If you’ve heard of breakdancing, you’ve probably heard wrong.

Christina Choi

This Saturday, crews from all over the country will gather at the University for a firsthand demonstration of the acrobatic dance styles often referred to as breaking and popping.

The University’s own student breaking and popping group, Element 1, has organized its fourth annual Midwest competition in which both disciplines will take over the Michigan League tomorrow night.

“In Ann Arbor, we’re pretty much the hub of the scene in Michigan,” said LSA sophomore Nick Kovach, a popper in Element 1. More than 20 crews participated last year and this year’s event, Master the Art, will be the biggest of its kind in the state, with competitors gathered from Internet forums like MySpace.

By solidifying far-flung groups, Element 1 aims for community building as well as greater exposure for its art forms. While both styles are present in popular media, they’re often inaccurately associated with more mainstream forms like hip hop, and their finer stylistic points remain hotly debated by the dancers themselves.

Breaking and popping began in New York and California, respectively. The acrobatic, flashy dance style in which dancers spin on the ground and support themselves in gravity-challenging poses is not breakdancing but bboying, bgirling – or, simply, breaking. It can be used as a challenge, a display of skill that invites a one-up response, with breakers dancing to rhythmic break beats that suit the aggressive and precise movement.

Kovach mentioned Latin-style dance and capoeira – a Brazilian martial art form where dancers spar to music – as possible origins of breaking.

“There are a ton of influences from everywhere, and there’s a lot of controversy about where popping and breaking come from,” Kovach said.

According to Kovach, popping originated with the ’60s “robot” dance and mixed in muscle tensing and pulsation to create the street dance “popping,” which is typically done to funk and ’80s electro music. Poppers manipulate their muscles with rhythmic tensing to create motion that can be both beautifully fluid and jarringly unnatural.

“When you first start the muscle tensing it’s really hard to grasp because in real life, you’d never do it,” Kovach said. “Then when you get those foundational moves you use the technique to interpret the music.”

Often what’s involved in breaking and popping seems like a physical impossibility – but as the talented and even famous dancers coming to the League this weekend will show, it’s only an implausibility.

Competing breakers will challenge each other in sets of five vs. five for a $1,200 prize, as they generally form groups called crews to practice together and craft routines. Poppers, meanwhile, compete one-on-one for a top prize of $400. The dancers will be judged on style and skill, but Kovach admitted that each of the judges will be looking at performers with their own particular tastes in mind.

“We do a lot of collaboration with other dance groups, but breaking is in your face, and you don’t see it as much as hip hop,” Kovach said. “With breaking there’s that wow factor.”

Doors are at 6 p.m. and the show may sell out, but tickets are also on sale at the Alice Lloyd, Bursley and East Quadrangle residence halls.

Master the Art:Breaking and Popping Competition

Doors at 6 p.m.
Show at 7 p.m.
At the League
$5 presale,$8 at the door

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