Breaking Out

Two days after Ju Hyun Seo got married last November, he flew to the Yukon to teach breakdancing for a month at Leaping Feats Creative Danceworks.

When artist director Andrea Simpson-Fowler asked if he’d be interested in something longer term, he was quick to accept.

“Andrea said, ‘Are you sure you want to move here?’ and I said yes.”

Within a few months the Korean dancer – known in breakdancing circles as B-boy Taiyo from the Last For One crew – was back to stay, along with his wife.

A few weeks later, they were joined by another member of his home crew who goes by the b-boy name of Style Jack.

Last For One has a huge international following, with at least one world championship and several YouTube videos to its credit. One video alone has already attracted more than 430,000 viewings.

It’s easy to spot Taiyo in their midst, with his gutsy power moves and unrestrained floor workthat has left him with dime-sized black calluses on both palms.

One video shows him executing 42 consecutive back spins – not a world record, but right up there.

His sheer physicality and confidence come in part from the martial arts training he took after he started dancing at the age of 14. Along the way, he also picked up a body-building championship.

“I started dancing in 1997, but at the time I didn’t know about b-boying. I followed Korean pop music and sometimes I danced with my friends.”

Then someone showed him a video-tape by the pioneering Korean b-boy group, People Crew.

“I saw the tape and I changed to b-boy, only b-boy.”

But what makes Taiyo stand out the most is his high-voltage smile that is always present, a smile that has led some people to suggest that he’s the world’s happiest b-boy.

So why would the 28-year-old Taiyo trade in the bustle of Soeul (or even Vancouver, where he had been studying English) for this small northern city?

In part, he explains, he was drawn here by a love of nature, and the chance to travel and meet people from cultures beyond his own Asian roots.

But he has a longer-term goal in mind. He wants to study at Yukon College, to have more options when he eventually retires from dancing in about ten years. Canadian citizenship, of course, would mean much lower tuition fees.

In the meantime, the happy b-boy is happy to teach a new generation of dancers and train with the local crew, Groundwork Sessions (GWS).

In fact, when the crew goes to Holland this fall for an international competition, B-boy Taiyo – and possibly Style Jack – will be dancing with them. Which is more than alright with GWS stalwart Nick Robinson and his younger brother, Ben.

“Because we haven’t battled very much, Taiyo’s very good for telling us how to practise for battles and how to battle,” Ben says.

For those unfamiliar with b-boy and b-girl culture [full disclosure: that includes this writer], battling is when crews go head-to-head, competing for approval from the audience and judges.

It goes back to breakdancing’s early roots of gang “rocking” in the Bronx district of New York City. As Nick Robinson explains, rocking was done standing up, with gestures that simulated gang warfare with knives or guns.

Rocking later moved off the street and into clubs.

“Eventually some guy hit the floor, and took it to the floor.”

Dancers would show off their moves during the musical “breaks” when the melody gives way to a percussion line.

“The goal was to dance 15-20 seconds, not get sweaty, keep their shoes clean so they could pick up girls.”

The term b-boy, he says, derived from either Bronx-boy or break-boy. It was the 1983 movie Flashdance that popularized the term breakdancing.

Nick Robinson, who financed four years of university in Toronto exclusively by doing dancing gigs with the Abstrakt Breakin’ Systemz (ABS) crew, is quick to dispel negative stereotypes about the b-boy and b-girl culture.

“Even when we work in Toronto, people might not want to hire you, because they think you might show up late, swearing, with your pants down your butt. We’ve had talks about that in our crew. We show up on time, we dress properly, we don’t swear.”

Right now, Groundwork Sessions is heavily involved in preparing for the Breakdancing Yukon Society’s second annual Cypher For Change event, which will bring 45 b-boys and b-girls from across Canada for a week of dance intensives and other activities with seasoned mentors.

It will include workshops in such practical matters as marketing and writing business plans. But mostly it’s about performing, sharing, learning from one another and just having fun.

That, after all, is what “cyphering” is about. It’s the non-competitive form of breakdancing.

For those who want to share the fun, a new event this year called CypherFest takes the Yukon Arts Centre stage July 22 and 23.

It will include two Rock the Street shows, the Cypher Styles Challenge, and the third annual Klondike Heat national b-boys and b-girls battle.

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