A few months back, I wrote an article about Footwork for French Magazine Shoes Up. Rather than post the whole article (which is nonetheless available on request), here is the introduction and the full answers to the questions that I sent to Terrasquad’s Agee and Litebulb, two of Chicago’s most well known Footworkers.
Footwork is the latest descendant of the revolutionary musical lineage that is Chicago House. While it and it’s sibling genre Juke have been a vital part of underground Chicago since the late Eighties, the past year has seen a rise in the popularity of the genre, largely thanks to web channels such as Ghettotekz and Walacam. Here you will find grainy videos of battle circles in which limbs, hands and feet twist, step, bounce and sway rapidly and incredibly to 160BPM drum patterns, chopped-up samples, warped bass lines and hand claps. Perhaps uncoincidentally, the term ‘Footwork” also crops up in martial arts and not unlike a combat sport, occurs inside a ring in which teams of dancers battle it out amid cheers and heckles. “Let’s Go!”
What can one expect at a Footwork battle?
LITE BULB: When approaching a footwork battle, be expecting a lot of competition and high energy, fun music, and a lot of trash talking. If you’re at the right place with the best dancers, be expecting jaw dropping moves – amazing talent and creativity at its best.
AGEE: If you’re at a footwork battle u should expect intensity passion creativity pain anger fun great music and spectacular moves depending on who’s dancing!
How long have you been dancing and what drew you to it?
LB: Myself have been footworking for about 5, 6 years now. I came in a nobody, and made a name myself with ambition, hardwork and dedication.
AG: I’ve been dancing for 16 years I got really good at in 2000 and start trying to make a name for myself . What attracted me to footwork was the parties and the energy from all of the dancers I thought was intense oh and the most important the girls.
Where does a new dancer begin? Is there a rite of passage into the battle circle?
LB: To be honest there isn’t really a right of passage to the footwork game. Its a matter of showing up at the events where the best are and having right confidence to jump out there, do your best and show the greats why you belong, and that you have the heart for the sport itself.
AG: Well back in early 1990s you couldn’t just come out on the scene as a new dancer without being in a group and then your group would bring you out when they thought u were ready but times have changed and now you either go to TUFF (The Underground Footwork Factory), Warzone or Battlegrounds.
You’re considered to be three of the best dancers in the game, what determines a great dancer?
LB: Being considered one of three best dancers is a great honor. The most important traits to have when coming into the game are: staying ambitious, practicing your craft, staying humble, and must importantly paying homage to the great legends who were doing it before you.
AG: To be a great dancer it takes dedication, time, creativity, and respect is the most important besides knowing your history about footwork and the greats before your time!
Do DJs react to dancers and specific moves or is it up to the dancers to adjust themselves to the beats?
LB: In most cases with the DJs, the dancers react to the DJs music. Some great dancers even get there names in tracks depending on how good they are in the industry itself. The music brings the dancers to life, and it goes vice versa for the dancing – without one, the other cant exist.
AG: With footwork the dancers react to the music first because footwork requires us to flow with the music! Our speed is 160 bpm (beats per minute ) the djs know what to play according to how intense the battle is.
This issue of Shoes Up magazine is based around the theme of tradition – what are the traditions or rituals surrounding Footwork?
LB: There is so much history that surrounds footwork. It’s been around since the end of 80′s goin’ into the early 90′s and has been around since. The Bud Billiken parade is a once a year event that exhibits the art form at its best and has been around for decades. Then there’s various skating rinks that hold battles and Juke parties all over Chicago, and also special events that hosts battles that only exhibit the dance style on Sundays called TUFF (The Underground Footwork Factory). We hope to keep the tradition going forever, evolving the culture around the world and building on the foundation that was started way before us.
How important is clothing to dancers? What do you wear on your feet?
LB: The clothes aspect of the culture are usually more urban like…its kind of like whatever you feel comfortable in is what you dance in. For me personally, I like being fresh – more Hip-Hop like, graphic tees, Levis, fitted caps and things of that matter. In most cases, all footworkers dance in gym shoes. I myself prefer Supras, Nikes, and Addidas, all great dancing shoes in my eyes.
AG: To alot of dancers clothing is really not important but to me it is i like to look fresh while I dance that’s just me. As far as shoes I wear all types of Nikes, Air Jordans and Addidas those kicks just go with my swag on the dance floor.
While watching you Footwork online I’ve noticed moves that hold similarities to Ballet, Shangaan and Toprocking; do you study or are you influenced by other forms of dance?
LB: I study so many other dance styles because as you can see Footwork is based on that persons own creativity itself. I study Krumping, Tutting, Top Rock, and I love the Jabbawockeez. Their isolations help me improve my neatness and helps me give the element that I’m floating…Michael Jackson influenced a lot of footwork moves as well, as there is a move named after him called the “Mikes”.
AG: I respect all types of dance I watch Breaking, Popping, Turfing, Krump, House and many more it gives me different ideas to put with my style.
What do you think about Hip Roll? Do you participate?
LB: I think Hip Rolling is a great art form for dancers that practice Hip Hop and other dance styles but it doesn’t mesh with footworking at all…and no I don’t participate in the style myself.
AG: Hip rolling is getting popular all over the world but very popular on the west side of Chicago. Me personally I don’t do it, but I have friends who do though!
How vital is the Footwork scene to Chicago? Has it and the culture surrounding it changed since receiving exposure outside of Chicago?
LB: The culture is very vital to Chicago because it shows character and lets the world know what we do in our city and why we love it as much as we do. Any Chicagoan thats from the suburbs or the hard inner city from the south, west, east, even the north side was raised on the culture and appreciates it a great deal and over the years it has evolved tremendously since the exposure picked up outside of chicago…there are more moves being created, and other dance styles being implemented to the culture as well..
AG: Footwork is very vital in Chicago its been going on since late 1980s and early 1990s and it’s crazy its just getting recognized now but it couldn’t stay hidden forever since its so unique! It was just a Chicago thing but were taking it international
Do you like the Juke inspired music coming out of Western Europe? Does it inspire you to dance?
LB: As far as the Juke music being created outside of Chicago, I love it, it shows that people outside of my normal atmosphere appreciate the culture as much as I do, and any Juke music makes me wanna dance because of how much I love the culture, I can literally dance to any music though.
AG: I also like the juke inspired sound coming from west Europe, Paris, and Switzerland. It has a similar sound but yea ill dance to it we can Dance to anything keep up the good work looking forward to working together some day
FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE ON REQUEST.
PHOTOS BY LISA GILBY WITH THANKS.