In the U.S. these days, the question "Shall we dance?" is both an invitation and a challenge. Hip-hop dance battles much like the M.C. face-offs in the film 8 Mile are becoming mainstream. The dance-battle scene has inspired a TV show (MTV's Wade Robson Project) and a film (You Got Served), and it even popped up at the Vatican (the Pope recently blessed an acrobatic, b-boy performance). "It's funny that it's being recognized on this level now, because it's been around, dominating in the urban centers for 30 years," says Crazy Legs, 38, a choreographer and ringleader of New York City's [an error occurred while processing this directive]Rock Steady Crew, a hip-hop dance group assembled on the streets of the Bronx in the late 1970s. "The hip-hop world's emergence has opened the public's eyes to all types of hip-hop dance, including battling."
The battles draw on the head spins and jerky moves associated with break dancing. According to Tom Sisk, owner of Centro-Fly, a nightclub in New York City, on any given night in his club someone might engage in an impromptu dance battle. Says Sisk: "It's a lot more interesting to see 700 or 800 people stop to watch two kids challenge each other through dance than to stare at the DJ all night long."
It's not just happening in New York. Dance battles are popping up at venues across the U.S., including Atlanta's popular club MJQ Concourse and Miami's Opium Garden and Prive (the site of a much-lampooned Britney Spears-Christina Aguilera dance skirmish last year). "In the clubs you see a lot of battles nowadays," says dancer Wade Robson, 21, creator of the eponymous MTV show. "These dancers are also incredible gymnasts, and they incorporate all styles of dance, from tap to salsa."
The dance-battle scene is also seeing a growing number of women warriors. "There's a lot of pressure with all the people watching and having your reputation on the line," says Maryss, 23, a West Coast-based dancer who frequently participates in competitions at clubs. "[But] even if you do something whack, the crowd will support you."