At this Footwork Frenzy, the only weapons dancers brought to battle were their fierce footwork and attitude as they competed head-to-head in all-styles

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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

By Olivia dePunte, Collegian Contributor 

September 27, 2021

Amherst dancers took to battle Sunday at the Footwork Frenzy all-styles battle event hosted by the traveling dance crew, Chicago Footworkology. The event was free to attend for all ages and was held at the University of Massachusetts’ Totman Gym from 3 to 6 p.m.

This past week, the dance crew took the UMass Amherst Department of Music and Dance by storm for a four-day conference and workshop. The series, titled “Werk Related,” explored the multitudes of Chicago Footwork music and dance culture. Eight guest master artists from Chicago took the stage to share their expertise through classes, performances and panel discussions.

Guest artist, Kelli Forman, said that Chicago Footwork “is a regional dance style and it has a lineage, and it has a vocabulary that’s very distinct.”

With cultural roots “from the African American community in Chicago,” she continued, “Over the past 40 years it’s developed into a highly technical battle form.”

Forman’s dance crew travels to universities and studios to share the rich history of the art form. Their latest series collaborated with Five College Dance to open the events to the entire Amherst dance community.

The one-on-one dance battle on Sunday was open to all ages and dance styles and served as a strong ending to the “Werk Related” series.

As one of three judges at the battle, Forman evaluated the contemporary round. She explained that contemporary dance has its own lineage which has “kind of developed out of modern which developed out of ballet, and lately contemporary has incorporated more street dance forms into the quality of it.” Although contemporary tends to be more studio-based than a battle form, it found its place in this all-styles battle.

Forman added that Shakia Johnson was the judge for “house and hip hop, and that comes from New York. So, it’s got a totally different vocab set. It’s more about the party, not a battle style necessarily but it also is that.”

UMass dance and theatre major Cole Ellsworth brought his hip hop moves to the battle under the gaze of Johnson.

“I sample from different hip hop stylings to make my movement unique. I also spend a lot of my time improvising,” Ellsworth said. He believes this elevates his dance style.

This was Ellsworth’s first battle, similar to many of the dancers that took the stage. He attended the “Werk Related” series throughout the week, learning from the best in footwork. When Forman invited his class to the battle, he jumped at the chance to see the rich history of dance battles he’s been learning about come to life.

After experiencing his first battle in the flesh, Ellsworth said, “There was a tremendous amount of talent on that floor and it’s something I would love to see more of in and around UMass.” He, along with the rest of the dancers, said they were grateful for the new culture and style the Chicago-based dance crew brought to their home turf.

The Chicago Footworkology dance battle was complete with an homage to the crew’s namesake with a Chicago Footwork competition. This section was judged by one of Chicago Footworkology’s founding members and the President of Creation Japan, Miki Ishizaka.

Ishizaka was born and raised in Japan but followed her dance career to the United States. She said, “2014 in LA I took King Charles’ class, which is my teacher, and my crew’s founder. That was like my shocked moment.” She found her place in Chicago Footwork under the wing of King Charles, who was also the producer and the MC of Sunday’s event.

Ishizaka was looking for “dancers to hit the dance style to the music” and to “show respect for the music, the culture and your style” in the Chicago Footwork round.

Forman made her judgments based on similar criteria. The contemporary dancers that caught her eye were “ones with the music and allowed themselves to create on the spot. They also showed technique and that they really knew their body,” she said.

As music is an integral part of Chicago Footwork, dancers of every style elevated their footwork in all styles by sitting in the music. A winner is yet to be announced at this time.

Olivia dePunte can be reached at [email protected]