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Uprock, or Rocking as it was originally referred to, also known as Rock, is a soulful and competitive urban street dance, performed in synchronization to the beats and rhythms of soul, rock and funk music, but was mostly danced to a specific and exclusive collection of songs that contained a hard driving beat. An example of such a song is the uprock classic "It's Just Begun" by noted jazz musician Jimmy Castor. The dance consists of foot shuffles, spins, turns, freestyle movements and more characteristically a four point sudden body movement called "jerk".
Use of gestures
Although women participated in this style of dance, it was usually danced by two men facing each other. The underlying philosophy of uprocking was to undermine the "opponent" with hand gestures called "burns". One would "burn" one's opponent with a variety of these hand gestures that would mimic an action that would be considered detrimental to the dancer's adversary. Two examples of typical and fundamental burns are the bow and arrow, and the shotgun. The "winner" of these mock battles was usually the individual who was able to choreograph and execute his or her burns creatively and even artistically to the rhythm and syncopation of the music.
In this sophisticated and rhythmic form of Rock-paper-scissors, one would have to dance thoughtfully as to not step forward and inadvertently get one's head "sledge hammered". Although it is common knowledge that uprocking is supposed to be a mock battle, those who are less professional sometimes get carried away with the dance which can result in real violence.
Uprock evolved in New York City circa in the late 1960s. A precursor and influence to this form of dance was gang culture. Throughout the very late 1960s and mid-1970s, New York was home to street gangs.
As rocking/uprocking developed, body movements called "jerks" and hand gestures called "burns" (as defined above in this article), would be added to emulate a fight against an opposing dancer. Being skillful in this new dance form, Apache would get the better of his opponents by skillfully using burns. Dancers throughout New York City in all Boroughs continued to invent new movements and gestures to create a street dance. Many gang members began to perform this dance. It became commonplace to see gang members hanging out in corners dancing against each other. Rocking/uprocking became a competitive dance that caught on very quickly.
By the early 1970s Rock shed its social stigma and was no longer considered a "gang" dance. It evolved and became a local dance performed by adolescent men throughout the New York City. Some say it originated in Brooklyn in the late 1960s, while many others say it was developed in the Bronx. However, it is now more widely accepted that the Dance Culture itself spread throughout New York City into all Boroughs because the best dancers danced mostly at Manhattan Clubs, where everyone took notice of the different styles and incorporated some of the moves into their own style of dancing.
It was common to see this form of dance at block parties, teen dances and festive gatherings, and in particular at St. Mary's Recreation Center in the South Bronx, where dancers from all over the city would come and dance every Tuesday and Thursday until October 1, 1974 when Rubberband one of the most popular Rock dancers in the City from back in those days got stabbed to Death by a 14-year-old youth, after an argument over a Dollar. Rubberband was 21 years old at the time of his death.
Some of the best dancers, from the South Bronx, hung out at a club called The 310 and a half, with names like Papo Rubberband, Mexico, Electrico, Mike Dominquez, Lil Richie, Dee Dee, Enoch and Papo, Willie Marine Boy, Willie Wip, Moses Martinez. They were part of the Latin Symbolics Dance Company. Competition was common in Manhattan clubs, such as The Foot Steps, The Bon Sua, and the Starship Discovery became the clubs where intense rock dance contests took place. Popular clubs were The Red and White, The Kontiki, The Footsteps, the Ice Palace, The Boombamacao, The Ipanima, Roseland, The Fresh, the Ruby Fruit. In Brooklyn, The Salsa and The Orange Peel were popular clubs.
In Brooklyn, you had Dancers like Lil Dave, Bushwick Joe, Chuck, Apache, Vinny, Noel, Blackie, Sammy, Papo774 and several others who actually danced at the New York Clubs and contributed to this dance culture as much as anyone else throughout New York City.
Some competitions created problems because of the disrespectful style of battling which was soon gone from the South Bronx because of the fights that would break out during some competitions. Brooklyn however kept that style of Rock Battle Dancing alive, where it still exists today. Though many battles would end peacefully, several others did not, which is the reason why The Bronx stopped that style of Rock Dancing very early on, and it evolved into a more disco style.
By the late 1970s uprock was established as a bonafide form of dance and this is when dozens of dancing crews formed in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Two of the better known groups of dancers were "Touch Of Rock" and "Dynasty." One was not required to be part of any particular group in order to dance or compete and there were many individuals who were considered independent. Also, not all uprockers focused on "battling" and instead perfected what were then known as "routines" wherein two dancers would perform a designed repertoire of movements that matched or coincided with each other's steps. Two of the best dancers out of Bushwick B'klyn that took routines to the next level of Freestyle routines where Papo & Jr. They took this style by storm, becoming one of the hardest partners in this genre to beat. They were best known for their routine known as S.W.A.T. Papo & Jr. in this era were ahead of their time. At one point no would want to compete against them.
The first 4 man Rock Routine was choreographed by Willie (Marine Boy) Estrada from the South Bronx who was the leader of the Latin Symbolics Rock Team who were called The Rock Masters in the mid-1970s. The Latin Symbolics where known for having some of the best dancers in all categories throughout New York City, and were considered the Innovators of the Latin Hustle. Some uprock competition prizes were earmarked for "best routine." Two such independent dancers that became well known for "routine-ing" were known as Enoch and Papo from The Latin Symbolics Dance Team from the Bronx in the early 1970s.
