This weekend, one of your Idolators traveled back his ancestral home of Philadelphia to take in the A/V-and-footwork spectacle of the fourth annual Stomping On The Yard “Super Stomp” championship at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, a college step-dancing tour hosted by Farnsworth Bentley (whose presence prompted the following text message from Maura: “omg umbrella”) where young stompers compete for $10k and “a golden Timberland boot known as Stompy.” It had been a week with too much drama for a dozen mamas, and when my sister fired off a MySpace blast about the contest with the subject header “omg omg omg” and the injunction “you owe this to me,” I knew what we had to do: throw back a couple of pre-show whiskeys and go watch African-American fraternity and sorority steppers tear shit up with 15,000 of our newest friends:
Though not a musical event per se, music is obviously a big part of Super Stomp, from the thundering snatches of current rap hits that punctuated each routine, sending the audience into gleeful fits of arena-wide seat-dancing, to the downright musicality—prepped by several decades of bleacher-bothering beats being turned into pop hits–of those marching, stomping feet banging out rhythms in real time. As we found our seats, our entrance music was, fittingly enough, the bubblegum yard-stomping sound of Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss.”
Whittled down from 160 teams in 20 events over the course of the Stomping On The Yard tour, the performances in Philly were mind-boggling for someone with few preconceptions–everything from an 100-strong Attack of the Clones homage with the dancers in full Imperial Stormtrooper gear to a military-based routine with a life-size tank that rolled out from the wings and a life-size helicopter that dropped from the ceiling as the (literal) sparks flew–even if my sister and I both agreed that the less flashy routines took far more guts than those with a bank-busting special effects budget. Slick flicks like Stomp The Yard have mainstreamed the stepping tradition enough to make it a small part of pop culture, but watching these young men and women combine the fleet finesse of dance with the brute force of a full-contact sport live…well, the athleticism is enough to shame you into going for a jog immediately upon exiting the arena. Here’s a little promo-film taste in case you’re unfamiliar:
But this isn’t a dance blog, and so by way of a little on-the-spot sociological reporting, here is what I learned about music in 2007 at Super Stomp:
At one point, Farnsworth asked how many of the audience had gone out to cop the new 50 Cent album. The boos and catcalls were deafening. Then he asked how many had snagged Kanye instead. Ditto the deafening part, except it was all cheers. Then he launched into a well-intentioned spiel about transferring that voting-with-your-dollars fervor into actually hitting the voting booths during next year’s election. Half-hearted clapping. Meanwhile, “Stronger” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” got whoops and whistles, but the audience went apeshit when the DJ threw down on “I Get Money.” Which I guess proves that a really hot beat transcends any orchestrated marketing beef. And that the ’08 candidates have their work cut out for them.
Anything with a dance routine = good. Lil Boosie’s “Wipe Me Down” prompted multiple instances of “shoulders, chest, pants, shoes”-ing from those around me (myself included). Some people groaned when the DJ dropped “Chicken Noodle Soup,” but that didn’t stop those same groaners from attempting the moves.
Songs where the appeal is utterly lost on me (i.e. a huge chunk of the pop charts in 2007) became more obvious (if not more appealing) watching the kind of mass response that it’s hard not to start leaning and rocking along with. I think “Crank That” is inane/tuneless/irritating–whatever old-man criterion you’d like to judge it by. But I can’t recall the last concert I was at where a crowd hollered like it was about to pop for the first dozen bars of a pre-recorded pop hit. If nothing else, its No. 1 status now feels like no fluke. (The most amazing part: same reaction each of three or four times those same few bars were dropped.) Ditto the agonizing “Party Like A Rock Star,” a song that’s been clamped to my ankle for months now like a rabid terrier in a skull-and-crossbones T-shirt. (A woman in front of me was practically banging her head right off her neck as she threw two-fisted devil horns at no one in particular.) These songs are, like, not good. But in a year where I feel very disconnected from the desires of mass culture, this went some way to affirming what people hear in said awfulness, i.e. something they can dance and sing along to with a sea of other people holding their cell phones aloft, i.e. the usual. (And thankfully I was back on an even keel when the opening 10-seconds of Big Boi’s still-awesome “Kryptonite”–and several-years-old–inspired the same kind of fevered shouts and whistles.)
Stepping/stomping is a world where Roisin Murphy is on equal footing with Lil Boosie. Perhaps the only world where this is the case.
Sadly, we had to cut out before everyone had performed, but the few hours of excitement generated by Super Stomp is going to make the next arms-folded, head-nodding gig I find myself making time at seem even more pallid/pointless than usual. Something other shows would do well to learn during long set-up times and other delays and snafus: instead of griping, whining, and booing, everyone should just get up and start dancing in impromptu conga lines down the aisles. It’s totally win-win.