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Hip Hop International keeps the world (head)spinning

Hip Hop International crowns world dance champions in Las Vegas and the Royal Family takes the next step
Hip hop dance pioneer Don 'Campbellock' Campbell imparts wisdom as champions are crowned in Las Vegas

Hip-hop dance is not going global -- it's been global for years, and the evidence was once again presented at the recent Hip Hop International's USA and World Hip Hop Dance Championships and World Battles in Las Vegas.

The global reach was evident not only in the winners of the major world dance crew competitions (Japan in the Varsity division, Canada in the Adult division, Philippines in the Megacrew division), but also by the fact that a dominant team, New Zealand's the Royal Family, was so popular that it had a special performance Saturday night.

The Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa played host to the weeklong competition, and the Orleans Arena -- holding more than 5,700 permanent seats -- was used for the finals. There were large and vocal contingents from Canada and Philippines -- each had multiple crews in the world finals. When the dust cleared from the world crew battles, junior crew Freshh 2.0 (Canada), varsity crew J.B. Star Varsity (Japan), adult crew Brotherhood (Canada) and megacrew A-Team (Philippines) took home gold medals.

In the USA section of the championships, some unconventional crews were singled out. The megacrew gold medalist was Chapkis Dance Family from Suisun, Calif.; the adult division was won by the Ecsntrcs (Covina); the varsity crown was taken by Prophecy (Suisun, Calif.); and the junior category was topped by Chapkidz (Suisun, Calif).

The specialized world dance battles, mainly featuring 1-on-1 contests, though this year the all-styles contests spotlighted 2-on-2s, featured some U.S. dominance. Joe Stylez (locking), Slim Boogie (popping), the Diss (breaking) and Furious Styles (all-style) won the world's best titles in their respective disciplines.

Despite U.S. dancers winning the individual titles, it was easy to see the influence these old-school dances have on the world. So much so that the creator of locking, Don "Campbellock" Campbell, recognized a Russian teenager, Igor Solovyo, as the dancer who most exemplified his dancing spirit during the locking competition.

"It's wonderful to see that in America, we can give so much that it touches kids in Russia. I told him that he needed to get a bit more funky music to dance to. He's got it, but now he needs to have the feel of James Brown.... This guy's all the way across the world. They just need to get around the music. Get the funk. They have the spirit and the heart."

Campbell was a star at the event, being stopped constantly for photos, well-wishes and by those who had to tell him the story of how they discovered locking and how his dancing style changed their lives. The 63-year-old reflected on his influence.

"As we get older, you just know that your time is up [as a dancer] and you just keep rolling. You might be able to get up there and do five seconds like James Brown, and that's enough. We have our time, and we go on, but we keep pushing those kids cause that's what it's all about. Do the best that we can while we're here, and leave a good, positive message for the kids."

That message seemed to be manifested in the festivities. Hip-hop legends Toni Basil and "Boogaloo" Sam Solomon walked among dancers from far-flung places like Zimbabwe and Kyrgyzstan doling out messages of encouragement.

Kate Hansen, the U.S. Olympian luge athlete who captured the world's attention with her dance moves in Sochi, also encouraged and praised the participants while watching giddily transfixed and excited as crews competed.

With so much competitive fire in the area -- impromptu dance battles often broke out -- it was easy to forget that there were also classes being taught by some of the industry's top choreographers and auditions for Cirque du Soleil being conducted as well.

Lastly, speaking of top choreographers, Parris Goebel brought her crew the Royal Family back to Vegas, but in an out-of-competition mode. Like Oprah when she pulled herself out of daytime Emmy consideration after winning so many, the Family stopped competing in HHI battles, though they mentored others from New Zealand. Instead, the megacrew presented a stage show -- "Parris Goebel Presents Skulls and Crowns: A Royal Invasion" -- that featured many of the crew's great routines plus a few narrative dance pieces thrown in.

Like the Jabberwockeez, who were coincidently playing their own show on the Vegas Strip nearby, the Royal Family seems on the cusp of achieving what most of the dancers competing are aspiring to accomplish: Not just to be professionals, but standalone dancers/acts. Campbell hoped that that was the goal of anyone in the HHI event.

"The main thing is that, I hope they stay free. I hope they do it themselves. I hope they keep creating and become front-row center dancers and not just somebody's back-up.  I think that's special and it's something all freestyle dancers need to keep."

Next year's world championships will be held in San Diego.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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