Last weekend when the world was beginning its downward spiral into global pandemic, a small gathering at GCS clothing store in downtown Santa Ana was celebrating.
Celebrating life. Celebrating community. Celebrating hip hop culture.
On Saturday, March 14, the alley in front of GCS was a scene right out of a 1980s breakdance movie. DJs manned the turntables as the MC called to passersby and a crowd circled around dancers moving on a checkboard floor. Breakers and poppers faced off, expressions simultaneously full of intensity and joy, and battled for cash prizes (and bragging rights).
“I want people to see that hip hop culture is alive and well,” said Hector Ruiz, GCS store owner and organizer of the event. “Post Malone and Cardi B aren’t the complete picture of hip hop — there’s more. Hip hop should be a visceral experience. Something you participate in.”
What about promoting a public event amidst coronavirus fears and countless announcements of cancellations?
“We felt that people might need an event like this to get their minds off the madness in the world right now,” said Ruiz.
And he was right.
The “Taking it to the Streets” battle took place from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and was attended by a mixed crowd of “regulars” from the small hip hop community, new dance performers, and random visitors making their way around downtown Santa Ana. The street dance duel took place against a backdrop of original graffiti works by local artists.
“I saw this as a chance to highlight dance as part of hip hop culture,” said Ruiz, who regularly makes space for music, art, and apparel associated with hip hop.
“GCS has always been very much a part of counter-culture. We’ve always been associated with small brands, small artists and supporting the grassroots arts and entertainment scene in SoCal,” said Ruiz.
GCS, which was started as Globe Clothing Store, or The Globe, in Pomona in 1995 by Ruiz’s uncle, has morphed into Giants Casting Shadows. They sell limited edition graphic streetwear, art, art supplies, and music as well as hosting art shows, in-store performances and artist signings.
“What they say about doing something you love so you never have to work a day in your life, I feel that,” said Ruiz. “It’s true for me because I get to support this small community, people who are just starting out in art or music. I can give them the first experience to build their resume, and hopefully then get future bookings elsewhere.”
An event like last week’s street dance battle is an example of how Ruiz does his part to foster a community around hip hop culture. Beyond widening the appeal of a given show or genre of hip hop, artists of all mediums can connect with hip hop fans collectively. And GCS is the hub.
“I hope people see this as a living, breathing thing. I encourage them to come see actual paintings, come talk to the artists, cheer for people while they dance,’ said Ruiz. “That is culture. That is neighborhood. That is life.”
These uncertain times make planning a bit of a crapshoot, but Ruiz hopes to host another “Taking it the Streets” battle event in the summer.
Said Ruiz: “In hindsight, all of us who were at last week’s event agree that it was a good note to, I don’t want to say ‘go out on,’ but to head into this time of isolation. It felt good to feel normal, to get away from the T.V., to enjoy the outdoors and companionship.”
Kaitlin Wright is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.