Rords of the Froor brings a drunk breakdancing battle to Oakland
on September 13, 2011
“Shot! Shot! Shot!” With fists raised in the air, the crowd at the New Parish club in downtown Oakland urged their fellow clubgoers to down a small glass of whiskey before hitting the dance floor. It was the first time the Seattle-based dance battle called “Rords of the Froor” had come to the Bay Area and a sign on the door spelled out the goal of the evening: “Drunk Break Dancing Competition.”
Professional dancers and Bay Area natives Seth Martinez and Cody Smith, who goes by the name Co FLO, both members of Seattle’s Circle of Fire breakdance crew, started organizing the Rords battles in 2003. Their mission is to get people — who might otherwise be too afraid or shy — to dance thanks to an encouraging crowd and the inhibition-lowering powers of alcohol. “What’s great is you can’t go to a battle and expect this kind of vibe,” said b-girl Jennilee Gomez, who has been breaking for more than ten years and who was amongst the professional competitors on Sunday night. “Everyone’s supporting each other. Everyone’s giving everyone props, just for what they’re doing.”
The evening began with a warm-up session of freestyle dance as the crowd filtered in. With their hair tied up in side ponytails, young women wearing sparkling leggings and colorful shutter shades danced with male friends whose style influences ranged from Michael Jackson to MC Hammer. As DJs RJ KoolRaul and Sivan PartyRockaSupreme played tunes like Yaz’ “Situation” and Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative,” the dancers stopped only to listen to Martinez’ announcement that the first round was about to commence, and that the whiskey of the night would be Jack Daniels.
In keeping with the rules, all the competitors took a shot of alcohol before they performed their minute-long routines. As a panel of judges watched from the stage, scoring each dancer on individual skill and style, a round of amateur dancers performed, followed by a round of more experienced b-boys and b-girls who showcased more complex moves like the pop and lock — where dancers create jerking movements and then freeze — and the toprock, the basic element of breaking in which dancers do a sequence of fancy footwork before they begin their routine.
In the following round, amateur and pro competitors were partnered to enter a final battle against other pairs. Martinez said the idea behind pairing up amateur dancers with professional breakers is to help the newer performers overcome the fear that they’re not good enough to dance professionally. “It’s for anyone that just walked into the party who’s like, ‘Oh I can do that,’” Martinez said. “We create stars, we don’t bring stars in.”
So, why the alcohol? Martinez said that his crewmembers began to notice a trend: It was the audience members who had a few drinks in them who had the courage to join in. “This is another way to let loose, be coached in a real way, and just go for it,” he said.
“This is a club culture thing,” Smith said. “I don’t want to say alcohol is good so everybody go drink and poison yourselves, but the big thing is to get people to dance. And alcohol gets people to dance.”
Not everyone at the party, though, understood their goal. “That’s a strange connection for me,” said Marco Martin, the New Parish’s sound engineer who was watching the party. “I never thought that drinking was part of breakdancing. I always thought that people would show up at parties and dance. Period.”
Smith says encouraging drinking is also about bringing money in for the venue. “We’re dancers at the clubs, and have gone to the clubs for years,” he said. “You got to make sure the club makes money, and drinking is imperative.”
As the dancers took more shots throughout the night, the seriousness of the competition dwindled. The toprock was replaced with a game of leap frog by amateur dancers dressed as characters from Winnie the Pooh, while the pop and lock morphed into a mix of booty shaking and people doing a sleepy version of the robot. “It’s a party,” said Gomez. “I think people need to not take things so seriously, and I think it’s a perfect event for that.”
Despite the fact that the party went late on a Sunday night, competitors said they were glad they came out. “Even though I’ve got work tomorrow, I said, ‘I’ve got to enter,’” Gomez said, adding that she hoped Circle of Fire would organize future battles. “Tonight’s the first of many. I think it’s going to continue, and I’m glad Seth brought it to the bay.”
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: email@example.com.