Arte Americas became a battlefield for 15 dance crews Saturday during the “Battle for Fresno State” preliminary dance competition.
Their weapons? Rhythm and groove.
More than 45 B-boy dancers participated in a battle on a three-on-three crew dance battle, judged by distinguished B-boys, B-boy Morris, B-boy Ace, and Dee Rock.
The winner received $400 and second place got $100. The two teams automatically qualified for the “Battle for Fresno State” championship on April 15 in the North Gym.
More than 200 people attended the event to watch the battles but also to learn about Fresno’s rich hip-hop history through the “Straight Outta Fresno” showcase. It was previously showcased at Fres.Co.
“We’re trying to tell stories that are local and that matter to us,” said Dr. Romeo Guzman, assistant history professor and director of the Valley Public History Initiative. “But we’re also trying to tell stories that matter to the larger history of California.”
The showcase illustrated Fresno’s hip-hop history through photographs, trophies, fliers, art and oral histories. One wall was plastered with photographs of Fresno legends who made their mark on B-Boy history.
Two of Fresno’s biggest contributors to hip-hop were Charles “Goku” Montgomery and Pablo Flores. Their founding of the Climax dance crew introduced breakdancing power moves such as the Airflare, which is done when you complete a full body rotation using only your hands.
“For us, this Fresno story is important to the history of hip-hop in [Los Angeles], San Francisco and New York,” Guzman said. “This is a part of that. Hip-hop history is incomplete without it.”
Montgomery was the announcer of the B-boy dance battles on Saturday. The dancers came from different ages and places from around the state.
Andy Photiraj, 20, of Fresno, represented his crew, Magnetrix. Photiraj learned to B-boy six years ago from his older brother. He originally wanted to do sports but said the equipment was costly.
“B-boy was the only thing free for me,” Photiraj said.
Photiraj has competed in other B-boy competitions and cited Gary Yang as one of his mentors helping him through his B-boy training.
Yang also competed in the battles, representing the Wizards crew. Yang teaches breakdancing at Immaculate Trait dance center, hoping to help new and up-and-coming crews such as Magnetrix hone their craft.
“With me, I’m very open. I help anybody who wants help. If I see someone doing it wrong, I’ll let them know,” Yang said. “I wish, when I was younger, somebody came up to me and helped me out.”
Yang previously organized a breakdancing tournament during Hmong New Years called “Battle of the New Years” and said that events like “Battle of Fresno” are the result of collaborations of many people within the community.
“We worked together so we can build a better community for these Fresno kids that don’t get a chance to travel,” Yang said. “These kids – they don’t have that kind of resource to go out there yet. What I want to do is to bring the out-of-town [to Fresno] so these kids don’t have to travel far in order to see much bigger events.”
Jonathan “JC” Chan, 26, came from Los Angeles with his crewmates, Vince “Invince” In and Jimbo “Shogun” Limpin,” to compete in the battles.
Chan and In are part of the B.E. crew from Southern California, while Limpin is a free agent, but decided to come with them to fill the third slot. Together, they entered the competition as B.E. Shogun.
Morris judged the crews based on whether they danced in the moment and who danced to the song’s rhythm.
“If you’re battling in the moment, you’re going to be dancing with the music, following the rhythms, and if you’re executing, you’re listening in the different accents and cues,” Morris said.
Each of the three crew members had one round to woo the judges with their acrobatic dance moves, contouring their bodies in seemingly impossible ways.
The crews were judged immediately after their bout. Montgomery, a Fresno dance legend, simply asked the judges for their picks and they simply pointed to their preferred winner. The top two teams of the night were Boston Market and B.E. Shogun, Chan’s crew.
Montgomery was a bit disappointed that no Central Valley crew made it to the top two, but they did manage to crack the top four, with Climax/Soul Control battling B.E. Shogun a round before. B.E. Shogun won in the end and will compete in the championships.
The moments, as competitive as they are, brought a sense of pride for the dancers and the founders of the dance scene who judged. Events like Saturday’s brought a reminder that current talent is as important as the past.
“I think there’s a lot of history that gets overlooked here in the Central Valley,” Chan said.
He said that people like Montgomery left their mark on the B-boy scene along with many other people from the Central Valley.
“We ourselves owe a lot to [the Central Valley] scene and just in California, in general,” Chan said. “In no way it’s just a win for us, but it’s a win for everybody that we recognize that came before us and that set the tone. They helped build the foundation that we use today.”