Uprock was taken seriously by some of its participants and supporters as it was an integral part of socializing. Prize money, women, bragging rights were all coveted and to the better and popular dancers went the spoils. Mimicking gang mentality where a member from one gang would successfully take the "colors" (jacket with gang insignia) from a member of a rival gang, dancers would sometimes compete for their respective shirts, however this practice was mostly done in Brooklyn, where the dance remained a bit primitive with the mind set of burning the other dancer with disrespectful hand gestures. Similar to gang idiosyncrasy, this was considered a particularly severe humiliation, thus, it was considered one of the highest stakes in a battle. If you lost your shirt, you would sometimes lose your nickname and/or your crew's name.
While other Rock Dancers throughout the City had critical acclaim from dancing in City Wide Rock Competitions Brooklyn Rockers kept their beloved style of Jerks and Burning in Brooklyn in local competitions. However, a few dancers from Brooklyn competed in competitions against the better dancers from other boroughs at contests in clubs like The Bon Sua, The Footsteps, Latin Times and the Starship Discovery in Manhattan where they placed in the top 3. One of the biggest City Wide Rock Contests was hosted by The Hoe Ave Boys Club on 174th St. in the Bronx in 1977. Dancers from all Boroughs competed and it was won by Hector Barrios and Pete Martinez from the Rock Masters executing a routine choreographed by Willie (Marine Boy) Estrada of the Latin Symbolics Dance Company, and Leader of the Rock Masters.
At first, the popularity of rocking was challenged by the well known disco dance called the Hustle. Some talented rockers preferred the gracefulness of dancing with women that the Hustle provided, as opposed to the adversarial and sometimes dangerous climate of competing against another male dancer. By the mid-1980s and into the 1990s uprock began to fade into history. At the same time, another competitive form of urban dance called breaking all but replaced uprocking. As many uprockers became grown men with adult responsibilities, it seemed that the culture of uprock would become a distant memory, but it was revived in the 1990s and got global attention with mostly the Brooklyn style of Uprocking being done in a Burn & Jerk type of style, which Brooklyn is known for. However, the resurgence of the Bronx Style is now also gone global, and is a very popular style because there is more freestyle movement in the style, which requires more dancing as opposed to the Burn & Jerk Style Brooklyn does.
The dance involves two opposing dancers, or teams dancing alternatively or simultaneously performing a choreographed "battle" throughout the duration of a complete song. Although some of the moves uprockers execute emulate fighting, physical contact is never allowed. As stated above, physical contact is usually a sign of inexperience and/or dysfunctional behavior. If an uprocker is experienced he or she will not make any contact in order to "burn" his or her opponent. Uprocking's rules of engagement penalizes any dancer who actually touches the opponent, even if contact was made unintentionally.
Experienced uprockers are usually familiar with the songs that they dance to and use the lyrics and sounds of the music to out-do their opponent. The music is the guideline for when to execute a jerk, burn, or freestyle. The dancer uses the music's lyrics or sounds in his or her favor in order to create the physical narration of the mock battle that manifests.
It becomes monotonous if not redundant should a rocker utilize burn after burn while dancing. Really good dancers tend to maintain uprocking as an art form and not just an all out burnfest. There should be a constant give and take of burns and jerks in order to give each opponent the space to burn the other, but also exhibit dance moves.
Opposing dancers can also face off in a line formation called the "Apache Line". In contrast to the circle formation in breakdancing, the Apache line allows multiple opposing dancers or crews to face each other and execute their burns. Back in the 1970s it was a fascinating display to watch. Each uprocker must keep in his/her line formation while battling. One form of Apache line competition utilized rotation positioning. In other words, dancers would battle until either he is tapped to step out by another rocker, or the opponent has been worn down.
These days, in the initiation of a new rocker who intends on joining a particular crew, an Apache line is created. Borrowing again from gang culture social protocol, the new uprocker must battle each member on the Apache line. The new rocker must dance down the center of the Apache Line and battle each rocker while maintaining a discipline in the use of jerks, burns and freestyle for which he is then evaluated.
This style of dancing was done mostly in Brooklyn, other Boroughs had different ways of doing things, and the Bronx faded out this style of dancing Rock at an early point. Brooklyn continues to dance along the same mind set and rules which existed when they first started battling each other.
No one is sure where the term "rocking" came from or why this form of dance was named using this word. It may have been that because of the dance's inherent nature of conflict, the colloquialism of "rocking" as in "rocking" the opponent was used. An example would be in describing a triumphant boxer or fighter by saying, "He rocked that dude."
Another school of thought is that it was called "Rock" because early on rockers danced mainly to a specific range of rock and roll songs that fell into a category that would be more accurately categorized as a hybrid of rock/funk. Examples of songs that fell into this genre would be "It's Just Begun" by Jimmy Castor, and the live version of "Sex Machine" by James Brown. These and many other songs were not quite soul nor rock and roll, yet, they provided the kind of hard driving beat that fueled the uprock style of dance.
A dance hall flyer announcing a "Rock Contest", would confuse some who were not familiar with the term rocking as it related to this specific form of dance. Individuals would show up at an organized party event expecting a rock concert having mistaken the event as a "rock and roll dance". After about a decade since its inception, "Rocking" became known as "Uprocking". It was the same dance with a different name.