This summer, the United States is reaching new heights of dance fever as TV shows like Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" and MTV's "Randy Jackson Presents: America's Top Dance Crew" have returned to the airwaves. MTV's runaway hit is considered especially cutting edge, showcasing hip-hop dance groups from across America. But if MTV really wants the best dance crew, it should be looking in South Korea.
"Of the top six or seven crews in the world, I'd say half of them are from Korea," says Christopher "Cros One" Wright, 33, an American dance promoter and b-boy who was recently in Suwon, South Korea, to judge the second annual global invitational hip-hop dance competition, called R16, that was held at the end of May.
The development of South Koreans' hip-hop dancing could be seen a cultural parallel to their sharp global ascendance in electronics and automaking. A decade ago, Koreans were struggling to imitate the Bronx-style b-boy and West Coast funk styles that are the backbone of the genre. Now, a handful of these crews are the safest bets to win any competition anywhere.
Certainly no country takes its hip-hop dance more seriously. The Korean government -- through its tourism board and the city of Suwon -- invested nearly $2 million in this year's competition. Two of the most successful teams, Gamblers and Rivers, have been designated official ambassadors of Korean culture. Once considered outcasts, the b-boys now seem to embody precisely the kind of dynamic, dexterous and youthful excellence that the government wants to project.
Although hip-hop dance goes back at least 35 years, the top Korean b-boys trace their histories back just 11 years, to 1997, the Year Zero of Korean breaking. By 2001, the first year that a Korean crew entered the Battle of the Year -- the world's biggest b-boy contest -- they won "best show" honors and a fourth-place trophy. Every year since, a Korean crew has placed first or second. Says Battle of the Year founder Thomas Hergenrother, "Korea is on a different planet at the moment."
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