it’s great. And there’s a good bit of formal dance here, but as far as street dance, it hasn’t fully reached this area.”
Hard at work building a foundation, Rock’s friend Joe Adams leads a free B-boy class each Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. at the Stephens Lee Recreation Center for youth of all ages. Out of these sessions rose the Underdog Crew, composed of roughly 20 dancers, most of them around 12 years old.
Though these youngsters’ dedication to street dance bodes well for the future, the current lack of a true hometown squad makes Asheville a good neutral location for the annual Southeast BBoy Championships. Attracting dancers from more saturated markets like California, New York, Florida and Atlanta, the event’s fifth iteration takes place Friday, Sept. 19, and Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Masonic Temple.
“We keep the B-boy championships here because we’re trying to give people in Asheville an opportunity to see that the scene does exist and that it’s worth getting involved in,” says Rock, who produces the event with founder Mike “Frantic Chef” Pelletier — a former professional bass fisher who sold his boat to fund the inaugural edition. “Dancing is good for you no matter what the style. Breaking, popping, locking and the dancing that has come out of those three original styles — there is a healthy scene for it across the country and really worldwide. It’s entertaining to watch, but it’s more fun to do.”
In line with similar jams (a term that dates to New York City park jams in the ’70s when DJs would hook up sound systems and have parties) the battle element of the championships is an open competition where anyone can sign up, regardless of age. Dancers choose from three separate categories — 1 vs. 1 b-boy; 3 vs. 3 b-boy; and 1 vs. 1 all-styles. Battles begin with a preliminary round where the judges see every dancer before they confer on who they want to see in the bracket round.
It’s not unusual for a teen to face off against someone pushing 40. “You sign up, and the best dancer shall win, that’s the bottom line,” Rock says. “We don’t play favorites. Don’t say you’re not good enough to compete with the big guys. Just go in there and have at it.”
Top talent is expected now that the Southeast Championships is the lone U.S. qualifier for the U.K. B-Boy Championships in Birmingham, England held in late October. The winner of the 1 vs. 1 B-boy battle receives a plane ticket and $400 to cover the competitor’s weekend abroad as he or she represents the U.S. on the global level.
“Overseas it’s super spread out,” says Pelletier, now based in Columbia, S.C. “Every region has its own scene, but England is definitely one of the top places. It’s been happening since 1996 — it’s one of those events that’s considered kind of like a world championship.”
Experts and judges at the local event will also lead workshops that cover such styles as breaking, popping (led by Asheville’s own Aquaboogy, who Rock calls “one of the foremost poppers out there”) and hip-hop choreography. Furthering that diversity and inclusivity is the all-styles competition, which aims to give everyone a shot at participating.
“A roomful of B-boys is great, but we don’t want to alienate other street styles,” Rock says. “I would love to see people from Asheville who aren’t street dancers but have studied dance sign up and see what happens. If you want to come out and belly dance, cool. It’s all styles; we’ll take anything.”
No stranger to competition (he B-boyed with Pelletier in Asheville’s now dissolved Hunab Kru), Rock admits that battling can be nerve-wracking at first due to a roomful of people watching each dancer’s moves. But he says the community’s strong mutual respect and passion for dance makes for a friendly, intentional atmosphere. “Once you’re in there and meet some people and see what’s going on, it’s a welcoming environment,” he says. “People want you there and want to network and connect.”
WHAT: Southeast B-Boy Championships, southeastbboy.com
WHERE: Masonic Temple
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 19, 3-11 p.m. (workshops); Saturday, Sept. 20, 1-11 p.m. (competitions). $20 covers all events both days. Ages 10 and under are free