Salt Break City: Breaking Barriers at Utah’s First All-Femme Breakdancing Competition
On Oct. 13–14 , Katie Hall will take her breakdance talents behind the scenes to put on Utah’s first all-femme breakdancing event: Salt Break City. Produced in conjunction with 1520 Arts, the competition will take place on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. at Salt Lake Buddhist Temple (211 West 100 S. in downtown Salt Lake) and will feature two types of competitions: breaking battles and open style. A bracket system will decide the winner, narrowing 16 dancers down to one.
For Hall, who grew up in the tiny town of Pingree in Southeastern Idaho, hosting an event like this has been a long time coming. Hall, like her neighbors, grew up on a farm. She craved competition and in her spare time played a variety of sports until inspiration struck when a mid-2000s dance movie Step Up starring Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan hit the cultural zeitgeist.
She says, “I ordered a DVD off Amazon called How to Break 101 and got some cardboard for my basement. When I started I was terrible but I wanted to get better and it became addicting.” In high school, she continued to dance but remembers her skills looking more like, “a child flopping on the floor.” It wasn’t until she was a student at Utah State University taking a hip-hop class that Hall met Joshua Perkins, executive director of The Hip-hop Education Resource Center (HERC), who helped her get into breaking.
“I ordered a DVD off Amazon called How to Break 101 and got some cardboard for my basement. When I started I was terrible but I wanted to get better and it became addicting.”
Since then, she has become one of Utah’s top B-Girls (a term for women who practice the dance of breaking) and traveled across the country for national competitions.
Breaking began in the ’70s on the streets of the Bronx as Black and Latinx youth gathered in the summer heat to practice their moves, stay out of trouble and enjoy the freedom of self-expression.
Through the years, breaking evolved and gained recognition as a global dance form. And next year in 2024, it will make its debut at the Summer Olympic Games in Paris.
“Traveling and being outside of Utah, I’ve seen a lot more equality. Not that Utah is bad by any means, but it lacks a lot of femme energy.”
“Utah is in the hip-hop scene, but it’s heavily male-dominated,” says Hall. “Traveling and being outside of Utah, I’ve seen a lot more equality. Not that Utah is bad by any means, but it lacks a lot of femme energy.”
Julia Ma, a fellow dancer, helped Hall organize the Salt Break City event. “Hip-hop is a male-dominated space; that’s just the reality of it,” says Ma. “How many rappers versus female rappers do you see? That goes for literally everything. Female DJs vs male DJs. I mean, I can’t even name a female graffiti artist. But it’s not like the women weren’t there.”
Alongside featuring femme dancers, Salt Break City will also highlight women judges, DJs and MCs, a sight rarely seen in the breaking community. “Battles are mostly improvisational,“ says Ma. “What characterizes these street-style battles is that they are what we call freestyle. People’s egos get involved. It’s a really self-indulgent kind of activity to go out there and standalone as a solo person.” Three judges will determine the winner of each battle based on a variety of factors involving dynamics, skills, flow and overall confidence.
“What characterizes these street-style battles is that they are what we call freestyle. People’s egos get involved.”
Josie Marine, a board member of 1520 Arts, a local non-profit for hip-hop arts, explains the battles, saying, “It’s like, I think I’m better than you, you think you’re better than me, and we’re going to use our moves to battle each other.”
While the DJ has a choice of music, breakers freestyle, showcasing their personal styles. “For me it’s explosive, athletic, expressive. It’s an art form but also a sport. You’re in somebody’s face, but also, at the end of the day, you really love that person, and you’re going to go hang out with them. But in the moment, you’re competing,” says Hall.
What can you expect to see when you walk through the doors at Salt Break City? “Chaos,” says Hall. “It’s super energetic. There is an element of chaos, but it’s fun chaotic. Good vibes, good community.”
“It’s super energetic. There is an element of chaos, but it’s fun chaotic. Good vibes, good community.”
Giving people a chance to see women compete at the highest level is something Hall wished she would’ve seen growing up in rural Idaho. “I want men in the community to see that women are just as strong as the men,” Hall says. “Sometimes because we’re so quiet and we’re not dominant in this scene, we can be forgotten. This is their chance to sit, watch, appreciate, root and cheer.”
This past August marked the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. A huge milestore for the culture and a reminder of the progress that still needs to be made.
Ma adds, “I want to inspire our community. Inspire girls and women. Give a platform for women to feel confident and feel like they can show up. A lot of times it just takes that one step. If we can just provide that platform for even a handful of local female dancers, that would be successful.”
For more information on both days of the event, check out 1520 Arts’ Instagram page @1520arts.
Read more coverage of local events here:
SLUG Mag’s Brewstillery 2023 @ Artspace City Center 06.17
The Story of Three Sisters: A Celebration of Indigenous Foodways