Thousands of dancers from around the world will gather together in Phoenix to show off their skills and compete at the 18th World Hip Hop Dance Championship on August 10.
Considered the “Olympics of Hip-Hop,” the national dance competition will take place at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix and will conclude with the world finals at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
The World Hip Hop Dance Championship is run by Hip Hop International, an organization that hosts dance crew competitions across the world to expand the reach of hip-hop dance in popular culture.
“We discovered that hip-hop was practiced all around the world,” says Karen Schwartz, who cofounded Hip Hop International with her husband, Howard, in 2002. “We thought this was so exciting and we wanted to make it mainstream so people could enjoy these things.
The couple has a history of producing dance competitions to shed a light on a style of dance they felt was missing from the mainstream media.
“It took at least a year to develop and establish the competition. We wanted to use rules that allowed a lot of freedom for dancers to express themselves,” Karen says.
“We wanted to bring the dancers to the forefront. We really wanted to expand on battles, choreography, dance crews and creating more opportunities for dancers.”
To make sure the competition is fair, they reached out to hip-hop pioneers, dancers and experts to create a set of rules that could be applied worldwide.
“The competition is obviously really tough because people are willing to come from all over the country and all over the world to compete,” says Carlos “SparXz” Caraballo of The Exiles. “They do a good job about making things super clear. It’s clear what the judges are looking for.”
Sienna Lalau, a member of The LAB dance crew, has been able to experience a fulfilling career as a dancer and choreographer because she won World Hip Hop Dance Champion in 2018.
“Hip Hop International has definitely helped me with my career and they’re so generous with these opportunities,” Lalau says. “When we won, a lot of people around the world were hearing about who The LAB is, who I am, and our choreographer.”
Born and raised in Honolulu, Lalau has been dancing since she was 4, and started competing at 8. Since she won World Hip Hop Dance Championship, Lalau and The LAB have competed on (and won) NBC’s “World of Dance,” performed with Ciara on “Jimmy Kimmel Live !”and is on tour with Jennifer Lopez.
Lalau has established a career as a choreographer in Los Angeles, which is something she’s also passionate about.
“I wanted to make choreographing a consistent thing,” Lalau says. “Even when I’m choreographing, it still doesn’t feel real. I’m so thankful, I wouldn’t have it any other way”
Caraballo and The Exiles have also had their share of success since emerging as a dance crew at Hip Hop International in 2017. Based in Coolidge, The Exiles are nine men who belong to the same church.
“We’re not just a dance team. We are followers of Christ,” Caraballo explains. “We are a Christian dance team. We want to show people that Christians get down, too.”
The Exiles have competed on NBC’s “World of Dance” during its third season. Although they did not win the competition, the team made it to “The Cut,” when six teams compete to be a part of the top three.
“That was surreal. I don’t think there was any other experience that pushed us closer to God, to each other, and that just challenged us,” Caraballo says.
This is not the first Hip Hop International competition in Arizona. Last year, the World Hip Hop Dance Championship was held the Grand Canyon University Arena.
“Arizona is very dance friendly,” Howard Schwartz says. “There are many top dance crews emanating in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.”
He spoke highly of the Arizona Grand Resort.
“We usually like to fund a resort property that we can take over,” he says. “We like to find a property that can house the majority of dancers, training and competition space, and one that would have an arena that would facilitate the finale.”
Along with the competitions throughout the week, there will be other family-friendly events. The Urban Dance Move Workshop is Sunday, August 4, Friday, August 9, and Saturday, August 10. These workshops will be open to the public and feature some of the best dancers and choreographers in hip-hop. Lalau will teach urban moves this year.
The Hip Hop International World Battles will also be featured at this year’s competition. The World Battles are intimate competitions dedicated to certain styles of hip-hop dance, such as popping, locking and whacking. Each battle is judged by an expert of that style, and dancers can either compete individually or with a partner. Anyone interested in a certain style is able to sign up on the Hip Hop International website to compete.
“I love competing at Hip Hop International because the dancers know how to dance, the judges are knowledgeable, and I get the chance to dance with people who are like minded,” Carabello says.
At the World Hip Hop Dance Championship, dancers will compete as a part of a dance crew in the junior, varsity, or adult divisions. Each division is defined by age. According to Hip Hop International regulations, a dance crew consists of five to nine members, male or female.
This year’s competition will also introduce the Mini and Mega Crew divisions. Mini Crews will consist of three members of all ages, while Mega Crews have 10 to 40 members.
“Spectators can expect something similar to the Olympic Games,” Howard says. “They will experience spectators from all over the world, waving their flags, and singing their songs. It’s a wonderful experience.”
The top three crews from the Hip Hop International competitions around the world will convene in August to compete for the “most revered medal to receive in hip hop dance.”
“My favorite part of the competition is seeing dancers coming in from all over the world that may speak different languages but share the single language of dance and share the passion for dance,” Karen says. “One of the moments we love is when the championship is over, the winners are announced, the flags are waved, and the anthems are played. It’s amazing to see that moment.”
For more information, visit hiphopinternational.com.