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Street Beat is popping, locking, and breakdancing its way to the Rochester Fringe Festival for the seventh year, on Sept. 24 at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The annual dance-off invites crews of three to compete in preliminary trials leading up to bracket-style dance battles.
Street Beat allows fresh talent to shine while immersing the audience in the western and central New York hip-hop scene. While the Rochester hip-hop scene is a bit underground, that doesn’t mean it’s small or lacking in skilled performers, says Street Beat organizer Will Young. Having danced in Rochester for more than 13 years, he is currently an adjunct dance instructor at University of Rochester. Young is primarily a B-boy, meaning he dances in breakdance style — one of the many styles seen at Street Beat.
“We call it an all-styles event, which means that any style is open to enter,” Young said. “One year, we had a salsa team enter, just for kicks, and they did great. And we still have the krumpers and the hip-hop dancers as well. So you never know what you'll see.”
Emceeing this year's event is Ben Ortiz, aka DJ ha-MEEN. Ortiz has worked with Street Beat since its first year. Originally from Detroit, Ortiz is based in Ithaca and has been DJing professionally for over a decade. He said the real magic of Street Beat is when a dancer is inspired by music they don’t typically dance to and subsequently does something creative and unexpected.
“The DJ has a wide variety of music to use to create the sonic tapestry of the day,” Ortiz said. “What appeals to and motivates dancers who specialize in one style of dance may have a different effect on practitioners of other styles.”
Local crews like Roc City Krump come out each year and represent Rochester, but many crews come from throughout upstate New York. Last year’s winner, T.E.I.N, is based in Buffalo. Crew member James Levy Jr. is returning this year as a judge. He is a dancer, teacher, and performer who competes in a variety of styles including hip-hop and funk. His advice for this year’s talent? “Be present. Be genuine. Be patient.”
“I know it's not easy to be patient,” Levy said. “I remember my first time, I was very anxious, rushing and just all over the place. But being able to take a breath and have that understanding of why you dance in the first place be your foundation of what centers you. And remember while you're trying your best, to have fun as well.”
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- T.E.I.N.'s Rishone Todd performs as fellow crew member James Levy Jr. (right) looks on.
T.E.I.N member Rishone Todd said that part of his success with Street Beat was a combination of staying true to himself and his culture. Todd grew up in Jamaica and learned dancehall, a style of music and dance that originated there in the 1970s. He said he appreciates that Street Beat is a fusion of so many different styles and cultures.
“It is a microcosm of the entire culture,” Todd said. “It's so rich, everyone has a positive energy. It's a community that's welcoming to everyone. It's just a reflection of what the world should be.”
Audience members are encouraged to hype up the dancers and show off their own moves between rounds. Levy said there is a big party atmosphere in which everyone is there to have a good time and celebrate hip-hop culture.
“It's just an extension of Black and brown communities and Black and brown art forms that are continuing to grow and have voices amplified,” Levy said. “And I think it is just another continuation and even higher level of that. At the end of the day, it's all love.”
Fringe Street Beat will be held at Martin Luther King Jr. Park at Manhattan Square on Sept. 24. Preliminary rounds run from 5 to 7:30 p.m., with finals following from 8 to 9:30 p.m. The event is free.
This story is part of CITY's parnership with the students of S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications' Goldring Arts Journalism program at Syracuse University.