Hip-hop breaks out among hundreds of dancers in Portland on

Hundreds of dance enthusiasts brought dazzling moves, thundering music and a lot of energy Sunday to the Stevens Square Community Center gym in Portland.

It was the ninth annual Exchange dance competition, which brings together hip-hop and “b-boying” (break dancing), a family-friendly event where studio and street dancers meet, said Elizabeth Lau of Portland Youth Dance.

Dancers, some under 10, and plenty of adults competed in what they called friendly dance “battles.”

One of the judges was Khai Vu, of Boston. A dancing veteran, his breaking name is “SoFly.” When he judges, he said, he’s looking for a “conversation” between the dancers.

Breaking is “like martial arts, but without touching,” Vu said. “It’s who understands the music, who brings their story and executes it at the right time with the music.”

This kind of dance is not choreographed ahead of time, Vu said.


“A lot of the moves are practiced ahead of time,” he said. “But the dancers in competition never get to choose the song. They’re at the mercy of the DJ. So it’s up to you to showcase musicality in your dance.”

One of the roughly 200 dancers to participate was Eli, 9, the son of Zita Madzou, of Portland.

Like others, he performed breaking moves that most people could never dream of doing. He did splits. He jumped. He somehow spun on his back while bouncing. Less than a second later, he sprang upright to his feet and finished with some lively stepping, and then balance and danced on the balls of his feet.

The audience enthusiastically applauded, as they did for all of the dancers.

Eli said he started hip-hopping and breaking “a long time ago. I was probably 8 years old.” He had watched others dance at a previous competition, and he wanted in.


Mostly important, he said, “the battles are fun.”

Many of the dancers were from the Portland area, Lau said, but others are from elsewhere in Maine, as well as Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York.

Some of the dancers do hip-hop, others break – in the ’90s, the media called it break dancing, but those in the culture don’t use that term, Lau said.

In Maine, young hip-hoppers or breakers don’t get to see much of the kind of competition that happens in bigger cities, she said.

“So we’ve created a space where the studio kids, and the street dancers and breaking community can come together and celebrate this thing we love,” Lau said.

During the adult freestyle dancing, Natalie Miccile, of Somerville, Massaschusetts, combined hip-hop and breaking.


Jerry Natal, of the Bronx, said his dance name is “Jayy Way.” His freestyle dance included fast steps while balancing his cap on his arms, legs and head.

Another new breaker performing Sunday was Lucien Child, 9, of Portland. He crouched down, both knees bent, and kicked his feet to the front and back with dizzying speed.

This year was his first performing at a dance competition – something he wanted to do after watching last year’s event, said his father, Chris Child. The family took Lucien, figuring they’d be there for a half-hour and then leave. But they stayed for hours.

“He was transfixed,” his father said. “He clearly was super into it. He said he wanted to do this next year.”

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