Chicago Footwork: A Battle to be Crowned King of the Dance Craze

Inside the Chicago footwork scene, where fights are won with fast feet and good sneakers

Credit: John Pappas

With more than 500 homicides in 2012, gang violence on the South Side of Chicago is so bad, it’s earned the city the notorious moniker “CHI-raq.” But among the gang-ridden streets are an elite crew of warriors who battle with more grit, fury, and vengeance than all the rest. Their weapon? A pair of good sneakers. Their battleground? The dancefloor. Sound like West Side Story? You’re not far off.
It’s called Chicago footwork and it is a hyper-fast style of dance that has to be seen to be believed. And every day, South Siders gather in rec centers, on street corners, and in nightclubs to duke it out in intricate dance battles. They compete for many reasons—to settle an old score, to get the girls, or simply, to be the best. And though most of these DJs and dancers have never left their neighborhood, their hypnotic music and style of dance has gone viral around the globe. Footwork DJs have sprung up at music festivals across the US, Europe, and Mexico playing to packed crowds who can’t get enough of the battle-born tracks.
So what’s at the heart of this phenomenon? What makes this music so addictive? And how are these pioneers forging music history while living in the most violent neighborhoods in the nation? Vocativ went to Chicago and spent a day putting ourselves in the (very quick) shoes of local dancer/producer/rapper— and current Battlegroundz champion—Frost The Boss.

With more than 500 homicides in 2012, gang violence on the South Side of Chicago is so bad, it’s earned the city the notorious moniker “CHI-raq.” But among the gang-ridden streets are an elite crew of warriors who battle with more grit, fury, and vengeance than all the rest. Their weapon? A pair of good sneakers. Their battleground? The dancefloor. Sound like West Side Story? You’re not far off.
It’s called Chicago footwork and it is a hyper-fast style of dance that has to be seen to be believed. And every day, South Siders gather in rec centers, on street corners, and in nightclubs to duke it out in intricate dance battles. They compete for many reasons—to settle an old score, to get the girls, or simply, to be the best. And though most of these DJs and dancers have never left their neighborhood, their hypnotic music and style of dance has gone viral around the globe. Footwork DJs have sprung up at music festivals across the US, Europe, and Mexico playing to packed crowds who can’t get enough of the battle-born tracks.
So what’s at the heart of this phenomenon? What makes this music so addictive? And how are these pioneers forging music history while living in the most violent neighborhoods in the nation? Vocativ went to Chicago and spent a day putting ourselves in the (very quick) shoes of local dancer/producer/rapper— and current Battlegroundz champion—Frost The Boss.