How Turfing Became Synonymous with Oakland

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Editor’s Note: Step into the shoes of dancers from across the country who dare to imagine what it would look like if their city could dance with KQED’s If Cities Could Dance. Watch a new episode from season two of the video series every Tuesday through May 14, 2019.

If you’ve spent any time in Oakland, you’ve probably witnessed some turfing. The homegrown dance happens everywhere: on BART, at the First Friday art walk, at the Warriors’ Oracle Arena and even in music videos for Bay Area rap stars like E-40 and G-Eazy.

"Turfin, it's just a part of our culturea way of life," says Jesus El, aka Zeus, a member of The Animaniakz.

Turfing emerged on Oakland streets in the early 2000s, and has become synonymous with regional urban culture. Combining abrupt, angular movements like popping, tutting and bone breaking with graceful, ballet-like footwork, turfing stands for “taking up room on the floor.” Dancers credit Jeriel Bey for coining the term in 2006—he’s a co-founder of the Architeckz, the first organized turfing crew to come out of West Oakland.

In the mid-2000s, other crews came along, including Turf Feinz, whose work was critical in taking turfing to the international stage. Turf Feinz worked with local production company Yak Films to create dance videos, including ones paying homage to fallen friends during a spike in homicides. One particularly moving video, “Dancing in the Rain,” a tribute to the late RichD, went viral across the world. Soon, Turf Feinz and Yak Films were flying out to Paris and collaborating with internationally renowned dancers like Les Twins (who were recently featured in Beyoncé’s Homecoming).


Now, turf dance crews like Turf Feinz are in their second generation of dancers, and their members continue to pass down the craft through all-ages battles and after-school workshops. In this Oakland episode of If Cities Could Dance, directed by Yak Film’s Yoram Savion, we meet Oakland dance stars Zeus, Yung Phil and Icecold3000. Watch as they dance in front of the Creators Gone Create turfing mural in West Oakland, MacArthur BART station and Youth UpRising teen center in East Oakland to the music of Drew Banga and Jwalt, also featuring Mistah Fab. — Text by Nastia Voynovskaya