A decade of urban dance movement evolution will transpire this week, May 1-5, on the campus where it was founded – the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Urban dance competitors from around the world will converge for the 10th Annual International Festival of Urban Movement at various venues around the campus, culminating in the annual competition finals at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.
All of the annual events, workshops, film reviews, panel discussions and annual urban dance styles competition like popping, break-dancing and free-styling movement are free and open to the public.
Although no laws were broken at the time, in 2003 co-founders and former UW-Madison students Jarius King (Class of 2009) and Henry Gomez (Class of 2007) challenged city ordinances that didn’t allow local clubs to host events featuring hip-hop dancing, music, or dress through ASM Legislative Affairs and Diversity Affairs Committees. Thus, the somewhat ominous name of the festival — Breakin’ the Law now fondly referred to as BTL — was born in the Wisconsin tradition of challenging the status quo in the name of grassroots, breaking-edge art and culture.
King, who is now a full-time performing artist in Chicago and continues to co-direct the festival with UW-Madison graduate student Katrina Flores. Hosted by the UW Breakdance Club, the festival draws hundreds of participants, many from long-partnering international venues, says Flores, who has been co-directing the event since its early years.
“The festival has been able to grow in such amazing ways because of our global connections and involvement in the breaking scene,” Flores said. “Jarius King, Charlie Lee and I are practitioners of this dance form and members of the breaking community. We’re not outsiders looking in rather we live the culture and are of the culture.”
BTL reflects the universal nature of hip-hop culture as it has manifested globally. According to Flores, now BTL also stands for Bringing the Love and Bringing the Learning. “Hip-hop culture challenges societal norms,” King said. “As alumni of UW-Madison, it is important to continue being involved in the future of the BTL International Festival. Our culture requires that as the originator of the festival, I stay continuously involved to help it grow and evolve. Too often we forget our past and that weakens the movement and culture we stand on. I’m proud to say I have been involved since the festivals’ inception and that I will continue to be a key player in its future.”
New to the festival this year are expanded Physics of Breaking learning experiences, Live Streaming during the Finals Battles and Epicenter Cypher Session, as well as a free concert by Clyde Stubblefield and his band honoring his legacy and impact on the music that drives urban movement. We will host a screening the film Among B-Boys that highlights the ways Hmong Culture has impacted Breaking and visa-versa. The film will be followed with a discussion with Director Christopher “Paper-Son” Woon and film featured artists Villn and M-Pact.
“In addition, a BBQ at Eagle Heights on Sunday, May 5, will round out the festival so we can celebrate all that has been accomplished over the last 10 years in a family-reunion-style send off,” Flores said. “This year is our 10-Year Anniversary Jam. There are no other Jams like this in the world. BTL is unique and special because it has remained free and open to the public through the vast support of the university and student body.”
Festival organizers also take a very direct approach to incorporate integrated learning experiences into the festival through partnerships with the Physics Learning Center, Wonders of Physics, and WID Outreach in the presentation of the Physics of Breaking events, Flores added. In addition, they promote health and wellness throughout the festival by holding workshops and learning experiences that speak to healthy diets, training methodologies, and community support.“The festival is supported through resources from the university and powered by the community we are connected to both Madison based and beyond,” King said. “We are the Wisconsin Idea manifested both ways. We bring the world to Wisconsin and Wisconsin to the world through hip-hop culture and breaking culture specifically.”The festival has and continues to transform the climate on the UW Campus, King said.
“Lives have been changed and expanded through providing an institutional platform for cross-pollination between those at the university and those often excluded from access to the academy. The festival builds understanding between and across practitioners and those who are not familiar with the culture,” King said. “We have seen the power of the festival to transform those who identify as outside of the culture into active contributors in hip-hop culture.”
The BTL festival values its roots, Flores emphasized, which is why the original “Funky Drummer” Clyde Stubblefield, who was honored last year, is bringing his whole band for an expanded role at this year’s festival. “We seek to honor the past while looking toward the future. The cross-generational nature of the festival brings together our community elders who are still active in the scene and the youth who will carry the torch into the future to exchange in dialogue and movement. It’s about building family among our community so that we can be strong and healthy in our efforts to demystify the negative stereotypes associated with our hip-hop culture.”