At one point, not that long ago, turf dancing promised to be one of the Bay Area’s greatest pop-culture exports. The form — whose name is an acronym for “taking up room on the dance floor” — popped up everywhere in the early 2000s. Kids battled it out “turfin” at streets and at clubs, and celebrated rappers like E-40 even incorporated it into their videos.
But just as quickly as it proliferated, turfin threatened to go extinct. Just as it started to peak in popularity, YouTube showed up. And according to one of its would-be saviors, 25-year-old Johnny Lopez, that’s when things went south. Thanks to online video sharing, dedicated turf dancers instead turned their attentions to other styles, like flexing, from New York, and juking, from Memphis.
That’s when Lopez, a.k.a. Johnny5, stepped in. An East Oakland native, he admired turfin from a young age, and two years ago created a company he called TURFinc. The mission? Save the style with dedicated dance battles for turfin only. If dancers veer off into other dance styles, they score an automatic disqualification.
“I wanna be strict,” said Lopez to Fusion. “Right now I’m like, ‘If you’re not going to old-school turf dance, you can’t dance at my events.'”
So why does turfin itself mean so much to Lopez — and why has he positioned himself as the one to preserve it? We met up with him in Oakland to check it out.
Text by Arielle Castillo.