Members of Versa-Style busting a move! (Courtesy Randm Vision)
I hear a beat drop and then the rhythm of swaggering, but precise steps. I see feet perfectly in unison and faces, starkly individual, but unified in concentration and joy.
I’m watching a rehearsal for this weekend’s Versa-Style Ten Year Anniversary Festivalin East LA – the first Ford on the Roadperformance – and it is riveting. The company is working on a new piece for the festival, a sweeping dialogue in dance between small crews dancing various styles who all get caught up in a common dance and end as an ensemble.
“We’re focusing on technique,” says Versa-Style Dance Company Co-Artistic Director Jackie Lopez (AKA Miss Funk). “But remember, the celebration is the most important part. This is what ten years looks like!”
This weekend’s festival will include a 2 vs. 2 hip hop dance battle! (Courtesy Randm Vision)
In the rehearsal, the dancers twist and spin, replay bits of intricate footwork and show off in the mirror. After three hours of hard dancing, Jackie and her co-Artistic Director Leigh Foaad (AKA Breeze-Lee) are totally un-phased and happy to chat with me.
“Does each section have its own dance captain?” I asked. That’s what it looked like.
“No,” Jackie replied. “This is collaborative choreography – everyone contributed to the creation of this piece.”
What I thought were dance captains were dancers teaching others dancers in a totally democratic way, working with the shared language Versa-Style have been fostering for the last ten years. Jackie and Leigh directed the piece, but the end result was a mash-up, in true hip-hop style, of the talents and passions of the company.
The vibrant and talented Versa-Style Dance Company community. (Courtesy Randm Vision)
Versa-Style’s mission is about showing new and different perspectives on what hip hop is and can be, focusing on community and family. This mission goes beyond the stage. The company began as a series of affordable classes that gave a home to local youth and educated them about the history of their art. They’ve grown considerably since their humble beginnings and now tour internationally in addition to performing and teaching in LA. In the future, the company is committed to both beefing up their international presence and creating a more permanent home base in LA.
As for the festival, Ms. Lopez says partnering with Ford on the Road is about celebratingwith the community – “not sit down and watch us dance, but get up and dance with us!”
In this vein, the first day of the festival will features open style dance competitions, as well as the company’s new piece, while the second day is all about affordable workshops with the hip-hop legends Versa-Style has brought in from New York and LA to share this space. The entire festival pays homage to the origins of hip hop, including mini-documentaries and multimedia entertainment. Jackie’s goal is to get 500 people from ages five to 60, including over 300 non-dancers.
“Hip hop unites people,” she says, and though this saying may seem trite, this company has proven it.Rooted in community and history, straddling casual, popular, and professional dance, Versa-Style is all set to start it’s tenth year on the right foot.
Versa-Style’s Ten Year Anniversary Festival is at East LA Performing Arts Academy on Saturday, May 16 at 12p.m. and Sunday May 17 at 12 p.m. Learn more here.