By far the most interesting social excursion I have been to here in Vladivostok, attending the Vladivostok City Dance Competition at the Stealth Night Club will be something I will not forget. Fellow American student, Kylea Brown, invited me to help cheer on one of her English students, Arina, who was “popping”.
This was another display of the surprisingly big hip-hop culture phenomenon that has gripped Vladivostok. SRAS Graduate Jordan Bryant wrote for this site about several rap concerts and even battles during her stay in Vlad, but this was the first example of it I had seen.
The competition was an all-day event, separated by small, specialized dance form section competitions. We only planned to watch Arina, but we arrived an hour early, so we watched the competition before it. The price of admission was 300 rubles and after we maneuvered through the corridors of the nightclub, we came to the dance floor. The place was packed with high-school aged teenagers (with the occasional adult here and there). We arrived just in time for what we would find out to be the most popular dance form – “booty” (or попа). To describe “booty:” it looks just like American “twerking”, but with white Russian girls participating. From my understanding, the girl who possessed the best control over the rhythmic movement of her booty would be declared winner. A curated dance song with heavy bass beats would play for a minute and two girls would enter the center square and battle-dance until the song ended. Then a judge would decide who would go on. The crowd did not seem to play a part in deciding who won or not, but were nonetheless energetic about the dancers.
The event was very well attended and there were a lot of professional cameras recording the dancers. The girls’ costumes ranged from provocative fishnet stockings to simple soffe shorts. It was actually interesting to see the diversity of clothing because there was no direct correlation between dress and skill. The girls in the athletic bras and soffe shorts had as much skill as the girls dressed in top-bottom matching outfits.
After an hour of watching girls eliminate the rest one-by-one, we finally arrived to the final two girls. It was a close match, with the judge having to call a stalemate (because she couldn’t decide) and making both girls dance another round again. The eventual girl who won, won with a specialized on-her-head booty shake that got the crowd roaring. Personally, Kylea and I did not find it that impressive, as it took her 15 seconds to set up her head on the ground, but nonetheless she was good enough to be declared champion. The judge, who happened to be a professional dancer, showed the crowd how to actually booty dance and then the competition wrapped up.
Next was the event that Kylea’s student was participating in – the “popping” dance competition. As it was set up, most of the people who watched “booty” left, which left the nightclub to have the appearance that it was empty. The “popping” dance didn’t really have any competition; only Arina and her partner were the only decent dancers. This was a cool aspect of the competition; you needed to dance in partners. One person would do their thing, then the other team would respond. This would continue until the music ended. At the end of the music, the two judges would declare a winner.
As described to me by Kylea, “popping” calls for the perfect mixture of flow and frigid ebb. You need to “pop” when “popping;” most of the dancers missed that memo and simply moved like awkward robots. The two judges definitely showed their disapproval of the competition through their bored stares or cringing facial expressions. They were a bit more entertaining than the dancers themselves! The competition slowly eliminated teams until there were three left (unfortunately, a team dropped out at the last minute which left an awkward number). The three teams competed in a triangle, each one responding in a triangle order. A bit of confusion occurred when the judges explained how they would declare who won (because in the “booty” competition, the judge eliminated one team, then had the two remaining girls compete again). The judges just straight up declared the winner and ended the competition (which happened to be our friend!) Then the judges danced for the crowd, also showing what popping actually should look like. Because Arina won the competition, she and her partner were entered in the regional competition that would occur in the nearby town of Nakhodka over the summer!
Kylea and I congratulated Arina and stayed to watch the beginning of the next competition, which was the Russian version of breakdancing. By then, we were pretty hungry, so we decided to go and get some food at Coffetory Cafe. The competition was still going strong with a couple more dance sections still waiting to happen. If you get the chance to watch a Russian dance competition, I highly recommend it. The experience is a very fascinating display of Russian-American culture appropriation. Globalization in action!
Here are some more shots of the energy and competition!