Groundbreaker Battle features breaking, graffiti, hip hop

Breakers in front of the Cowles in November, 2009

Breakers in front of the Cowles in November, 2009

While the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts won't hold its grand opening until September 9, this weekend it's hosting a little appetizer for us with the third-annual Groundbreaker Battle. The event features Minnesota b-boys and b-girls competing for $4,000 in cash prizes. The battle, which takes place from 1 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, will be held in the Butler Square Parking Lot on the corner of Hennepin Avenue and 5th Street.

The breakers will perform to the spinning of DJ Nikoless, and the event will be MC'd by Desdamona and Carnage the Executioner. The top three crews will have a chance to perform at the Cowles' Goodale Theater during the Community Day events on September 11, which is part of its grand opening weekend. 

Crews of two to five people will compete for the first prize of $2,500, second prize of $2,000, and third prize of $500, according to B-Boy J-Sun, a consultant for the event. There's no registration fee for the breakers, and the happening is free to the public. 

Besides the Groundbreaker competition, the event will include open breakdance classes, live graffiti displays, and dance showcases. Performers include Dancin' Dave, D-Skreet, Looney Tunes, and Ill Chemistry.
B-Boy J-Sun (Jason Noer), who is a teaching artist at the Cowles, says that the event will be an intercultural, inter-generational exchange. "It's a chance for people to see how positive our community is," he says. He hopes that the high-profile nature of the happening will show audiences how constructive hip hop and breaking are in people's lives. "It's a family-friendly event," he says. "The music is all appropriate, and it's a safe environment." Despite the competitive nature of the "battle," he notes that the performers always shake hands, and there is good sportsmanship. "It kinda creates a whole community," he says, "there's discipline and respect for one's elders."

According to J-Sun, Minnesota has gained a reputation in recent years for its breaking scene (he notes that breakers usually don't refer to it as "breakdancing" but "breaking"). He estimates that there are about 200 to 250 kids under 15 in Minnesota who break, and about another 250 who are 16 and over. "We've gained notice from the younger generation," he says. 

J-Sun started b-boying when he was about 12 or 13, while in northern California. He was already dancing at the time, doing moves like the Running Man, the Roger Rabbit, and a dance called Houzing. Once he saw the b-boy form, he knew that it was for him. He joined some crews in California before moving to St. Paul (he's originally from Anoka). Here, he joined the Battlecats, a part of the Rhymesayers Collective, in the mid-1990s. 

Nowadays, he teaches breaking to kid of all ages--from first through 12th grades--through the Cowles Center's award-winning Distance Learning Program, which involves televised conference calls with outlaying school districts at no cost to the school. 
In addition to teaching and consulting for the Groundbreaker Battle (and acting as a stage manager), J-Sun will be performing at the Cowles Center on March 29 and 30. He hopes to clear up some misunderstandings about hip hop through his show. "There's a hyper masculinity associated with hip hop," he says, and while there's some truth to that, that's a social issue in America, not just with hip hop. "Hip hop is just the newest way you get to hear about it -- homophobia, misogyny, and materialism. I don't try to deny it, but use those problems to point out the positive," he says. 

J-Sun says that the fact that he was invited to perform during the regular season, as well as hosting the Groundbreaker Battle, shows that the institution is open to hip-hop forms of dance. "Hip hop is how to connect to the youth," he says. "It's easy for them to identify with dancing, especially breaking. For some reason it really gets kids interested. If nothing else it keeps them out of trouble." 


Groundbreaker Battle

Butler Square Parking Lot at Hennepin Avenue and Fifth Street

Saturday, July 30

2 to 8 p.m.

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