Nowhere is the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea – the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom – more alive than in Madison’s annual Breakin’ the Law festival. Breakdancing (or “breaking”) and other forms of urban movement and dance are celebrated by an international contingent of artists in a multi-day event sponsored by UW-Madison Breakdance Club.

“We’re bridging the gap between the university and the community,” says co-director Jarius King, also known as b-boy ManOfGod. “While the UW campus is largely segregated, Breakin’ the Law brings an important multicultural perspective.”

Co-director Katrina Flores agrees. “Influencing how the Wisconsin Idea comes to life on our campus is incredibly important,” she says. “To see community youth and college (students) engage each other in positive community building through Hip-Hop culture is one of the most impactful aspects of the festival.”

Nine Years Running
This year’s event is the ninth annual and is subtitled Style Df9ned. “It’s about defining who we are as a scene in the Midwest,” declares King. Organizers are maintaining the commitment to regional representation by featuring exclusively Midwestern judges for competitions. “While the jam has grown in global participation, it has always been rooted in local participation,” Flores confirms, “and we want to honor that.”

Each year, BTL features not only the more well-known breaking competition but also battles in popping and the wide-open “all styles” category. For that battle, various genres of music are mixed and dancers might bring everything from martial arts tricking to house, locking and footwork to the floor.

Additional events include free workshops for local youth and community members, film screenings and panel discussions. King describes the latter as “the United Nations of breaking,” noting that translators are on hand so that panelists from Panama, Hong Kong, Mexico, South America, Brazil, the United States and more can share how breaking interacts with their traditional culture.

The Culture of Community
The focus on community and culture is consistent across every aspect of BTL. Qualifiers for the two-versus-two breaking battles are held in cities around the world and some double as fundraisers, like the recent Twin Cities event that supported a local community center.

The event is also undoubtedly political: King notes that BTL originated from an effort to fight Madison’s cabaret law (which required a license to allow dancing in a restaurant or bar). Flores explains that the work is ongoing: “Madison, like so many other communities, has, by and large, criminalized Hip-Hop. Our hope is that BTL can serve as a counter-narrative to this destructive view of youth-based culture.”

King and Flores agree that you don’t need to have any history with Hip-Hop or dance to attend and enjoy this year’s festival. It’s completely free and open to all ages.

“Come with an open mind, ready to have fun and be involved and amazed,” advises King. “Be present and ready to participate,” adds Flores. “Prepare for a soulful expression of movement.”

For more information and previews, go to, and search for “Breakin’ the Law Madison” on YouTube.

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