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How I started this thing: Destructive Steps

Jo Hyeon Yoon, Destructive Steps Dance Association president, shares how a little extra cash helped him to start a world-renowned street dance competition.

By day I’m a research and development scientist, mixing things in a lab. But by night, I dance. I run Destructive Steps, Australia’s largest street dance festival. It’s pretty unconventional to live this kind of dual life, I know. But I’m now at a point in my life where I know that dancing isn’t just a hobby – it's who I am. Being a scientist is just a hobby.

I became interested in hip-hop music and culture as a kid, and started breaking with friends in my living room. As I got older we’d watch battle clips online, and I’d try to attend dance events, but the majority were for over 18s. I didn’t really know what I was doing initially – I was just trying to copy the moves that I saw in videos. It was in about 2004 that I finally decided to start taking formal lessons and connected with the Sydney breakdancing community.

Jo Hyeon Yoon, Destructive Steps president.

I grew up in the Sutherland Shire and at the time, there were only 2 or 3 of us that were into hip hop and breaking. By the time I finished school, I was the only one still dancing. It was a difficult place to be different. Once I moved closer into the city I really found my crew. I started breaking at the 143 Liverpool Street Familia, an urban practice spot. I was one of the earliest dancers to practice there and helped build the crew. We’ve been there for over 13 years now. The security guards and the local police know us well, and quite often they’ll even come by and watch us.

I was still a kid when I started the first Destructive Steps festival.

I didn’t even have a job. I was in the last year of my undergraduate degree and was doing a 4-week vocational scholarship, where you get paid to work as a research assistant for a PhD student. I suddenly had this money, and I wanted to give back to the dance community where I'd gained something that I felt wasn’t repayable. So using that money, I put on the first Destructive Steps. In 2009, when we started, we had 200 attendees.

Now more than 1,200 people attend and we have more than 10 battle formats across 4 different dance styles, plus workshops, battles, and international dancers performing – and it’s for all ages.

It’s pretty insane when I think of the breadth we’ve achieved in this time and where we came from. I never intended to do more than one, but it had such a huge response and everyone kept asking when the next one was. I started wondering, “Oh man, what have I created?”

Destructive Steps VI was when everything changed.

We pulled off the first international world final that has ever happened in Australian street dance history. That was the culmination of a dream.

These were big events we were putting on. They required a lot of money, and were all independently financed, then supplemented with donations.

I basically sacrificed my own financial security in my 20s, but there was never any question of, Maybe I should stop doing this because it’s going to ruin my life financially one day. I just knew that this had to be done and if I didn’t then no one else would.

A few years ago we began a sponsorship partnership with Red Bull, which was amazing. But last year was the first time we got a grant. I truly never believed we’d ever get a grant. But I realised there were all these fantastic programs sponsored by City of Sydney. First, we started the process of registering to become a not-for-profit. Once we were properly accredited and had all the certificates, we figured it was time to try and apply for the City of Sydney grant.

For other people wanting to apply, I’d definitely recommend going to the free Q&A sessions where you can talk 1-on-1 with the City of Sydney.

You can ask honest questions, they offer useful advice and it really assists with understanding the criteria. In terms of preparing for the application, it helped us immensely.

I remember the exact moment we found out we were successful. I broke down, in the lab, when I clicked onto the confirmation email. It was legitimisation and recognition that we'd been doing great work. I printed that letter out, and I’m going to frame it as a reminder. This will be the 10th year of the event, and will also mark the last Destructive Steps that I’ll direct. From there I will pass it on to my Vice President, Alice Tauy. It’s my time now to step away and give the next generation a chance. This year’s festival is going to be phenomenal. We’re making a strong push for female oriented competition formats, which I feel is so vital. Hip hop is a very male-dominated culture, but the female artists bring something so unique and important, and I want that to echo not only through the competitions and performances but also the fact that I’m handing it over to Alice.

All of this was only possible through the grant. There’s no way we could have done what we have without it. The way we were working just wasn’t sustainable. The grant was a key cornerstone of building this year’s Destructive Steps. Not only did it give us the resources to put on the event, but also to evolve it to a whole new level.

Destructive Steps returns to Ultimo Community Centre from 31 August to 2 September.

How I started this thing is a series telling great grant stories from across our local area.

If you have a great idea that would benefit the local community, the City of Sydney’s grants and sponsorships program may be able to help.

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