In BASSH Comes Mishmash of Styles

It was seven years ago that the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance first corralled the various dance organizations in town to put together this smorgasbord of dance styles – ballroom, Argentine tango, swing, salsa and hip hop – which gives the event its acronym, BASSH. This year’s extravaganza takes place Friday and Saturday nights at the Lobero Theatre, with a special on-stage post-performance party with the dancers on opening night.

The first four of those styles can be seen – and danced – by the public somewhere around town virtually every week: ballroom at the Carrillo Recreation Center every Saturday night, tango at Café Buenos Aires on Wednesdays, swing back at Carrillo on odd Fridays (and, recently, for a free hour every Tuesday and Wednesday) and salsa at various venues all over town, particularly Ruby’s on Thursdays and Saturdays.

But hip hop – the dance that turns bass into BASSH – is in a class by itself. It’s not like you can walk into a local club and ask someone to join you in a break dance.

“In its early years, hip hop was truly a social dance,” says Alana Tillim, the managing director and co-owner of the Santa Barbara Jazz Dance Academy, which has brought a hip hop team to BASSH annually since the third year.

“It developed in the streets of cities like New York as break dancing in the late1970s, and it really was about street culture,” Tillim continues. “There would be battles between groups, a big community event. But over the years what it’s become now isn’t like that at all.”

In fact, in places like Santa Barbara hip hop is much more about the joy of the dance than about performing at all – BASSH is the only public event where you’ll see the dance on display, save for the school’s in-house demonstrations.

“There really aren’t any venues for us to perform,” says Tillim. “Thankfully, with BASSH, we have a place to show off what we do.”

Indeed, four of the 17 groups participating in this year’s event are offering some form of the highly energetic dance. Shawn Henry and Annihilation specializes in break-dancing and the crowd-wowing head-spinning variety. 14K Jules Dance Academy presents a dozen young dancers in a precision-oriented, dance team routine that is comparable to athletic cheerleading (which is not coincidental, since some of the members are on the cheerleading squad in Carpinteria). Tamarr Paul’s ensemble put on a sassy, sexy show this year to music by Justin Timberlake. And Tillim’s jazz academy, which features eight dancers ranging in age from high school teens to 20s, are performing a “pop and rock” style that Tillim says is very old school.

“There are lots of ways hip hop can go,” she says. “We’re hitting all the bases this year, touching on all of the facets.”

With such a small community and only the one major performance venue each year, you’d think the stakes would be high enough to create jealousies and squabbling between the squads. But Tillim says the opposite is closer to the truth.

“The community is so small that we’re not that competitive,” she explains. “Sure you try to bring your best game, hit the peak of your energy. But when you walk off stage, the other dancers give you a smile, a pat on the back and lots of encouragement. It would be a better story to say there were gnarly cat fights, but we’re all really supportive of each other.

“Maybe it’s because hip hop is so different,” Tillim goes on. “You see us once a year. We won’t be at a wedding, or at Ruby’s or on stage during Fiesta. But it’s good to be the odd man out.”

(For tickets to BASSH, call 966-6950 or visit www.sbdancealliance.org.)