Julius 'Eclypse' Jenkins has honed his craft — street style dance — for nearly two decades. An ’80s baby, he was first enamored by the movements via the wiles of Michael Jackson and MC Hammer. (For the uninitiated: “Street dance” is an umbrella term encompassing several dance styles related to Hip Hop, including popping, locking, krumping and breaking.)
Flash forward to present-day, and he says he’s the only one in the region to make street style dancing a full-time gig through performance, teaching and organizing events, the latter of which will come to fruition Oct. 26 and 27 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
The event, dubbed Heroes Rise: Street Dance Experience, began because Jenkins wanted to create a platform for other talent in the region to showcase their skills. The two-day event will be the first of its kind in Cincinnati and is backed by a People’s Liberty project grant; it includes a head-to-head freestyle street dance battle, a street dance theater showcase and workshop opportunities. But the roots of Heroes Rise dates back to 2013, when Jenkins first put together a street culture festival at Cincinnati State.
“The whole point was to fill that void, that gap, because street dance in Cincinnati is so underrepresented, but we’ve got so much talent here,” Jenkins says. “Street dance is a valid art form and something that I do professionally and feel very passionately about.”
But he didn’t start pursuing the craft until he was 18. The summer after his senior year of high school (he attended Forest Park’s Winton Woods), his cousin Jamal called him up and told them they were going to start breakdancing.
The rest: history. With a few friends, they ate, slept and breathed “everything that had to do with breaking,” Jenkins says. (Now, his preferred style is popping.) They would train at dance clubs across the city, like now-closed Metropolis Nightclub, which was located in the now-mostly-vacant Forest Fair Mall.
“We lived through VHS tapes that the younger guy in our friend’s group would somehow get his hands on,” Jenkins laughs. “We were like ‘You is, like, 13. How are you getting these tapes? You don’t drive. Your parents—’ and he would look at us like ‘Don’t ask questions. Just enjoy.’”
With Heroes Rise, his short-term goal is to raise awareness for street-style dancing in Cincinnati, so people know there’s a thriving community. "You don't have to go anywhere. Come down and find us. We're here," Jenkins says. “My other goal is to put more opportunities into these dancer’s hands." In short: He wants to get dancers paid. He says he's been fortunate enough to begin living 100 percent off his passion, but there are others in the culture he wants to give a platform.
As he looks forward, Jenkins also looks to others who have worked to keep street dance culture alive in Cincy, like local dance legends Kasib Hasan and Des Odom. He also nodded to other local dance battle efforts, like Unfinished Business and Scribble Jam.
Along with being a dance instructor at Elementz Urban Arts Youth Center, he also is the creative director of dance group The Millennium Robots and is an adjunct professor at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. He credits snagging the latter job to John Martin, the assistant dean of the preparatory department whose wife took his street dance class at Elementz.
“So, for the first time in history there is a street dance course at the University of Cincinnati. It’s huge,” Jenkins says. “This is something that’s just now happening across the country...And (for UC to) be able to see and to know that’s a need for their students — that’s amazing."
The dance style has recently been gaining traction and evolving on city streets, with each region coining their own flair. “The rubric doesn’t exist. There’s no structure that supports a professional street dance career in the United States,” Jenkins says. In part, he says the reason it’s underrepresented is because the pioneers weren’t able to represent themselves to the mainstream market in an authentic way.
“You know, originally we were all kids from the hood. And weren’t necessarily going to take speech classes or any kind of public speaking. They had to rely on other people to kind of get what they were doing and push them,” he says. “In the ’80s that happened, but after it died and came back, it was just all underground.”
Heroes Rise: Street Dance Experience will also include special guest choreographer Baskoty Djonze, a highly-successful dancer out of Central Africa. The event is also partnering with the UC Office of Equity and Inclusion and Cincinnati Public Schools to give students opportunities to attend or perform at the show.
Heroes Rise: Street Dance Experience will unfold Oct. 26-27 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (50 East Freedom Way, The Banks). More info: heroesrisecincinnati.com. Or, follow their Instagram and Facebook.