During this footwork frenzy, the only weapons the dancers brought to the fight were their fierce footwork and attitude as they went head-to-head in every style.
The Amherst dancers battled it out Sunday at the Footwork Frenzy all-style sparring event hosted by traveling dance crew, Chicago Footworkology. The event was free for all ages and was held at the University of Massachusetts Totman Gym from 3-6 p.m.
Last week, the dance team took over 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 visiting master artists from Chicago took the stage to share their expertise through classes, performances and panel discussions.
Guest artist Kelli Forman said that Chicago Footwork “is a regional dance style and it has a lineage, and it has a very distinct vocabulary.”
With cultural roots “from Chicago’s African-American community,” she continued, “Over the past 40 years it has developed into a highly technical form of combat.”
Forman’s dance team travels to universities and studios to share the rich history of the art form. Their latest series collaborated with Five College Dance to open events to the entire Amherst dance community.
Sunday’s one-on-one dance battle was open to all ages and dance styles and served as a strong ending to the “Werk Related” series.
As one of three judges in the battle, Forman assessed the contemporary round. She explained that contemporary dance has its own lineage which “sort of developed from modern which developed from ballet, and lately contemporary has incorporated more street dance forms into its quality”. Although contemporary tends to be more studio based than a battle form, 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’s from New York. So he has a totally different set of vocabulary. It’s more of a party, not necessarily a battle style, but that’s also it.
UMass dance and drama major Cole Ellsworth brought his hip-hop moves to the battle as Johnson watched.
“I sample different hip hop styles to make my movement unique. I also spend a lot of time improvising,” Ellsworth said. He believes it elevates his dance style.
It was Ellsworth’s first battle, similar to 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 dance battles he learned come to life.
After experiencing his first battle in the flesh, Ellsworth said, “There was an awful lot of talent on that floor and that’s something I’d love 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 the Chicago-based dance team brought to their home.
The Chicago Footwork 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 pursued her dancing career in the United States. She said: “In 2014, in Los Angeles, I took the class of King Charles, who is my teacher and the founder of my team. It was like my moment of shock. She found her way to Chicago Footwork under the wing of King Charles, who was also the producer and MC for Sunday’s event.
Ishizaka was looking for “dancers to associate the dance style with the music” and to “show respect for the music, the culture and your style” during the Chicago Footwork round.
Forman made his judgments based on similar criteria. The contemporary dancers who caught his attention were “those who have the music and allowed themselves to create on the spot. They also showed technique and really knew their bodies,” she said.
As music is an integral part of Chicago Footwork, dancers of all styles have elevated their footwork in all styles by sitting to the music. A winner has yet to be announced at this time.
Olivia dePunte can be contacted at [email protected]