Yukon B-Boys Go International

It took nearly two weeks of persistent e-mails, phone calls and text messages to nail down an interview with the Whitehorse breakdancing crew, Groundwork Sessions (GWS).

The chase finally resulted in a late-night Skype interview with Nick Robinson, who was conducting a workshop in Saskatoon, SK.

It also yielded a last-minute chat with Nick’s younger brother, Ben, at Leaping Feats Creative Danceworks, just as he was preparing to leave for the Netherlands.

From teaching classes in local elementary schools, to developing youth forums and performing at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Groundwork Sessions (GWS) has been steadily building a local and national reputation.

In July, the crew took top honours against dancers from across Canada in the third annual Klondike Heat breakdancing battle, during the 2011 CypherFest at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Now the Whitehorse b-boys are taking it to a whole new level – the international spotlight.

September 9-11, the six members of GWS will be in Heerlin, Netherlands, doing battle against b-boys from across the world at the 2011 International Breakdancing Event (IBE).

“We put in a lot of time.”

That’s Nick Robinson’s simple explanation for his crew’s success.

Between battles, conferences, performances, workshops, training – not to mention full-time jobs – the crew has had a busy summer. But the culmination is the crew’s emergence on the international b-boy scene this week.

“It’s always been the plan that once we were all finished school, we would take the time to push it to the next level – and this is the year,” says Nick, who recently moved back to the Yukon after earning a degree in Physical and Health Education from the University of Toronto.

“We’ve been given the tools and now we have to actually go build something, figure out how to use them.”

Nick’s younger brothers and crew mates, twins Ben and Alex, finished high school in 2010, along with fellow GWS dancer George Rivard. The crew’s youngest members, Riley Simpson -Fowler and Jordan Reti, graduated In June.

While Nick was finishing his degree and dancing with the Toronto crew Abstrakt Breakin’ Systemz (ABS), the rest of the GWS crew was working hard to bring its skills to a professional level.

Additional training with renowned b-boys such as Kid David, Roxrite, Taiyo and Wicket helped give the boys a more competitive edge.

“It’s given them the understanding and opportunity to take b-boying to the next level – to have a chance at holding their own around people of high calibre,” Nick says.

The Heerlin event provides an opportunity to gain experience and create a presence on the national and international scene.

“The purpose of going is to get the experience and soak in the whole vibe; meet people, learn. And also to build a reputation and build a name,” he says.

“It’s one of the best networking opportunities in the breakdancing world,” Ben adds.

“I think they’re going to come back [from IBE] really inspired,” says Leaping Feats’ artistic director Andrea Simpson-Fowler.

“It’s going to be the beginning of them representing the Yukon on an international level. They are going to get out there and see how good they are, and I think they’re going to do us proud.”

Simpson-Fowler has been an active mentor, supporter and teacher for the crew since the boys first began taking classes at her studio.

Asked what has been the most crucial element to their progress and success, Simpson-Fowler replies without hesitation: “Their commitment, their sacrifice and their brotherhood.”

Faced with the same question, Nick and Ben both respond immediately: “Andrea.”

While Ben admits to spending approximately 20 hours a week either in training or handling administrative duties for GWS, “it’s basically a part-time job for all of us,” he says.

From providing the boys with teachers, to giving them summer jobs and access to studio space, Simpson-Fowler has helped foster both GWS and the Yukon’s growing breakdancing scene.

“GWS has been the spark in the creation of the breakdancing community within the territory,” she says.

“With the development of the crew came tons of other really positive initiatives and programs.”

But for all that GWS has done to stimulate Yukon interest in breakdancing, Ben Robinson suggests the territory does its part giving back to the b-boys.

“People remember you more because you’re from the Yukon. We tell people that and suddenly we’re a success story because we’re the only crew up here.”

As the GWS b-boys stand poised to represent their home territory on the international breakdancing scene, Simpson-Fowler sees them fulfilling a role as ambassadors for both Yukon and Canada as a whole.

“I want them to help build the Canadian b-boy scene and help build a national identity,” Simpson-Fowler says. “It doesn’t matter what I want, but that would be my hope for them.”

With several other international competitions in their sights this fall, the b-boys of GWS appear to share that vision.

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