Before Danny Valdovinos was a B-boy, before he had a crew or any dance moves, he was just a kid living in Visalia, listening to Korn and Deftones, skateboarding and learning to play the drums.
It was his older brother who hung with the breakdancers, who introduced the then-13-year-old to the style and gave him a VHS copy of a copy of a dance battle that would become his study guide.
Valdovinos, now 28, started breakdancing with friends in middle school. In high school, things got serious and he competed (and won) in his first local battle. He also met the group of breakers that would become his crew – the Wild Style Freaks.
A dozen-plus years later, Valdovinos and the crew will represent the Central Valley at the Battle for Fresno State on Saturday at Arte Americas. More than 20 B-boy crews are expected to compete for prize money and a spot at the championship battle in April (B-boy in hip-hop parlance generally means “break boy”).
The three-on-three competition is part of a ongoing project with Fresno State’s Valley Public History Initiative that is archiving Fresno hip-hop through oral histories, historical video, photography and event fliers.
The battle allows the community to see the culture (and history) represented in real time, says Sean Slusser, a hip-hop historian and one of the project directors. Portions of archive content also will be on display during the event, and project members will be on hand to conduct oral histories and scan old photos, Slusser says.
Fresno’s history in hip-hop dance goes back to the late ’70s and Timothy Solomon, aka “Popin’ Pete,” aka the guy who popularized the body-jerking, robotic dance style that came to be known as popping.
In the ’90s, breakdancing became popular in the area – in southeast Fresno, especially – and produced B-boys like Charles “Goku” Montgomery and Pablo Flores. The pair founded the Climax dance crew, competed internationally and, depending on whom you ask, may have been the first to pull off back-to-back airflares.
Airflares – rotating on your hands in a circular motion with you head pointed down and legs in a “V” – are now an iconic breakdancing move. Flores was doing multiple, continuous airflares in 1998, according to Slusser’s research.
At the time, Fresno had a diverse scene of mostly Latino and Hmong dance crews, Slusser says.
The Hmong dancers were especially fierce. If you wanted to really proves yourself, that’s who you battled, he says.
Any official “scene” at the time was fairly underground. The B-boy crews would set up in a spot (Holmes Playground, for example) until they got kicked out. Then they’d move on.
“They’d end up at Holmes for six months, then get kicked out,” Slusser says.
“They’d end up at Romain (Park) for like six months, then get kicked out.”
There were some larger organized events.
In fact, the Battle for Fresno State is a throwback to the Urban Kombat jams held at Satellite Student Union in the late ’90s, when the scene was particularly active. Slusser is looking for archival material from that period.
On a side note, those events were put on by DJ Hecktik, aka Aren Hekimian, aka the guy who now does Grizzly Fest.
The battles will be judged by a panel of B-boys from across the state, including B-boy Ace, B-boy Morris and Dee Rock. If you don’t know the names, a quick Google search will show you what you need to know. They are respected.
As is Fresno’s B-boy community, even now, Valdovinos says. Like, several Fresno high schools hold competitions on campus to foster young talent.
“They harbor and train these kids to be great,” he says.