Break dancers from all over the world will converge at Miami’s Knight Concert Hall this weekend for “Breakin’ Convention Miami 2017,” which is being billed by promoters as the world’s largest festival of hip-hop dance.
“Hip-hop dance left America and went around the world,” explains the event’s artistic director Jonzi D. “And what we are doing at ‘Breakin’ Convention’ is bringing back to America how the rest of the world has perceived hip-hop dance in the theatrical context. I feel like we’re returning the gift.”
Jonzi D is a hip-hop pioneer in the United Kingdom who started the first “Breakin’ Convention” event in London in 2004. This is the first American tour and has included Charlotte, Denver, Harlem and now Miami.
The East Londoner of Afro-Caribbean descent paints a picture of what attendees will experience at the free block party from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 21: “They are going to see, as they come to the theater, graffiti artists and deejays spinning outside. They’re going to see small circles of dancers freestyling and improvising in the mezzanine area.
“As you go in the theater [for the ticketed evening shows Oct. 20 and 21], you’re going to see a theatrical B-boy and B-girl dance extravaganza — not just breaking, also popping and abstract break dance theater. There will be dancers and crews from South Africa, the U.K., France, L.A. You’re going to see things from around the world and from South Florida.”
One of the champion local crews performing belongs to Sergio Garcia, a 19-year-old who lives in The Roads neighborhood in Miami and owns the Ser-Gym Dance School in Hialeah Gardens.
“[‘Breakin Convention’] hosted a competition, a three-on-three,” says Garcia, recalling a dance battle staged at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in July. “We saw it, me and my crew saw it. Then we won the three-on-three. The winner gets a spot in the theater show.”
Garcia, who says his dance studio is solely for break dancing, describes the intensity of his crew’s performance in context: “Some people don’t really understand what you’re doing. They expect people to dance for 10 minutes straight, and that’s nearly impossible. We do a three-minute show that’s explosive from beginning to end, with two of the best dancers in the world. That’s not bragging. We actually ranked. We’re three and two.”
The Cuban-American, who is the youngest B-boy to be sponsored [by Monster Energy Drink], went on to say that he has been focused on and dedicated to hip-hop dance from an early age.
“I started dancing at 2. Well, not exactly breaking. I was imitating Michael Jackson and whatever I saw on TV. I got into breaking at 13 or 14,” he says. “I was playing basketball, but then I felt that dancing was what I wanted to do. Now I train at 5 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. You got to treat it like a sport. People think it’s an art form, but you have to train like it’s a sport.”
Jonzi D recognizes that Miami’s hip-hop scene is very much on the ascent.
“I’ve been aware of the Miami hip-hop scene for many years now,” he says. “When I was here during the summer, it was amazing. I got a chance to connect with the crews in the region … and what’s interesting is there are a lot of amazing hip-hop artists from around America who have moved to Miami .. .from the west coast, New York. What’s exciting for me is that there’s a strong culture here. People really do live hip-hop.”
In 2011, Jonzi D famously refused the conferment of an honor from Buckingham Palace (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire or MBE) and two years later turned the experience into a critically acclaimed solo theatrical show called “The Letter: To Be, Or To MBE?” The show denounced the bestowment as a legacy of the injustice of empire and colonialism and was one of the first hip-hop influenced shows to tour the United Kingdom. That experience gave Jonzi D’s dancing, miming and mimicry a strong theatrical narrative. But he cautions on how he interprets that word “theater.”
“When I say ‘theater,’ I mean the space,” he explains. “That’s the first meaning, not to be confused with drama. Of course there is drama in it, but we’re not restricted by a particular theatrical form. If anything, with hip-hop in the theater we are reaching out to areas that contemporary dance … has been, particularly with abstract story telling. I think the term ‘theater’ is a lot broader that it sounds. We’re pushing boundaries. We’re breaking conventions actually.”
“Breakin’ Convention Miami 2017” runs Oct. 20-21 at the Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (on the campus of Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts). There is a free block party from noon-6:30 p.m. Oct. 21. Showtimes for the world champion performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $25, $45 and $60. To order, call 305-949-6722 or go to ArshtCenter.org.