Step In and Step Up [ARENA LA 2019]
“Anybody can step into the Arena”, Kinjaz co-founder Anthony Lee, expressed on the Kinjaz Podkast, in July 2019. However, if you are willing to step in you must bring all you’ve got. Arena Dance Competition houses the best of the best when it comes to the culture of urban dance. The two-night urban dance spectacle could be summed up in a couple words, community and camaraderie. Also competitive, ok maybe three. Despite the Kinjaz probably wanting those key words spelled with a “k”, all jokes aside, there are not enough words in the spoken language to describe the true energy felt at Arena LA. Which is why it is mostly felt through the one phraseology everyone can understand, dance.
First it is necessary to unroll the scroll, and look back in time to see how it all began. The first Arena Dance Competition was held in Chengdu, China, in 2015. With the help of Sinostage, the Kinjaz were able to bring their energy and love of the culture overseas. Koko, founder of Sinostage, encouraged the team to come out to her home country and lay down a foundation of what was to come. The Kinjaz were able to expand Arena to Singapore in 2017 and then back home in 2018, at the first Arena LA.
Despite being the third Arena location, Los Angeles can now boast the claim to being the first city to hold a standalone Arena Kids event. This event showcased competition in the sub-18-year-old division. Although these competitors are less seasoned than their adult division counterparts, they would not let you know that. Every set included adolescent dancers moving with absolute maturity on and off stage. Leaving everything they had on the floor, while still having enough energy to hype up themselves as well as their fellow competitors. These traits are a clear indication of the proper and passionate mentorship at work trickling down from the directors of each company. Teams could be found backstage performing various pre-performance rituals, but the most prominent act seemed to be support. From prayer circles to hugs all around, one thing was clear, each and every dancer had their teammates’ back. This beautiful direction flowed throughout the show as well. Themes such as inclusion, authenticity, and self-confidence were all present onstage throughout the night. The fact that children were able to support one another while still competing at the highest level, speaks volumes of what the future holds for urban dance. The prime example of all this could be found in the presence of B-Girl Logistix. The 15-year old phenom showcased her skills both nights of Arena LA. First being a beacon for young dancers everywhere and then wowing everyone the next night by being named the newest, and youngest, Red Bull BCOne AllStar.
An all-star breaking battle, presented by Red Bull, was just one highlight of an energy filled night. The support that originated with the young kin from the previous night continued to flow through the adults. An emotion driven competition found Choreo Cookies at the top of the leaderboard by the end of the night, with the Company and 220 coming in 2nd and 3rd respectively. The raw feelings of excitement, nerves, and support were felt in the on-deck area as the teams prepared to step onto the stage. As they passed each other backstage, they chanted for one another, either congratulating a team that just ripped the stage or another one about to. This sense of one love through dance could be traced all the way back to the ones moving in the shadows, behind it all, The Kinjaz.
Brotherhood is not a gimmick for this dance equivalent of Marvel’s Avengers. The semi-masked men set a respected example of true community, by not only hosting the ones that are holding it down in their large circle but by jumping into the centre of the mix themselves. The Kinjaz took their motto of “Respect All, Fear None”, back to the future, by including cornerstones, from the past and present, of the west coast urban dance scene. Their special guests included Lyle Beniga, Shaun Evaristo, Brian Puspos, Lando Wilkins, and Jabbawockeez OG Kevin “KB” Brewer. Adding these legends to a stage full of already legendary dancers, brought many generations of the community together.
Whether a fan of this historical dance scene or just getting into it, Arena LA 2019 had something for everyone. Outside of the magic happening onstage, more treats could be found in the lobby as well as outside the venue too. Kin Aesthetik showed out, displaying their finest threads for sale, while also giving people the opportunity to take a picture with a Kinja [Jawn Ha]. Just a few steps out the door and one would’ve found themselves amongst the free-flowing freestylers getting down. This jam-like atmosphere acted as an awesome prelude to heading to the main event or a quick intermission needed for some fresh air. While spectators had their delights, competitors had their desserts. Free ice cream was made available backstage, courtesy of Afters Ice Cream. Because, nothing calms pre-show nerves like a frozen delicious snack on a hot and sunny California day. Smiles could be found all around: behind, on, and outside of the stage.
This experience expanded past a dance competition or showcase. The Kinjaz continued to excel at their on-point branding by naming their piece, “Kommunity”. This is exactly what was felt throughout the entire weekend, right into the week of Kamp. Despite being pitted against each other in the heat of competition, it was super cool to see teams bond over dance. The universal language spoke volumes of just how dance can bring people together. What was displayed inside Arena, can be taken to the ends of the earth: Kinship, Respect, and Honor.