Red Mountain High School graduate Max Thompson doesn’t know the meaning of “give up.” Thompson and his Gilbert-based dance troupe, Outlawz, have been rehearsing for its August world championship bout for a year.
Veterans of the TV show “America’s Got Talent,” Outlawz will compete against the best street dancers and dance crews from 50 countries during the USA and World Hip Hop Dance Championships held in the Valley from Friday, Aug. 4 to Aug. 12.
The World Hip Hop Dance Championship finals start at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, at GCU Arena. All USA Championship events (Aug. 4 to 6), World Preliminary Championship events and World Battles (Aug. 7 to 11) will be held at the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa.
The competitions are the flagship events developed and organized by Hip Hop International and its founders, Howard and Karen Schwartz. They also created the Emmy Award-winning TV series “America’s Best Dance Crew.”
“The Outlawz are proud of ‘America’s Got Talent,’” Thompson said. “It was a pretty big accomplishment because it’s hard for dancers to make it on that show. We were on three episodes and made it to the live shows, which a lot of dancers don’t do.
“With this, we’re pretty confident that we’re going to do well. We’ve been doing this competition for three years now. We know how it goes. We took third in the world last year. This year, we know what we need to do to get first.”
Outlawz are the 2016 USA Hip Hop Dance Champions and World bronze medalists, adult division. If Outlawz win the worlds, it’ll be the first U.S. troupe to do so in HHI’s history. In the group, Thompson is joined by Dominic LaRovere of Chandler, Phoenix Banuelos of Gilbert, Marcus Pope of Peoria, Tam Rapp of Los Angeles and Josh Ulep and A.J. Pak, both of Hawaii.
“USA has never won worlds before,” Thompson said. “We just don’t give up. Some crews make it as far as we have, they get second or third, and just stop. We got third last year and decided we had to try one more time.”
Dancing is something that Thompson only took up in high school, and it wasn’t for the most practical of reasons.
“I would dance, honestly, to impress girls,” he said with a laugh. “I would just mess around when they had a DJ at lunch. Then, I realized I really liked it.”
Before dancing to the likes of rappers Drake, Chance the Rapper and Travis Scott, Thompson played on Red Mountain’s basketball and football teams. He is the second oldest member of Outlawz.
“We’re all pretty experienced the same way, in terms of dance, but I’m way more experienced in life,” Thompson said. “I hope that the younger members look up to me and, more so, my life experience. They can learn a lot through me, with what I’ve been through. I want to teach them to have a good attitude and be patient with people.”
Human relations came into play when Outlawz traveled to China to promote the HHI brand and dance on the Great Wall of China.
“That was super-cool,” said Thompson, who is planning a move to Los Angeles. “We got first place in the USA our first year. We had the opportunity to go to China and teach and coach. We performed our routine for them and showed them how to dance. It was awesome.
“I learned, through the trip, that all cultures are completely different from each other. We should appreciate America because we’re super-blessed over here.”
And Thompson is blessed with the opportunities he’s received thanks to HHI. The HHI championships have earned the respect of dancers and choreographers worldwide. Many competitors discovered by Hip Hop International have launched careers working with the likes of Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez and Rhianna. Hip-hop dance is represented routinely in countless awards shows and can be seen promoting respected brands including the Grammys, Emmys, Oscars, NBA, NFL and Cirque Du Soleil among many others.
“In today’s world, where travel bans and proposed walls to separate peoples are prompting concern, the longstanding mission of Hip Hop International to unite the world of hip hop through dance is more relevant than ever,” Howard Schwartz said in a press release.
All events are open to the public. Tickets for the family-friendly events start at $25. Complete event schedules, ticket information, championship videos and more can be found at hiphopinternational.com.