by Bryn Morgan
We're stoked to launch our blog with a feature on two of our our favorite local dancers and longtime Rythmatix family, Katie Janovec and Jungwho Kim. After winning the Portland qualifier last month, these two are headed to compete in the Book of Styles Boogaloo/Popping Battle in DC this Sunday, June 24th. We wanted to send Katie and Jung off in style, so we sat down for an interview to discuss their relationships with dance, secret battle tactics and feelings ahead of the DC battle.
Rythmatix: Hi! Tell me about the Book of Styles event you’re battling in this weekend.
Jung: Book of Styles is popping battle thrown by Assassins Crew out of DC. The format is not a traditional one versus one, but a cypher. It’s called the Book of Styles because you spin this Wheel of Funk, and on the wheel there’s a bunch of different styles and the style that you land on is the one you apply when you’re battling. It’s kind of like an educational tool that turned into a battle format, and it really pushes everyone involved to be well versed in many styles of movement.
R: That sounds really intimidating.
Katie: It’s not necessarily that people need to be amazing at all of them. Someone will have strengths, but maybe there are other aspects I’m stronger at. What makes it freestyle dance is that people are being true to themselves. Just like with all styles of dance, you have to train and learn the technique and foundation, but what’s different with street and club dance is that you’re not supposed to look like someone else.
R: Do have any tactics for keeping calm and battling with self-confidence?
J: You build self confidence through your training. The more comfortable you are training and dancing the more it’ll be so when you’re in a moment of expression.
What I like to do to keep calm is just go back to the music. People tend to be so caught up in their heads that they stop and think about what they’re gonna do. The easiest thing to get back to the present is to listen to whatever’s there. That’s what I do, amongst other secret stuff. Just kidding, that’s the biggest secret right there. Always move to the music.
R: When you’re in a battle situation and a track comes on that’s not really your jam, do you just feel it to the best of your ability?
J: You kinda have no choice in a battle. That’s where your training will come in.
K: In allstyles battles you can never expect all the music will fit your style, but you hope some do! That’s why it’s good to train to a diverse music selection.
J: It’s a reflection of personality. You don’t want to be just a one dimensional person. You want to experience different emotions, different styles of music, and it should be the same for dance. If you only listen to Hip Hop, and only one type of Hip Hop, you’re only going to feel one way.
R: How long have y’all been dancing? How have your styles changed over the years?
K: I started dancing ten years ago. It’s been very off and on. I started with modern and ballet, doing choreography. Once I moved to Portland and met poppers, I got interested in street dance styles and started doing House dance, then Tutting, and now I’m more focused on Popping. I love all the street and club dance styles.
Initially, I just wanted to be able to hang with people in cyphers, share and be confident with my dance. I also feel some sense of responsibility as a woman to jump into cyphers, because they are often male dominated and it’s really important for other younger girls and women to see that that space is for them too.
J: I’ve been dancing for eight years. I started with Popping and had good mentors who were always trying to get me to think outside the box. That lead me to other dance styles like House, Hip Hop, and Jookin.
For me, it all ties back to the culture of the movements and the African American traditions that the street dances come from. Traveling to see a culture, not just dance, has given me many perspectives through different lenses and I've grown as a person because of these experiences.
R: Where are some of the places you’ve traveled?
J: I traveled to New York, SF, LA and Memphis all in search of a specific dance.
R: Is cultural appropriation a big topic in the street dance scene?
K: Cultural appropriation is happening everywhere. With the dancers we spend time with and the people I train with, it’s super important we all learn the history and understand the foundation of the dance styles. Each style came out of a certain time and a certain culture, from people who had a certain experience.
As a white person, it's my responsibility to know and respect the history. If I’m gonna teach, I need to make sure that even if it’s eight year old kids, we talk about where the style comes from and who created it. For me, it's an ongoing conversation. I continue to learn from teachers who pass on what's true, so then I can share that as well.
R: What inspires you to keep dancing?
K: I didn’t start dancing til I was an adult, but I always wanted to. It took me a long time to learn how to commit and to learn that if dance is a priority, if I love it so much, then I have to just do it.
I incorporate a lot of angles into my movement, and I also love murals that have a lot of angles. I love bright colors and bold sort of stuff. I think it’s all super enriching. If I’m feeling like I need more ideas, I look to other dance. I just went to a Heidi Duckler performance, and she incorporates a number of different dancers and different dance styles. Ballet, contemporary. Even though it’s not how I would dance at all, just seeing the possibilities [is inspiring].
R: Do you have certain periods of time that you’re super inspired and others that you’re in a lull?
J: It’s like any sort of passion, especially with a creative art form. You’re gonna have ups and downs. In those moments, you go back to things that inspire you, and be on the lookout for new inspirations.
I tend to get inspired by people, which is in turn a reflection of a culture, and those things have inspired my movement. The styles I do are a reflection of a certain group of people who went through different things to arrive at style of music and a style of dance. And those things don’t happen by chance. It’s a lot larger than just dance style. From B-boy to breakbeats, Krumping to Krump tracks, Jookin to Memphis. It’s the way you dress, the way you act, how your mannerisms are and the way you dance.
R: Katie, I’d love to hear about your community work as it relates to what we’ve been talking about.
K: I come from a social work background, so over the years I’ve been searching for a way to weave in movement. If I'm working with youth, then I want to be dancing with them. The Aspire Project was founded to provide affordable access for anyone who is interested in dancing. I do fundraising and grant-writing, and I teach as well. I was their first teacher eight years ago. They’re starting to build a lot and I’m around to assist with that. Street dance is really close to my heart, so I’m eager to continue to build Hip Hop dance there as well.
R: Can you tell me a little about the battle you produced at the Rose Festival this year and how that went down?
K: The Beautiful Street is a blog that I’ve had for awhile, and I’m beginning to produce events under the name as well. The Beautiful Street is focused on arts that reside in the street and a platform for women. It came from when I was living in Buenos Aires and there were tons of murals everywhere, tons of color. I asked how many murals were by female artists and was told maybe three, in a city just covered in graffiti and street art.
There are a lot of wonderful dancers in our community, and sometimes with street dance you don’t see it unless you’re looking for it. I feel very passionate about partnering with other events going on in the city that already have audiences, and taking these opportunities for more people to become aware of street dance. Our 7-to-Smoke battle at the Rose Festival was the first event in that vein, and there’s another event coming in the fall.
R: Jung, tell me about your crew Soul Trigger.
J: We’re a local street dance crew. We believe in the same thing and come from all different walks of life. We all came together for the dance and the cultures that support it. We do battles, teach, travel for gigs and travel to battle.
R: What are the best ways to connect with other dancers in Portland?
J: Jams and events. Not always battles, maybe a party or cypher or session. The coolest thing is to keep it to the street and to the clubs where it’s meant to be, and we’ll be good as a culture and community.
R: In just a few words, how are you feeling ahead of the battle this Sunday?
J: Represent Portland, and ourselves. We out there.
K: I’m excited, motivated, inspired. Excited to connect.
Big ups to Katie and Jung for spending time talking with me and making shapes in front of a colorful wall! Rythmatix is beyond inspired by these two, and we'll be cheering for you all the way from Portland on Sunday during the battle. To see their final battle during the Portland qualifier, click here. Warning: it's epic.
Catch their moves on Instagram too! Find Katie here and Jung here.