GAREMA Place in Civic is set to break out this Saturday (January 23) with a show of “peace, love, unity and having fun” — the “four principles” of hip-hop — as the inaugural Canberra Street Dance Festival swings into gear.
Targeted at youth and families, and supported by the ACT City Renewal Authority and City Services, it’s the brainchild of Chip Lo, who owns and directs the dance studio, Project Beats.
He’s keen to stress the more benign aspects of hip-hop culture (as opposed to the confrontational image of gansta rap) and to celebrate all the elements of hip-hop, including dance, music, art and fashion.
Bearing in mind the basic pillars of hip-hop — deejaying, MCing, graffiti painting and above all, break dancing, the day’s highlights will include showcases from Project Beats and Passion & Purpose, dance parties and competitions, rap battles from local artists like KG, Shaka J and DJ Chemi-Cal, street art installations by more than 15 local street artists will be creating a permanent wall display. There’ll also be fashion stalls, sneaker maintenance and customisation and hair styling from fashion buffs at street culture shop Kriss Kross and fashion label World Tour Supply.
When I caught up with Lo and two of his top crew members, Anjlika Guglani and Rob Aspinall, at his studios in Civic, there was no sign that his spirits had been dampened by recent restrictions on travel.
“It’s quite unpredictable how things will go,” Lo says, “but we have a backup plan and there are plenty of interstate people in unaffected areas.”
Similarly, he has found local replacements for each of the judges in case they can’t travel.
Lo is well aware that with government restrictions in place they be expecting just a few hundred people whereas normally they’d get a crowd of more than 1000.
“Fingers crossed,” he says.
Lo is a true believer in the culture hip-hop and has studied it very carefully going back not just to the ’90s, but to its origins in the ’70s before the mainstream got hold of it.
“I’ll be happy if I can dance until I’m 70 or 80,” he says, “whereas in traditional classical dance after the age of 30, you go backwards… If you love dancing you should keep doing it.”
“Hip-hop is still at the forefront of music,” Lo says, “but at my age I’m now trying to do my research into it.”
It’s different for Aspinall, who’s been dancing with Project Beats for six years and is a member of the studio’s elite crew, Project One, as part of which he represented Australia in 2018 and 2019 at Hip Hop International.
A “popping” dance instructor and coach of “One For All”, at 20 he’s a lot younger than Lo. He’s also a professional guitarist and singer and is studying in the jazz stream at the ANU School of Music. He feels the influence of jazz and hip-hop, rejecting the violent, aggressive side of hip-hop and feeling music to be at the heart of his dancing.
Guglani – “Anj” to the crew — comes from a different background, having been sent to ballet from an early age. She’s now training to become a dietician but has been part of the Project Community for four years as a hip hop instructor and a member of the all-female crew, “Fries Before Guys”.
“I found ballet to be not that accepting, it was very rigid and you couldn’t express yourself,” Guglani says, and besides, “they always put me towards the back.”
But she did it for a long time and still believes: “The one thing about ballet is that it teaches you discipline and determination and dedication.”
All of them say that they’re in hip-hop for the long haul, praising it as a form of expression that brings out positive emotions and embraces all personalities and body-types.
That’s why they’re hopeful that the weekend’s street dance festival will appeal to a broad range of tastes.
“Not everybody likes dance music but they might like the street art, or they might be attracted to the fashion side of hip-hop” Lo says, “were giving people a chance to see the hip-hop is more than what they think it is.”
After all, as rapper KRS-One says, “hip-hop is something you live”.