“The festival is most known for its electrifying atmosphere, innovative format, and grassroots community level impact.”
It was only a few years ago that we turned our spotlight toward Ashton Lites, better known as Stackz in Boston dance circles, for his work running Stiggity, an organization that uses urban arts to teach life-building skills, and for his events around the region that tie in with its mission.
Emerging from the pandemic with that mission intact, next week Lites returns with the biggest Stackin’ Stylez to date, running from Sept. 8 to 11 with a final freestyle concept battle at the Middle East on the latter.
We reached out ahead of the big battle for a primer and to catch up with one of the most exciting personalities in Boston arts today.
First, for those of us who are flat-footed, please tell us exactly what a freestyle concept battle is?
Freestyle, not to be confused with the electro dance music culture of the ’80s (but not excluding) is a term used to describe a range of Black cultural dance styles that are based in improvisation/self expression. Styles like popping, krump, house, breakin, flexin, Memphis Jookin, etc. are base forms that are invited to the competition and each individual dancer while representing their style is challenged to adapt their dance freestyle to random concepts that are assigned at each round of the competition bracket.
Concepts like ‘footwork’ challenge a competitor to execute their round primarily focusing on their feet movement. Then there are concepts like ‘elimination’ where dancers get to choose which extremity their opponent can’t use during their round. These concepts not only level the playing field of the competition but it also invites in a fun, creative, and transformative atmosphere that both the competitors and the audience can enjoy.
What is this event known for in particular now that it has built its reputation up over the past couple of years?
Stackin’ Stylez has become a family/collective that stretches across the globe. The festival is most known for its electrifying atmosphere, innovative format, and grassroots community level impact. Between the education panels/workshops, the parties, and the unique event format, the audience/participants really get a good taste of Boston’s vibrant freestyle dance culture.
KI – NEN, Lite-feet veteran from Brooklyn and the winner of Stackin’ Stylez 2nd edition said “Stackin’ Stylez’ has impacted my journey courtesy of their unique format. After my first experience with the concepts implemented at the Stackin’ Stylez event. My movement gained more range allowing my imagination to take many new forms moving forward”.
There’s a lot of mutual admiration between dancers in your community, but there’s also a lot of competition. Where does this event fall along that continuum? More friendly? More competitive? A little bit of all of the above?
The concept challenges level the playing field and really dilute the opportunity for overly competitive, non productive energy. While the competition still has a competitive edge (dancers are competing for a $700 cash prize/trophy/gift) it takes a more light hearted form similar to a game show, just with world class skilled dancers. In between the competition rounds the audience and participants enjoy an open dance floor, food, drinks, vendors, and often feel inspired to network/get connected.
How about style-wise? What are some of the unique styles that people bring
This battle attracts practitioners of many unique styles from across the state. We’ve had Turf dancers come from the Bay Area, Memphis Jookin, popping, animation, krump, Jersey Club, lite-feet, flex, breakin, house, hip-hop, and more. We’ve had guests from Senegal, Switzerland, Canada, France, etc. Bringing their own unique flavor to the many of the traditional freestyle dance forms.
How similar is what Stackin’ Stylez has become to what you originally intended?
I started to cultivate the idea for Stackin’ Stylez six years before producing the first edition. Boston has an incredible freestyle dance history and I wanted to find a way to re-ignite the momentum while also highlighting those who paved the way. I had also been traveling around the world battling in competitions. I wasn’t only competing for accolades/respect but I was also networking, building relationships, and studying the success/failures of these types of events. From there I was able to map out a plan that would not only celebrate Boston dance but also invite a new vibrant energy into the city. Stackin’ Stylez is very similar to what it intended to be and even more. I intended for it to be a dope, well produced space that people can enjoy but I didn’t anticipate the amount of positive impact it would have on people’s lives.
Is this an event where people from outside the freestyle dance community can come in and really get a great look and feel for what it’s like in the grassroots of the culture? Any advice for pure spectators?
Spectators are encouraged to come be a part of the vibe. Most shows tend to create a barrier between the performers and the audience, at Stackin Stylez, you can sit next to, dance, drink, and eat with the competitors/talent who will be up on the stage. Spectators will have a chance to not only get connected to the grassroots freestyle dance community in Boston but they will also have the opportunity to meet and build with the international dance community. Lastly I challenge all spectators to grab a few friends and indulge in the whole weekend package. Take the workshops, come to the panel discussions, party with us at the pre-parties, and take all of those experiences to the main event to watch with a whole new set of eyes/appreciation for the culture.
If by chance people want to go all in with the experience they can participate in STACK BNB, a skill share based housing exchange program. If you are interested in hosting an out of state guest(s) you can fill out the form on the site and you will be paired with a guest(s) based preferences and in turn the guest would have to share a skill with you. It could be a private dance lesson, or a range of skills that the guest may have to offer.