"Break dancing tends to be acrobatic," he explains patiently by cell phone. "But 'break dancing' sounds so proper, we call it b-boy battle. Hip-hop is more precise moves and formations."
Vogueing, a third dance form that emerged from clubs and city streets, had its origins on fashion-model runways, he says, and evolved into hyper-exaggerated struts.
"Vogueing is something we borrow from the underground New York dance scene. It was popular in the '90s, but it continues to thrive. It's very similar to krumping, which is popular nowadays in underground L.A."
Dance lovers will get a chance to see--and maybe dance--all three energetic genres at this Saturday night's third annual Vendetta: The Masquerade Ball. Part concert, part competition, part fashion show, part costume party, the all-ages Vendetta is "all these random things you watch as a spectator, but you make it one, incorporating the audience," Smith says.
Dancers and audience members alike are asked to don masks and hip-hop clothes, and battlers can register to join the dance competition.
Smith's 5-year-old hip-hop troupe The Human Project opens up the evening with a series of works he's choreographed to "popular songs familiar from the radio. We'll showcase dance works we've been working on and then open up the stage for battle."
With 23 performers on stage--eight professional dancers and 15 kids, ages 8 to 18--The Human Project will cover all three styles.
"You'll see all the forms of dancing that you'll see the rest of the evening. We'll surprise people with our vogueing choreography."
Versatile, a troupe from Smith's hometown of Philadelphia, will drop in to demonstrate some East Coast moves. Others guest pros include alums of the show So You Think You Can Dance and dancers from Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
After the "formal" performance segments, the battles heat up. In the b-boy battles, dancers go in groups of three against three.
"It's a rounds format, like in boxing. It's been a staple in the hip-hop community for 20 years."
If b-boy is improvised, hip-hop tends to be choreographed, Smith says, and vogueing also adds pantomime.
A team of judges will evaluate the dancers on "stage presence, creativity and aggressive battle competition," in the categories of 3-on-3 b-boy, group choreography and tag-team vogueing. A prize also goes to the "fiercest mask."
The Human Project, which Smith founded in 2002, stages one major concert a year. But the dancers perform frequently under the radar, in downtown clubs, at birthday parties and the like, surfacing occasionally to dance with mainstream modern troupes such as O-T-O Dance and NEW ARTiculations. The dancers last worked with NEW ART in November, in its Re:Configurations concert.
Smith first picked up his street moves in Germantown, the tough Philadelphia neighborhood where he was born and raised. He joined the U.S. Army at 17, and ended his hitch at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista. From there, he entered the UA and got a BFA in dance. An early troupe, VIBE Hip-Hop, picked up an award for Most Dynamic Group in Philadelphia, and he won a Best Funk choreography prize at the National Dance Association Finals in 2002.
"We're mostly within the hip-hop community," he says, "but the stuff we do, any dancer would appreciate."
The third Vendetta helps kick off the new performance space in the Historic YWCA at University Boulevard and Fifth Avenue.
"It's not in the ZUZI! Theatre," Smith notes. "That's much smaller. It's a huge space on University with a hardwood floor. We're building a stage." And, he adds, the troupe will be outfitting the space for vogueing.
"We'll have a runway set up."