Judging by the promotional flyers, the battle will be epic and one-of-a-kind.
World-class athletes. The best in their fields. Head to head. Dueling it out for a cash prize.
When it's over, Memphis could crown a new king.
It may sound like boxing, or a Mixed Martial Arts bout. But spectators at this main event will witness something even more sophisticated Saturday night outside the Sears Tower in the Crosstown area.
In a first for the city, top competitors in the rococo hip-hop dance style known as "jookin" will pit their best footwork against each other in a dance-off that frames their skills in an unusual format.
Namely, they will prove that all the gritty bending, twisting, flipping, moonwalking and contorting can soar to new interpretive heights when paired with different musical styles.
Members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra will play alongside rappers 8Ball and MJG during the tournament.
"We want to show that you can do this dance not just to rap, but to R&B, Frank Sinatra and classical music," said Marcus Gary, founder of Memphis Urban Dance (M.U.D.) Entertainment. "Some people might think it's corny, but we want to show the world that we can stand on a stage and dance to anything."
Organizers call it an "Urban Ballet Showcase," but highly ranked practitioners such as G-Nerd and Daniel Price are also putting their reputations on the line. The winner gets $1,000.
"This is more than just some kids doing some amazing moves," Gary says. "To understand how complex it is, you have to think of it like watching the equalizer on your stereo. All these different things are happening at once to form the whole. You almost have to pick just one instrument to listen to, just one aspect to look at, to understand what's being accomplished technically."
Jookin (occasionally spelled jukin) — an urban dance form that uses intricate footwork and almost robotic upper-body control — is taking off across the country. But it originated here in Memphis in the late 1980s out of a dance style called gansta walking.
One of its best known dancers, Lil Buck, is from Memphis. He's toured with Madonna, had a featured role in the last Super Bowl, and traveled the world performing with the legendary classical cello player Yo-Yo Ma. Currently, he's the poster boy of a new Gap ad campaign.
Today in Memphis, local dance schools such as Memphis Jookin, SubRoy Studios and U Dig Dance Academy teach the style to keep dynamically talented kids off the streets with dancing that brings out the competitive spirit.
"People need to understand that all across Memphis jookin is literally saving lives," Gary said. "When these kids go home at night, this is the way they relieve stress."
Four Memphis Symphony string players will accompany dancers with a tango, a few standard classics and a Mozart quartet.
“Jookin is very closely related to ballet, except it’s done in street clothes and has a hip-hop element,” said violinist Heather Tussell. “After we backed (rapper) Al Kapone in a concert last year, half of the symphony was driving around town listening to his music. Good art is good art. This is just one more way to experience it.”
Rapper Gangsta boo, formerly of Three 6 Mafia, and the famed Beale Street Flippers will also make an appearance.
MJ1 (Memphis Jookin 1) and Urban Ballet Showcase
Program begins at 6 p.m. (admittance at 5 p.m.) Saturday outside the Sears Crosstown building on Cleveland. Tickets: $15-$25. Call 901-690-4070.