Dancing in an Ocean of Fists

Photo by: Montauk

Original article published: December 21, 2009. Xpress Magazine. San Francisco State University.

Note: When I originally wrote this article back in 2009, I’ve always wanted to package the article along with the video piece I worked on for another class.It may be nearly two years after this article was published for me to come to the decision to finally do it, but f*** it.

Matt Loudon finds his peace in brutal movements. As scream-filled rock music blares inside Concord’s Club Pacifica, he moves freely among the standing crowd like a madman overdosed on crazy pills. He hops up and down, punching fists in the air, ignoring the occasional awkward glances and giggles from adjacent viewers. He continues to rock out, sporadically screaming along with the band, playing the air guitar on the open dance floor just before the music reaches a slow-tempo breakdown. When the music transitions, he, along with other dancers, gets into an insane, yet organized groove. They take turns watching each other kick the shit out of the air in brief spurts of adrenaline. Their arms flail violently with intense spin kicks like ninjas cracked out on speed. Other times a handful of dancers, sometimes moving in unison, aggressively showcase karate-like maneuvers that will make Jackie Chan crap his pants. No one is safe. Bystanders keep their distance, occasionally holding fists straight out, protecting themselves from the vicious dance attacks. But they are not surprised by the out-of-the-ordinary moves; this is hardcore dancing.

“Some people are cautious of who’s around them; others are just aggressive and want to hit people intentionally,” says seventeen-year-old Loudon, nonchalantly. “That’s their prerogative. It’s a hardcore show.”

Hardcore (HXC) dancing should not be confused with “moshing,” where concertgoers bounce off each other aimlessly, or “circle pits,” where people form a circle while others run along the inside in clockwise or counter clockwise motions. Born out of the mid-nineties scene in the East Coast, particularly in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, HXC dancing originated as a derivative from moshing and skanking. It has grown to become a way of expression for young individuals to let off steam and form bonds while listening to devilish wails and face-melting guitar riffs. Though HXC dancing is banned from some music venues because of its violent nature and faces opposition from metalheads, stemming from their conflicting use of the dance floor, it stands as a vital piece in the HXC scene.

Loudon first saw HXC dancing after his cousin introduced him to a Trustkill Records video that showed HXC dancers. The video was something he had never seen before. “It wasn’t like a push pit where everyone was bumping into each other randomly,” he says. “It was coordinated and synchronized.” After his first taste of HXC dancing at The Warped Tour in 2005, he found his thrill in dancing amongst an “ocean of fists.”

But it is not always the excitement that gains the attention of first-timers. Some dancers throw down to stay away from the temptations of everyday life. “[Hardcore dancing] is a great way for me to get my aggression out without using [illegal] substances,” says Dominic Marquez, who has been straight edge for six years after discovering HXC dancing’s therapeutic-like release. The twenty-one-year-old says HXC dancing is a good way to get things “off his chest.”

The violent dance not only serves as a way for individuals to feel good about themselves, but it is a way to connect with live performers. It is typical to see crowd “pile-ons” and “sing-alongs” towards the front of the stage, while dancers bust their moves in the center of the dance floor. “When they throw down, they’re obviously enjoying the music,” expresses He Said, She Dead frontman Travis Bartosek, who enjoys HXC dancing because of the “adrenaline rush.”

Not surprisingly, the euphoric feeling of belligerently kicking the air’s ass also creates a pact mentality, sometimes resulting in “crews.” Some crews are peaceful; others are more violent, sometimes getting into brawls with outsiders. But every time some form of violence occurs, it does not mean a crew had been involved. From time to time, a little bloodshed occurs as result of kids having a good ol’ time.

“After the song ‘Car Bomb’ hit, people walked out with bloody noses,” explains Bartosek as he describes a Despized Icon show in San Jose. “You were not safe anywhere.” Jacob Haines, lead performer of the band Hammerfist, says HXC music embodies violence, fury, frustration, and rage. The performers are pissed off about society, work, and their relationships–all of which lead to violent action like HXC dancing. “The music is fast and aggressive,” he says, “so we have fast, aggressive dancing on the dance floor.”

The ferocity embodied in HXC dancing has resulted in a number of injuries. Regulars report having seen broken jaws, knocked out teeth, black eyes, concussions, and broken noses due to HXC dancing. This trend caught the attention of several venues throughout California, forcing some to ban HXC dancing, including the Red House in Walnut Creek.

HXC dancing is by far not the safest form of dancing and some people have noticed, including Charmaine Querol, a former HXC dancer. “I’d rather skank and mosh than do some choreographed moves that came out of people’s asses,” jokes twenty-two-year-old Querol, who started HXC dancing four years ago and quit several months later because she grew out of expressing her “teen angst” through violent actions, and because she was concerned with her safety. She also noticed that some HXC dancers—in an attempt to be “tough guys”– would intentionally start fights or hit bystanders without apology. “There are people that want to enjoy the music without getting hurt,” she says empathetically.

Unfortunately, some show-goers have to deal directly with the danger HXC dancing produces. Several hundred individuals from around the country have created The Coalition Against Hardcore Dancing (CAHD), which is an online community of individuals who share horror stories from mixed genre shows. “I understand mosh-pits aren’t the safest place to be, but every pit I have ever been in, when you fall or get hurt, people will stop and help you to make sure you are safe,” says metalhead Brian Zable, 18, whose friend nearly broke his nose moshing in a pit with HXC dancers.

In Haines’s opinion, some people do not take the scene seriously, but they take the dancing seriously. He agrees that people who attend shows for the music should be left alone and they should be able to attend concerts without the fear of getting their nose broken. He notices that metal bands have began using the “break down,” which is a slow-tempo transition that triggers the punching and kicking actions of HXC dancers. “If they want to reduce the violence, they should not mix the genres of music,” he says.

Though HXC dancing can be a bit violent, it still remains an integral piece that holds a chunk of the scene together. Like Loudon says, it would be pointless to go to any type of show without any enthusiasm. “If you dance for a band it shows that you are so invigorated by their music that you’re showing appreciation by dancing. It shows that it empowers you and gives you some sort of fuel for you to dance it all out. The only way I’d stop dancing is through separation of music, which isn’t any time soon,” he says. “[HXC dancing] keeps me engaged in the show and it gives me a reason to go.”

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