If you’ve ever stepped outside the BART/MUNI Powell Street Station, or passed by the three-story Forever 21, you’ve probably seen the group of street dancers between Market Street and the cable car turnaround. They make spinning on their sneakers look deceptively easy. They form right angles with their arms behind their backs. And most impressively, they flaunt fast-paced hand gestures and optically illusory movements with a crisp, clean swagger.
The dancers, a dozen or so boys (with personas like Sir, Fracture, J-Tro, and Inspector Gadget) and two girls (Charmika and Vernita) all share a distinct dance style. It’s called turfing. TURF, an acronym for Taking Up Room on the Floor, incorporates elements from various dance styles like breakdancing, popping, and gliding, but has a much smoother, free -flowing look than its popping and locking counterparts.
With roots that reach back to the Bay Area’s hyphy movement and beyond, turfing is a specifically local dance form. Some of today’s freestyle turf groups -- Get Wet Ent., Best Alive, and Turf Feinz, to name a few -- host and participate in battles where the best turf dancers come out to strut their stuff.
A few dancers at Powell Street spoke of original turf dancers and older styles, suggesting that turfing is an evolving art form shaped by different generations of dancers. While different dancers come out to Powell Street each day, there is a core group of regulars who all know and support each other.
The Powell Street turf dancers are aware of their place within a larger group and also more than capable of holding their own on the dance floor. Moreover, these relatively young dancers, ranging in ages from 16 to 25, possess a level of maturity and confidence akin to professional dance artists. With believe-it-or-not moves, they certainly know how to work a crowd.
Turf dancers outside Powell Street Station:
A turf battle hosted by Get Wet Ent.: