"It's so fucking hot in here!" is the cry heard from almost everybody in the building. That includes the DJs, the spectators recording video with their iPods, the girlfriends sitting on stray chairs and buckets, and the kids with red plastic cups full of liquor—but rarely from the individuals doing the actual moving. That is, until one of them passes out from exhaustion. It's Sunday night in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's south side, and I'm fighting through a circle of spectators to get a good view of the action at an event called Da War Zone. And no better time, too, for the dancers to the left of me—The Legends Clique—look like the Voltron of footworkers. They're comprised of the original members of the legendary Chicago dance crews Wolf Pac and Terra Squad, and the way the scales are tipped tonight, it's not looking favorable for the opposing team.
For Chicago's indigenous juke and footwork scene, a sweaty vacant warehouse, a school gymnasium, a rec center, a house party, or an El train platform can serve as a "place of the way," much like a dojo. And don't get it twisted—a martial-arts space on 57th and Claremont is where we are right now. But it could be any number of ever-changing locations on the south side. These days, two recurring gatherings take place: Da War Zone, organized by videographer and promoter Wala "Walacam" Williams, and Battle Groundz, started by dancer AG of Terra Squad and the Leaders of the New School crew. On a good night, you'll find over 200 kids in attendance, and if not, you'll at least catch a pretty good practice session.