When one is going down the rabbit hole that is social media, it’s almost impossible to miss the dance videos. You know, the ones where large groups surround two extraordinarily talented dancers as they alternate taking the center, battling it out for bragging rights. The energy beams from these videos to our limbs, and it all seems straight out of a 2000s dance drama movie that is too far from our reach. Battlegrounds is here to tell you that it’s not.
Dallas’ dance community is thriving in Deep Ellum. Battlegrounds, a dance battle event presented by Too Fresh Productions, will celebrate its fourth anniversary at 7 pm Feb. 26 at Texas Theatre.
“We were presented with the opportunity to do something at the Texas Theater, so we thought our timing was right, we want to jump on it and let’s push and go all out,” says Battlegrounds organizer Joel Salazar, aka DJ Leo J. “ Let’s do something big and provide a bigger platform than we’ve ever done before and at the end of the day that’s what we want Battlegrounds to be. We just want to elevate the platform for dancers to express themselves on the stage, either through the cyphers, the sessions or the battles. It’s not just battles though, because it’s very important that dancers know, and I think they do know, that it’s not just about one versus one like a grudge it’s more of a ‘let’s push each other’ type thing.”
At the anniversary event, two dance competitions will showcase Dallas’ talent. The top eight break dancers will battle it out in a one-on-one competition. The top eight all-style dancers will do the same. All-style dance blends different styles and techniques and breaks away from the traditional moldings of dance.
At the end of the night one dancer from each category will reign supreme and walk away with a $500 cash prize.
“They’re true dance artists, and what you see is them starting with a blank canvas and they come out and they literally produce art from their body,” says Battlegrounds organizer and all-style dancer Claudette Brewer. “It is better than TikTok because the things you see are just so touching. It gives you chills because it’s self-expression and it takes talent to really do what they do. They can tell a story with their body.”
The battles are improvised dances. Two dancers compete against each other in the center of a cypher, the circle of spectators that surrounds the dancers, to music that is chosen by the DJ. For 45 seconds, each dancer takes the floor and must acclimate to the music genres and beats thrown at them. The competitive atmosphere paired with the spontaneity of the beats takes the energy in the room through the roof.
Battlegrounds was established in 2018. It stemmed from Salazar’s four-week Elements of Hip-Hop events, where he highlighted emceeing, graffiti art, DJing and breaking. During these events, Salazar began to recognize the need for a space for dancers to congregate, develop community and practice their craft, a sentiment that David Jasso Jr., a local breaker who performs by the name Soul Bot, and Brewer also felt. Together the trio developed the foundation for Battlegrounds with Salazar DJing, Jasso hosting and Brewer overseeing logistics.
For the last four years, Battlegrounds has hosted dance jams at their Sunday Sessions events which got their footing at Brain Dead Brewery and Club Dada. Now at Cheapsteaks, Battlegrounds has developed a haven for dancers to network and develop healthy competition. Each Sunday, for $5, all-styles dancers and break dancers can enter the battles.
These competitions serve as entertainment and an introduction to dance culture for spectators.
“Whenever I’m on the mic I always tell everyone don’t just watch everyone, listen to what you see and how their bodies move to every beat that Leo J puts down,” Jasso says. “They [the dancers] might not be happy at first, but then they just start creating. … I like bringing dancers that wouldn’t even get into a battle like this, but they just happen to and then they are hooked and getting into other styles as well.”
Brewer says their emphasis is on challenge and unity and encourages everyone to experience the Dallas dance culture. They welcome all dancers to come out and partake in the experience.
Preliminary battles for the anniversary event will held Jan. 30 for breakers at 1p.m. at Cheapsteaks. Pre-registration is not required, but dancers will need to sign up and pay the $10 entrance fee by 2 pm in person the day of preliminaries. The preliminary show at Cheapsteaks is free for spectators, but the anniversary event at Texas Theater is not. Early bird tickets are available to purchase online for $12. Presale tickets are $15 and prices will increase to $25 at the door.