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Breakdance Battle at Parkrose High School


Watching Dance Floor Junkies crew member and Parkrose senior Kiet Tran, foreground, warm-up before the start of Arcane Arts 2: The Apocalypse — a breakdancing competition held last month at Parkrose High School Community Center — are, from left, an unidentified B-Boy, Parkrose SUN Community School site manager; Rob Moore, SUN Breakdancing Program co-coordinator, and fellow crew member Anthony Cha.
While warming up before the competition, Parkrose senior and Dance Floor Junkies crew member Anthony Cha demonstrates an Intro to a Flair, a clean, one-armed handstand done with gymnastics form.
Dance Floor Junkies crew member and Parkrose senior Judah Pitoy does a Jackhammer while warming up for Arcane Arts 2: The Apocalypse. Pitoy is a member of one of four Parkrose breakdancing crews competing for the $500 cash first prize.
After every breakdance battle opposing crews shake hands. Here, winning crew Soul Phase 9, from left, Centennial High School junior Niko Catabay, Amanda Ma, an unidentified member of the Ill Essential crew (hooded) and Centennial senior Chris Mova show their sportsmanship.
Remember midnight basketball? It began decades ago as community leaders and police organizations sought positive activities and alternative outlets to the street life for inner-city African American youth across the country, and here in Portland. It survives, but along with it communities around the country have formalized teen programs within the structure of their cities’ operations and services to taxpayers. Here in Portland, the Parks & Recreation Bureau along with Multnomah County’s Schools Uniting Neighborhoods Community Schools have taken up the challenge to provide meaningful after-school and weekend night and evening programs relevant to today’s youth.

One result, a resurgence of breakdancing in the schools and a competition in the form of Arcane Arts 2: The Apocalypse, a breakdancing battle — not the kind of high school battles you’re used to hearing about these days; this battle had only winners.

Over 500 spectators paid $5 each on a Saturday night last month to watch an all-ages, single-elimination breakdance tournament where 24 five-person teams, or crews, from as far north as Seattle and south as San Francisco competed for a $500 first prize. What for? For the best six-step, headstands, toprock, downrocks, freezes, handstands, windmills, flairs and turtles; basic breakdancing moves.

An individual eight-person “blow-up battle” for a $100 first prize followed the team competition. Blow-up battles are named after breakdance moves that are so outrageous they “blow-up” the crowd into paroxysms of cheering. Crews range in ages from middle school to young adults. This night’s teams were predominantly from high schools.

Yes, it’s true: breakdancing is back, in force.

Breakdance, breaking, b-boying or b-girling is a street dance style that evolved as part of the hip hop movement among African American and Latin American youths in the South Bronx of New York City during the early 1970s.

“We held our first event of this kind last year,” said Trevor Todd, entering his fifth year as Parkrose’s site manager for the SUN Community School. “Over 400 showed up, and it was so successful we wanted to make it an annual event,” he said.

In breakdance battles, crews alternate, one member at a time, and perform individual breakdance moves in routines lasting up to a minute. After each team performs, a winner is judged and the winning crew moves on to the next round until it comes down to the final two crews.

Music is an essential ingredient for breakdancing. The original songs that popularized the dance form borrow significantly from progressive genres of jazz soul, funk, disco, and rhythm and blues. The most common feature of breakdance music exists in “breaks” or compilations formed from samples taken from different songs which are then looped and chained together by the DJ. In other words, it’s loud, has lots of bass and if you don’t like it you are too old anyway. DJ Sugarman from Arizona mixed the music at the Parkrose event.

This competition is part of PP&R’s teen programming initiative, offering programs that engage teens in activities that not only build skills and talents, but also promote self-esteem. In January 2007, PP&R received special funding from the City Council to open community centers around the city for special Friday and Saturday evening hours and to provide supervised activities for youth and teens. Hours were also extended for the SUN Community Schools programs.

“We’ve got local breakdance and music celebrities judging the crews’ performances,” Todd said. Other breakdance battles have been hosted at Portland State University and Reed College, Todd said. “We’re becoming a breakdancing hub out here.”

Why Parkrose? The short answer is because its breakdancing program has been around five years. Back then Parkrose Middle School students expressed interest to Todd in learning how. They grew into high school students and the program began attracting students from other Mid-county schools, necessitating Todd to find a permanent breakdancing instructor — enter the night’s Master of Ceremonies and Arcane Arts 2 promoter Rob Moore. A 22-year-old Portland State University student, Moore is also breakdancing program co-coordinator and instructor at Parkrose SUN Community School.
The SUN school offers breakdancing instruction and practice space for youth and young adults. The school regularly sees 30-50 dancers, mostly Asian, at the three weekly sessions, which include two for youth and teens, with a new session recently added for young adults out of high school. Drawing breakdancers from Parkrose, David Douglas, Centennial, Clackamas, Reynolds, Madison and Benson high schools, this program succeeds on many levels. It has engendered the start-up of like programs at Reynolds and at East Portland Community Center.

This isn’t quite the same breakdancing from the 70s, however.

“The media went, you know, kind of went off on it and breakdancing went underground in the late 80s and from there it evolved exponentially,” Moore said. “The dance is completely different now; it’s all the same moves, but you have to do everything to a beat. It’s so much more difficult now.”

Moore named the event Arcane Arts because today’s practitioners consider the breakdancing art form arcane.

Parkrose senior Judah Pitoy has been breakdancing since he was a sophomore, and it has become a passionate hobby for him. “I spend most of my spare time now practicing. Breakdancing is kind of an underground network where everyone seems to get along,” Pitoy said. “It (the weekly SUN Community Schools breakdancing class) makes meeting people from different schools easier because we all have it in common.”

In addition to checking out the newest and most creative dance steps, participating teams consider breakdancing competitions as social venues. Todd explained, “They wouldn’t call it ‘networking,’ but that’s what it is for them. They get to see what moves the other teams have put together.”

The crowd was a nice, non-threatening mix of breakdancing fans, parents and participants that thoroughly enjoyed the show.

On this night Massive Knuckle Force, one of many Seattle crews present, won the team prize besting the Hooked on Rhythmic Motions crew in the finals. A member of Massive Knuckle Force, Kareem Gwinn, won the $100 individual first prize in the blow-up battle.
To learn more about SUN Community Schools, visit

To find out about the SUN Community School offerings at Parkrose, contact Trevor Todd at 503-408-2640.
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