By Gabrielle Nomura
Northwest Asian Weekly
When you hear the words “Seattle” and “hip hop,” it’s possible that a red-haired emcee rocking your grandpa’s hand-me-downs comes to mind.
But thanks to events, such as the Reign Supreme break-dancing competition, Macklemore isn’t the only one making a name for hip hop culture in the Emerald City.
Hosted by the student-run University of Washington Hip Hop Student Association, the second annual event gets underway this Saturday, Dec. 7, at 4:30 p.m., in the UW HUB Ballroom. Dance crews and individuals from Taiwan, Brazil, and Japan are coming to Seattle for the chance at dance glory and up to $2,500 in cash prizes.
Seattle is “repping hard,” said Jordan Faralan, president of the UW Hip Hop Association, “but people from all across the country, from as far as Colorado and New York, are booking flights to get here to experience the Pacific Northwest scene and represent theirs.”
Reign Supreme is made possible through a partnership with Red Bull, UW’s Associated Students, Massive Monkees’ Extraordinary Futures, and HUB Sound Bites.
The preliminary competition will be held in the Massive Monkees’ studio, The Beacon, located in Seattle’s International District. Through rigorous and judged dance battles, competitors are narrowed down from about 50 different groups to the top 15 or 16. New this year will be the opportunity to compete as an individual dancer, both in break dancing and in other dance styles.
Prizes range from $250 for individuals to a $2,500 grand prize for the victorious crew.
Faralan says the goal is to grow the event each year. Because UW Hip Hop Association has a relationship with Red Bull, Reign Supreme is able to bring well-known names in the break dancing scene, Faralan said, such as Brazilian b-boy Neguin, also known as Fabiano Carvalho, one of this year’s judges. Neguin, considered by many to be one of the most elite talents in the world, uses acrobatic capoeira moves from his native land. He has won the coveted championships in the Ultimate B-Boy Championship (UBC) and Red Bull BC One.
“Ultimately, people should come to Reign Supreme because there’s nothing like this in the Pacific Northwest,” Faralan said. “I know I had Reign Supreme withdrawals last year for a month or two.”
This international break dancing competition exists thanks to the hustle of a certain break dancer known as “Mikeskee” — a.k.a. Michael Huang.
The former Husky graduated in 2010 with a degree in marketing, and has since moved to Brooklyn.
During his time in Seattle, he helped build a hip hop community on campus and beyond.
“Hip hop culture has an uncanny way of uniting people, regardless of creed or racial barriers — that’s the greater picture there,” said Huang, who’s been planning the Seattle event long distance from New York.
In 2007, he created the UW Hip Hop Association as an outlet for all hip hop enthusiasts. In addition to break dancing, the group explores various facets of the culture, including rap music, graffiti, and DJing.
During that time, Huang brought the national break dancing event, Claws Out, to the Pacific Northwest. Eventually, he started his own crew-vs.-crew competition, Reign Supreme, in 2012.
From “poppers,” “lockers,” and all other urban dancers in between, Seattle boasts a long lineage of Asian American and Pacific Islander dancers, especially Filipinos, Huang said.
This lineage is reflected in the makeup of Massive Monkees, as well as many of the dancers who will be competing at Reign Supreme.
Huang, a Taiwanese American who has danced in the United States and Taiwan, said the street dance style is not only popular among Asian Americans, but throughout Asia as well.
“Dance has allowed me to immerse myself in Taiwanese society and learn about my heritage,” he added.
Life-changing art form
Dance can be a profession, a hobby, or a way to stay in shape. For Huang, it is nothing short of redemption.
A self-described misfit who was expelled from high school during his freshman year, Huang learned break dancing from a friend at his new school, Ingraham High.
He said he slowly started to “let in dance,” while letting out the “stupid” bad-kid behavior of his past. He began wanting to be at school, so he could dance at lunchtime with his friends. He no longer had an interest in smoking weed, he said, because being high hindered his dance game.
“I was just wandering and lost,” he said. “Then I had purpose.”
That purpose is not only to produce competitions, but also to give back to the community, said Huang, whose LinkedIn headline, among other things, says “community servant.”
The former South Seattle resident speaks from experience when he says that break dancing can inspire low-income children to improve their circumstances and feel more connected to those around them.
In this way, events like Reign Supreme can help improve someone’s future. (end)
The Reign Supreme all-ages competition is this Saturday, Dec. 7, at 4:30 p.m. (doors open at 4 p.m.) in the University of Washington HUB Ballroom, 4001 E. Stevens Way N.E., Seattle. Admission is $10 with UW ID, $12 in advance, and $15 at the door. Children under age 10 are free. To purchase tickets in advance, go to http://bit.ly/1hXXbe8. For the full Reign Supreme schedule, including information on the preliminary competition and following workshops, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1386422104920351/.
Gabrielle Nomura can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.