FREESTYLING Fueled by technique and testosterone, the dancing was most thrilling when it looked invented on the spot.
"B-boys, be quiet, I know you have ADD," chided a laughing Cjaiilon Andrade at the microphone of the Floorlords' 30th anniversary party at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Saturday. Andrade, a/k/a Snap2, the name he used on America's Got Talent, was getting no takers. The party died down a few decibels, but no one could completely restrain the roar of the assembled dancers — DJ Layzee Boy (Joe Ward), DJ Lean Rock (Lino J. Delgado Jr.) — or the multigenerational audience crowding around the horseshoe-shaped cipher and sitting in the theater seats. Eventually, Floordlords founder Lino Delgado Sr. welcomed the guys from his early 1980s Floorlords crew: Float, Cisco, Nolee, and Eddie Ed — thick-waisted middle-aged men who can still toprock and hit a few head spins. Who wouldn't scream?
B-boys — b-girls had scant presence on this program — have gone commercial, but today's freestyle breaking technique builds on moves cut three decades ago (although a grainy Floordlords video indicates that the current generation has discarded stirrup pants for profanity-laced t-shirts). With a $1500 prize at stake, Saturday's battling crews — the current iteration of the Floorlords, alongside Boston crews Ground Assassins and Problemz Kruz, plus the international dancers of Flava Squad, Supreme Beings (NYC), Lab Ratz (Virginia), Zulu Bratz (Connecticut), Self X (Chicago), Repstyles Crew (Philadelphia), and the Dynasty Rockers (from Brooklyn, they've been around even longer than the Floorlords) — threw down their best challenges in remarkably evenly-matched 15-minute face-offs. Fueled by technique and testosterone, the dancing was at its most thrilling when the performers' freestyling looked invented on the spot rather than the product of disciplined practice.
Hip-hop used to have distinct regional styles, but many of those distinctions have blurred into a single, broadcast-polished international juggernaut. The best dancers from Sydney look pretty much like the best dancers from Bed-Stuy. If the ICA performance was any indication, there's a high premium on crowd-pleasing power moves: iced head spins that increase in speed instead of winding down, handless backflips, pommel-horse-like downrocking, and freezes that would make a yogi sigh with envy.
For this guest to hip-hop nation, the dancers who played up musicality and novelty got my vote, especially Snap2's spooky locking, Bebo's extraordinarily cantilevered balances, and the baroque leg-scissoring of downrocking from Chicago's Jarius King, his braids flying. Think a triple-time tango done horizontal to the floor. The judges rewarded the degree of difficulty, nodding at subtleties as well as spectacle before awarding a winner of each battle. And a home team, Ground Assassins, took the gratifying top prize.
The next generation of dancers was chomping at the winners' flying heels. Cheers to the fresh middle-schoolers of the Slaughter House Poppers, who hit their robotic routines with a mix of glee and concentration. Watching 11-year-old Peanut throw the menacing gestures and crotch-cupping taunts of much older men was disconcerting despite knowing that his dancer dad, Teck, was supervising at the edge of the circle. On the other hand, who could resist the bare-chested, curly-topped three-year-old well on his way to serious acrobatics?
Mayor Menino declared Saturday "Floorlords Day" in Boston, in honor of the crew's 30 years of mastery and community service. Head-spinning indeed.