Breaking it Down
Breakdancing is a style, a pastime, a sport and a newly recognized legitimate form of dance. While its exact origins are debatable (the general consensus is that New York City and James Brown played large roles in its development), breakdancing hasnt changed much since it started in the 1970s. And dance is nothing without music. While old-school dance, modern break beats and hip hop are usually the breakers soundtrack, anything that inspires you to move will work.
Dancers usually begin by toprocking (the fancy footwork done standing up) and then downrocking, which involves all the moves done on the floor; spins slides, flips and freezes. But dont let these terms scare you away its relatively easy to get started. You just need to be very determined and up for a challenge, says Ms. Mighty of Torontos Shebang!.
While its probably easier to find b-girls to teach you the ropes in larger cities, you might also be able to find classes alongside bellydancing and salsa classes at gyms and dance studios in smaller towns. Failing that, you can always find tapes of demonstrations and performances and learn the moves that way. Just be prepared: while an eight-week course can teach you the basics, Ms. Mighty says it could take a year or two of practice to get good enough to hold your ground in a battle.
I tell people to take a few classes and then stop taking them, she says. The idea is to learn the foundations and then create your own style.
But dont worry about looking stylish at first. Its a good idea to wear sneakers and comfortable clothes, in case you find yourself upside down. Your instructor will fill you in on whats absolutely necessary, but breakers also often wear kneepads, wrist pads and gloves. Classes are also a good place to find like-minded ladies willing to motivate and support you. You might even form a crew.
B-girl support is good. But here is one harsh reality: Girls typically lack the upper body strength required to perform the really difficult maneuvers, such as walking on their hands. You will need to build up your arms to support your body. Having a dance or gymnastics background helps, and you could try doing pull-ups. But theyre not necessary: If youre determined, youll get fit and gain strength just through practicing.
When Ms. Mighty first started with Shebang!, it took her a long time to work up the courage to dance in front of people. Though no one has ever told her she couldnt do something, she finds that sometimes the expectations for b-girls are lower. I mean, you want people to say youre good. Not good for a girl, she says. It helps to have role models for inspiration. When I saw girls do moves that I thought werent physically possible, I realized its all a matter of attitude. I just needed to practice more.
And what happens once you get good? Dance, teach, compete, judge the opportunities are growing. Some b-girls hold their own events, and events called Bonnie and Clyde battles pit girls/boy teams against each other. Get really good and you might even be able to make a career out of breaking. For Ms. Mighty, working at a dance studio, teaching and performing with shebang! (theyve even opened for the band, Le Tigre) has become a full-time job. Some top dancers are sponsored just like pro athletes and are flown around the world to compete in international battles.
Today, you dont have to be from the Bronx to break many of the best breakers come from Japan, Germany and Finland.
You just have to have no fear, says Ms. Mighty. And its easy to get over that fear when youve got your crew cheering you on. If it wasnt for them, Id probably still be standing on the sidelines.
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