Come one, come all to Hip Hop Cultura. No, seriously, everyone is welcome. For three years now, the Centro Cultural Recoleta has dedicated Saturday afternoons to the education and celebration of hip hop and its tangentially-related art forms. You’ll find a little bit of every type of person here: teens, prodigiously talented dancers, 60-years olds enjoying a date-night, and even the occasional baby (literally). Here at The Bubble we dropped by last week to check it out, and of course, we brought our camera with us.
Text by Lena Novins Montague | Pictures by Mahalia Smith
Saturdays kick off at 3 PM, when the center holds free breakdancing classes for teenagers aged 13 to 17, the young crowd that El Recoleta has been targeting since it reopened. These mini hip-hoppers wear Adidas sneakers, Nike sweatpants, and t-shirts with NOCHILL emblazoned across the front. Coco Destroy, a dancer and one of the founders of Hip Hop Cultura, is leading today’s class. Many of the teenagers are regulars, and attend every single week. They listen attentively as Coco Destroy describes the next exercises.
At 4:30 PM, another phase of the event begins: a free training for dancers of all ages. This week, it’s a House dance class, a rhythm that was birthed in the underground clubs of Chicago and New York during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. House dance counts tap, hip hop, African dance, and Latin as some of its influences. Similar to hip hop, it is often improvised, but has more of a focus on the upper body and complicated foot work.
People of all ages, including many of the teenagers from before, flood the space for the workshop. A house dancer leads the room in a collective bounce that transforms into the pulsing of the elbows and the knees. The music winds, and the movements are controlled.
Outside, an audience begins to gather. Part of Hip Hop Cultura’s allure is its striking outdoor setting. The stage has two massive palm trees sprouting out of its middle, and seating is in the form of brightly-colored, chunky block steps. Aes, a musician who serves as the MC of the event, warms up the crowd with a freestyle rap. He holds his microphone out like a toy, and gestures at audience members to come up and join him. Eventually, two do.
The audience, much like the dancers, are a diverse group. There are multiple babies, mates, lit cigarettes. People sprawl out on the steps, and perch themselves on the balcony that overlooks the stage. At 6 PM, the main event kicks off, which varies from week to week and can be anything from a breakdancing battle, a freestyle rap competition, or a talk on graffiti as an art form. This week, in keeping with the theme of the workshop, a house dance battle ensues.
Tonight’s participants line the stage—sign-ups began a few hours ago, and anyone is welcome to participate. (For more mainstream dance styles, such as breakdancing, there is a cap on the number of participants.) These dancers, ranging from teenagers to early 30s, look like larger versions of the teenagers from the earlier class: they wear sweatpants and chunky white sneakers.
The dancers are split into two groups. They circle up, and take turns freestyling. Footwork is light and complex – one even goes barefoot. For some dancers, hair becomes another extension of the physical self: ponytails are flipped as backs curve in and out. The music is a techno heartbeat. It becomes apparent that house dance uses every single muscle possible.
One of the most interesting dynamics to observe is the relationships between the dancers themselves. They express genuine joy at the others in their group: their eyes light up at a particularly complicated or interesting move. After a dancer finishes their freestyle, they are congratulated with hugs and high-fives.
The show then sieges into its final phase. Two dancers face off, and are given a few minutes to show their stuff. After both have danced, the others point at the one who they believe gave a better performance. Alternatively, they can cross their arms across their chest to abstain from voting. After 20 minutes, the one with the most points is crowned the winner. At times, it’s obvious who is going to win each round. Some dancers have more technical skill, while others are complete hams and feed off the audience’s energy.
Tonight’s winner is Canario López and it’s crystal clear that he combines both traits. During a battle, he came together with another dancer to do a joint move. There was an accidental elbow to the face, and a fake tooth came flying out of his mouth. He danced through it. Two battles later, another dancer discovers it and returns the tooth. The soon-to-be winner twirls around, and pops it back into his mouth. The crowd cheers.
The 20 minutes come to a sudden halt. The winner receives a certificate and hugs and besos from his competitors. And then, just like that, another dance party breaks out.
Cultura Hip Hop | Centro Cultural Recoleta | Junín 1930 | Saturdays, 3 PM – 8 PM | More Info