Review: Battle for the North (PANAMANIA)

Photo of breakdancer mid-dance from Battle for the North as part of Panamania.

Battle for the North brings a break dance showcase to Toronto audiences as part of PANAMANIA

The Young Centre for the Performing Arts is keeping slightly different company with Battle for the North, a break dance showcase and competition produced as part of PANAMANIA in Toronto. Crews from all over Canada were invited to battle head to head against each other for a cash prize of $2,000, all before a live audience of urban dance enthusiasts and newcomers to the genre alike.

On the second night of the three-night event, 16 crews were slated to battle one on one. The top eight teams would then move on to the last round where four would be pronounced the best of the best. Each round lasted seven minutes, with the three judges given about one minute to decide a winner.

I’m no stranger to break dance, both participating (granted, I’m an absolute beginner) and watching, but this was my first time witnessing an actual battle and I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better first experience. Like all dance, breaking or b-boying comes with its own distinct vocabulary and technical elements, all of which are thrown together by each dancer to create improvised combinations. There’s no choreography here, just feeling the rhythm of the music and illustrating it through a glossary of movement.

Battle for the North had DJ Serious on hand to spin the live tunes, which brought an added element of surprise and funk for both dancers and spectators. It was really impressive watching the dancers spin, freeze and toprock to a set of beats that could change at any moment. A dancer that hit the floor to an upbeat disco vibe might all of a sudden have to adapt to a more grounded funk beat halfway through their set. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure my head didn’t stop bobbing the whole time.

The only unfortunate thing about the show was that the audience had to sit on the floor. Understandably, with raised seats it would be harder to see what the dancers were doing, but cross-legged on the hard floor isn’t the most comfortable. Our gracious MCs did call two intermissions during the two-hour run time, offering a nice moment for us to stretch our legs and boogie down a little. They also had a screen as a backdrop where a bird’s eye view of the dance floor was projected. I thought it was a smart idea to make sure nobody missed the exciting moments.

The dancing itself was incredible, as you’d expect from some of the top crews in Canada. There were high-flying power moves, swirling variations of the 12-step, back spins and lots of other technical moves I couldn’t quite figure out. Besides the moves themselves, each dancer had their own distinct style that ranged from smooth to more aggressive to humourous. It was great seeing the sportsmanship between the dancers, too, despite the cash prize on the line you really got a sense of what the bboy community is like watching them high five and cheer each other on.

If you can’t make the final performance tonight, you can catch the top four performing at Nathan Phillips Square on July 24 to see who gets crowned the winner.


Photo provided by Battle for the North.