Somehow the days of popping a mixed tape into the ghetto blaster and breakdancing on a cardboard box slipped away. But breaking never died, it just slipped underground, simmering as a sub-culture in the shadows of slickly produced top 40 songs that dominate the music scene.
Since the 1980s the terminology has changed as each new crop of dancers have been learning the moves and the culture of hip hop, graffiti, DJ-ing and MC-ing.
Now, breakdancing is called breaking. The dancers who do it are called b –boys and b-girls.
Far, far north of the birthplace of hip hop and breakdancing, Whitehorse is the home to a seasoned crew of six dancers who just won the title at a breaking battle on Feb. 2. And there are 90 more b-boys and b-girls getting into breaking.
It started 14 years ago when Leaping Feats Creative Danceworks Studios started offering lessons. Simpson-Fowler saw girls getting inspired by ballet and jazz and other types of dance, but boys weren’t as much. She wanted to get boys excited about dance, too, so that they could have the benefits that come from getting inspired by something, flexing their physical creativity, developing people skills and feeling like they’re a part of something.
Her husband Jamie, who developed his breaking moves on cardboard with a ghetto blaster, taught the first class.
“I remember sitting here and we had our first class of young boys and I started to cry – there was 10 boys in front of me dancing and loving dancing and it was an epiphany for me,” she says. “As human beings we have this innate desire to dance and in western culture we have a habit of oppressing that in boys. There’s a negative stigma there – I don’t know if it’s a homophobic attitude or what. But I found the key to opening that up, I figured out that through breaking this is what young men need to express themselves and be physically creative.”
The breaking classes were working for the boys – and their fathers.
“Now we have up to 90 boys in the studio each year – and it’s something that dads can get behind,” she says. “This is stereotypical, but in a hockey culture, breaking is still macho enough, it’s physical enough, that dad’s can get behind it.”
The instructor currently teaching breaking at the studio is a renowned b-boy named B-boy Thaiyo, from South Korea.
“His crew won Battle of the Year in 2005, which is the international championship,” Simpson-Fowler says.
Thaiyo took time out from teaching to join Ben Robinson and the Whitehorse-based crew called Groundwork Sessions (GWS) at the 5 Kings competition in Calgary on Feb. 2. Which they won.
“Five Kings was my first win ever,” he says. “It felt amazing, and is still sinking in weeks later. It’s only motivated to me push harder and keep doing what I love to do.”
Robinson and his brothers Nick and Alex, Jordan Reti, George Rivard and Riley Simpson-Fowler range in age from 19 to 24 and have been developing their technique and competing in battles as GWS since 2003.
Robinson says that the best part of breaking is the creative aspect.
“Once the movements become natural, it is easy and welcoming to get lost on the music and just dance,” he says.
The effects of breaking extend past the dance floor and into his everyday life, too.
“Group cohesion, marketing your image, importance of giving back to your community, leadership, goal setting… I find the experiences I have had help me in most endeavors,” he says.
The GWS crew are gearing up for more battles, competing in Seattle in April and Montreal in May. But that’s not really enough adrenaline for Robinson.
“Hopefully there’ll be some local competitions in between,” he says.
Breakdancing Yukon Society will be showcasing their talent at the Yukon Arts Centre on May 30 to June 2 at the Dance Through Life performance and July 26-29 at the Cypher Fest, which is an urban dance festival.
For more information about the breaking classes at Leaping Feats Creative Danceworks Studios go to www.LeapingFeats.com