CypherFest 2022 lit up the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre and Yukon Arts Centre from July 22 to 24 with a full weekend of breakdancing performances, battles and music.
The main goal of the festival for artistic director Riley Simpson-Fowler was to showcase hip-hop and give the younger generation a space to meet and build with established artists from across the continent.
According to Simpson-Fowler, the Cypherfest team has been growing every year since its inception in 2009, and the 2022 team was “killer.” He, Tori Beemer and Alex Robinson did most of the planning and organizing with help from Jason Sealy.
“The most rewarding thing about working at the Heart is being able to throw events like Cypherfest,” said Simpson-Fowler. It may be tiring, but it’s a “huge platform” where he and his team get to showcase all the work they put in throughout the year.
“After two years of trying to host socially distanced/everything streamed versions of Cypherfest, it felt amazing to be back to regular shows and events,” he said.
The festival kicked-off on Friday evening with an event called Vinyl Therapy. Simpson-Fowler called it “a-bring-your-own-record-juke-box-party.” There were exhibition battles and live performances from the Heart House Band, Siddartha and Lady C.
Guests were encouraged to choose a song or two to play from their own records.
On Saturday evening, students from the Street Styles Dance Intensive were given the opportunity to share what they learned in the CypherFest Showcase at the Yukon Arts Centre. This event for family, friends and the general public was the culmination of a two-week “boot camp” for young people.
The training took place on weekdays from July 11 to 22. Participants learned street style choreography, breakdance terminology and battle etiquette from guest instructors. There was also a music production class.
On Sunday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. a block party took place at the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre. Admission was free for all ages and Ukranian borscht was available for $6 plus any donation. There was also live music and a food truck.
Siblings Nic and Fisher Miller ran a lemonade stand in the parking lot. They said business was going well and there was a “steady medium” flow of customers all afternoon.
They continued serving drinks to attendees and quenching the thirst of performers while the breakdancing battle for youth took place inside the community centre’s jam-packed black box theatre.
Each round, two pairs of dancers strutted their best moves and faced-off for a cheering crowd. Three judges decided on a winner and then dancers shook hands, hugged and congratulated one another before the next round took place.
Ezzie Bailey, 11, danced his heart out all the way to the semi-finals. He said he’s had a passion for dancing for as long as he can remember. His mom told him he’s been “busting moves” since he was two years old.
“I was always shaking my head to music,” he said, “and my mom was always wondering how I wasn’t getting dizzy.”
This was Bailey’s first year taking part in the Street Styles Dance Intensive. His favourite part about breakdancing is getting to compete in the battles.
“It’s so much fun. You forget about everything and just let loose,” he said.
Sometimes he thinks of his moves in advance, but then completely forgets about them when it’s his turn to dance. He says he often surprises himself in the heat of the moment onstage with different moves he never planned.
According to Bailey, it’s up to the dancer to decide whether they want to make up their own moves or use moves that already exist. He likes to combine the two, but his go-to move in any battle is the “six-step” because he can use it as a launch pad into lots of different moves.
His favourite “freeze” is the headstand, especially when he manages to put his legs in different positions while remaining in that pose.
Bailey hopes to continue pursuing his breakdancing passion. One of his dreams is to travel to Montreal to perform with his Riverdale troupe.
He says anyone who thinks they want to try breakdancing should do it.
“People really can’t judge you because everyone has a different style. Just make it your own and have fun. That’s all there is to it.”
Contact Magan Carty at firstname.lastname@example.org