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SALT LAKE CITY — Some 500 hip-hop dancers from around the state, and more far-flung regions, gathered Saturday at the Gallivan Center to do battle with each other and join in the fight against childhood hunger.
The Will Dance for Kids project has been turning dance events into fundraising and food-gathering opportunities for nearly a decade, including hosting Saturday’s Peanut Butter Jamm, an annual hip-hop competition that started six years ago.
Will Dance for Kids founder and director Penny Broussard said the program has raised over $424,000 and collected over 50,000 pounds of food since its launch, providing more than 1.5 million meals for Utah kids in need.
Broussard said proceedings go toward kids-focused programs overseen by the Utah Food Bank.
“We have 169,000 children that are at risk of hunger every day in Utah,” Broussard said. “Our work helps support efforts like the Kids Cafe, mobile food pantries and the backpack programs that send food home with students to cover the weekends, when they don’t have access to school meals programs.”
Saturday’s event included a hip-hop master class taught by professional choreographer Marc “Big Chocolate” Cameron and 2-on-2 dance battle competitions in two age categories, 12 and under and 13 and up.
Many of the competitors were current and former students of event MC Joshua Perkins, who runs local arts and culture nonprofit 1520 Arts, formerly the B-Boy Federation.
Perkins, a veteran of the Utah hip-hop scene, said even though the competition is billed as a “battle,” the energy that drives the genre is about making connections and bringing people together, elements very much in evidence at the Gallivan Center on Saturday.
“Hip-hop culture is about connecting to the music and connecting with those around you,” Perkins said. “Dancers are thinking, ‘I’m showcasing something I worked really hard on, but I’m not just performing and waiting for judges to tally my score.’
“The culture grew from this community idea, kids hanging out at parties in the Bronx that really had nothing but each other.”
Perkins said combining a hip-hop competition with an effort to help keep Utah children from going hungry is one that makes a lot of sense.
“Feeding kids who aren’t able to feed themselves is an issue that a lot of times gets overlooked,” Perkins said. “You want kids to feel that they’re cared for by their community and those around them. Reaching out to others, and looking out for each other, is very much a part of the hip-hop community.”
Dancer Clarence Kent, a 23-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, said he discovered hip-hop in grade school when a friend brought him to a break-dancing class. Kent said he traveled to Salt Lake City specifically to compete at the event, and was dancing with other members of his crew who call themselves Golden Surf.
He was looking forward to doing some sightseeing later in the week, but was more interested Saturday afternoon in hearing whether or not he and his partner had made it past the first preliminary round.
“This is a lot of fun,” Kent said. “I’m excited that there are so many high-level dancers here.”