A Seattle dance extravaganza called Bubblin Brown Sugar

The 40-year-old annual tradition unites teens and decidedly older adults.

The Cleveland High School team celebrates after winning first place at the 2019 Bubblin Brown Sugar high school dance contest in the Garfield High School gym, April 27, 2019. This was the second year in row that the Cleveland team came in on top. (All photos by Susan Fried for Crosscut) 

The annual Bubblin Brown Sugar high school dance extravaganza returned to Seattle’s Garfield High on Saturday. It featured seven local high school teams and five exhibition teams — the latter of which included those who were decades removed from being teenagers.

Afua Kouyate graduated from Garfield in 1976 and has been dancing in the event with The Original Throwbacks for the past four years. She participated with her daughter, Nialah Harris, who is 8 months pregnant. Harris danced with the New Generation Throwbacks and also helped coach the Cleveland High School team and the original Throwbacks team.

Multiple generations of families packed the Garfield gym stands to watch the dancers perform. Some teams used props, including umbrellas. But most just worked together to tell a story through their choreography. The audience seemed to have a special appreciation for the Throwback teams.

“Bubblin Brown is so fun,” said Cutonja Vann, a high schooler in the mid-1980s and a Throwbacks dancer now. “When you’re in that gym, it’s amazing. It’s unifying because you see so many generations. You come to one place, at one time and you’re all on one accord.  It’s just beautiful to have fun, go back to your culture and ethnicity and your roots.”

She said performing with the Throwbacks was like going back in time.  

The high school competitors included Highline, Federal Way, Renton, Franklin, Garfield, Rainier Beach and Cleveland.  Cleveland, the defending champ, opened its routine with the song “This is America” — and it scored top honors again. It also took home a plaque for crowd favorite. Garfield took second place and Renton came in third.

The Garfield High School team performs during the annual Bubblin Brown Sugar high school dance contest. The team took second place.
Renee Hollingsworth-Busch and the original Throwbacks team, which includes dancers who graduated from local high schools more than 20 years ago, perform during Bubblin Brown Sugar 2019 to a sold-out crowd in the Garfield High School gym.
Cleveland Crowd
Hundreds of people filled the stands inside the Garfield High School gym. A variation of this event has been taking place in Seattle for almost 40 years.
During intermission, dozens of children took to the Garfield High school gym floor to show off some dance moves of their own.
Nialah Harris and some of her New Generation Throwbacks teammates relax after performing during the Bubblin Brown Sugar dance contest.
The Baile Dior dance team entertains the crowd. Three other exhibition teams performed during the event, including the original Throwbacks, the New Generation Throwbacks and K-Fam.
The Renton High School dance team celebrates after taking third place in the 2019 Bubblin Brown Sugar high school dance contest.

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