During this Footwork Frenzy, the only weapons the dancers brought into battle were their fierce footwork and demeanor as they clashed in every style.
The Amherst dancers got into a fight on Sunday at the Footwork Frenzy all-style combat event hosted by the traveling dance team, Chicago Footworkology. The event was free for all ages and took place at the University of Massachusetts Totman Gym from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Last week, the dance team stormed the music and dance department at UMass Amherst for a four-day lecture and workshop. The series, titled “Werk Related,” explored the multitudes of Chicago Footwork music and dance culture. Eight guest master artists from Chicago took to the stage to share their expertise through lectures, performances and panel discussions.
Guest artist Kelli Forman said Chicago Footwork “is a regional dance style and it has lineage, and it has a vocabulary that is very distinct.”
With cultural roots “from the African American community in Chicago,” she continued, “Over the past 40 years, this has developed into a highly technical form of combat.”
Forman’s dance team travels to universities and studios to share the rich history of this art form. Their latest series collaborated with Five College Dance to open the events up to the entire Amherst dance community.
Sunday’s one-on-one dance battle was open to all ages and styles of dance and served as a strong ending to the “Werk Related” series.
As one of the three judges of the battle, Forman evaluated the contemporary round. She explained that contemporary dance has its own lineage that has “sort of developed from the modern that has developed from ballet, and lately the contemporary has incorporated more forms of street dance into its quality”. Although the contemporary tends to be more studio-based than a form of battle, it has found its place in this battle of all styles.
Forman added that Shakia Johnson was a judge for “house and hip hop, and that comes from New York. So he has a whole different set of vocabulary. It’s more about a party, not necessarily a fighting style, but that’s it too.
UMass dance and theater major Cole Ellsworth brought his hip hop moves to battle as Johnson watched.
“I sample different hip hop styles to make my movement unique. I also spend a lot of my time improvising, ”said Ellsworth. He thinks it elevates his dancing style.
It was Ellsworth’s first battle, similar to that of many dancers taking the stage. He attended the “Werk Related” series throughout the week, learning some of the best footwork. When Forman invited his class to battle, he jumped at the chance to see the rich history of the dance battles he had learned come to life.
After experiencing his first battle in the flesh, Ellsworth said: “There was a tremendous amount of talent on this floor and it’s something I would like to see more of in and around UMass.” He, along with the rest of the dancers, said they were grateful for the new culture and style that the Chicago-based dance team brought to their own territory.
The Chicago Footworkology dance battle ended with a tribute to the team’s namesake with a Chicago Footwork competition. This section was judged by one of the founding members of Chicago Footworkology and the president of Creation Japan, Miki Ishizaka.
Ishizaka was born and raised in Japan, but continued her dancing career in the United States. She said: “In 2014 in LA I took the King Charles course, who is my teacher and the founder of my crew. It was like my shocking moment. She found her place in Chicago Footwork under the wing of King Charles, who was also the producer and MC of Sunday’s event.
Ishizaka was looking for “dancers who can match dance style to music” and “show respect for music, culture, and your style” on the Chicago Footwork Tour.
Forman made his judgments based on similar criteria. The contemporary dancers who caught his attention were “the ones with the music and allowed themselves to create on the spot.” They also showed technique and that they really knew their body, ”she said.
As music is an integral part of Chicago footwork, dancers of all styles have elevated their footwork in all styles by sitting down to the music. The winner has yet to be announced.
Olivia dePunte can be reached at [email protected]