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Breaking into a new reputation

Special to The Spectrum

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 16:11


Reimon Bhuyan /// The Spectrum

Willis Lam, a nursing major, and the UB Breakdance club work to educate outsiders and change the reputation of breakdancers.

Funk music blares from the Flag Room as Henry Chen spins effortlessly. With the entirety of his body weight balanced on one hand, it looks like he’s performing an upside-down pirouette as he spins; the move he’s practicing is called a 199.

Breaking (or breakdancing, as it is more popularly known) began in the ’70s as part of the hip-hop culture, and while it looks cool, some people shy away from it because of the misconceptions surrounding it. The UB Breakdance club aims to change this reputation.

According to Ryan Nash, a junior African American studies major and president of UB Breakdance, breakdancing is like any other kind of dance but doesn’t get the same recognition because it’s not considered to be a “true” dance form.

This is because breakdancers – more commonly known as b-boys and b-girls – don’t need formal training for their craft. However, they put in the same amount of time and effort to master hand hops as ballerinas do to perfect pirouettes, Nash said.

Breaking comes from one of New York City’s boroughs, the Bronx. Breaking originated in South Bronx, where street gangs dominated the youth culture. This led people to assume that b-boys and b-girls were associated with the negativity that surrounded the region, according to Nash.

But breaking was not related to the violence of the South Bronx. In fact, many people who break do it for personal reasons – as a form of self-expression – according to Brendan Tom, a junior communication major and vice president of UB Breakdance.

“I take the emotions that I’m feeling toward something … and I just use the energy of that emotion [toward] the energy of my dance,” Tom said.

Just like in any other dance, there are competitions in breaking. B-boys and b-girls compete against each other in battles.

The name “battle” suggests they are violent – something the media was quick to pick up on. Movies consistently make battles the focal point of gang violence, but the hostility associated with them comes from the level of commitment and passion that b-boys and b-girls have. Everyone wants to win, and the only thing standing between a dancer and victory is his or her opponent, Tom said.

“In some ways it’s like a Pokémon battle,” Tom said. “Someone throws out their grass type, and you throw out your fire type. You’re combating what’s put before you. You want to one-up [your opponent]. [It] has an aggression similar to a fight because you’re directing everything to your opponent.”

According to Tom, the intensity overshadows the camaraderie that exists amongst b-boys and b-girls. At the end of battles, everyone shakes hands and hugs, but he says that is never shown in the media portrayal.

However, battles aren’t just about winning, according to Chen, a junior business marketing major. Dancers usually call each other out to battle because they want to learn from one another. It’s not supposed to be friendly, he said, because it’s like fighting for a title without any real violence.

This negative image tied to breaking is what worries parents, like those of Veronica Li, a junior political science major and secretary for UB Breakdance.

They were worried about the violence when they found out what their daughter was doing in her spare time.

“My parents [said], ‘don’t do it, it’s dangerous,’” Li said. “They think that gangsters are doing it or something.”

Many parents do not fully understand what breaking meant to their children and question their reason to continue with the dance, Li said. Her reason was something members in the hip-hop and breaking community call “knowledge of self.”

“I was unconfident, pessimistic and had a meek outlook in life,” Li said. “After some time, I [realized] that breaking changed me. Dancing [with others] made me more confident in myself. I go back to it even when times get difficult because breaking allowed me to open up.”

For others like Chen, it’s a feeling of satisfaction – the ability to do things that look impossible, like spin on their heads and to defy gravity.

“When I first saw it I was like, ‘Whoa, is that even possible? Can the human body do that?’” Chen said. “Knowing that I can do it makes me feel satisfied.”

For Nash, it wasn’t just about being able to do something cool or finding himself. One of the main reasons he continued breaking was to clear up the misconceptions surrounding the dance. That wasn’t an easy process. In fact, he was made fun of and called gay when he started dancing.

“I was called a f****t, [but I] just laugh about it now,” Nash said. “I saw videos of breakers [doing air flares] and I was like, ‘there’s no way kids should call him names.’ There’s so much talent and skill involved.”

A column ran in Generation magazine in Nov. 2010, calling the members of UB Breakdance, “wannabe, city-smart, urban losers,” according to Nash.

Rather than put him down, these comments were a wake-up call.

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