Published in the Fall 2004 issue • Sporting Goods
Breaking it down
Breakdancing used to be a b-boy’s world. Now, more girls than ever are busting a move
Back in the day, if you saw a girl at a breakdance battle, she would likely be on the sidelines, cheering on her boyfriend as he competed with his b-boy crew. Today, more girls than ever are getting off the sidelines and into the circle.
Breakdancing is a style, a pastime, a sport and a form of dance recognized by the Canada Council for the Arts. While its exact origins are debatable (the general consensus is that New York City and James Brown played large roles in its development), breakdancing hasn’t 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 breaker’s 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 don’t let these terms scare you away — it’s relatively easy to get started. “You just need to be very determined and up for a challenge,” says Ms. Mighty of Toronto’s shebang!.
While it’s probably easier to find b-girls to teach you the ropes in larger cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, you might also be able to find classes alongside bellydancing and salsa 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 don’t worry about looking stylish at first. It’s a good idea to wear sneakers and comfortable clothes, in case you find yourself upside down. Your instructor will fill you in on what’s 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 manoeuvres 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 they’re not necessary: if you’re determined, you’ll 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 couldn’t do something, she finds that sometimes the expectations for b-girls are lower. “I mean, you want people to say you’re 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 weren’t physically possible, I realized it’s 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 & Clyde battles pit girl/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! (they’ve even opened for 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 don’t 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 it’s easy to get over that fear when you’ve got your crew cheering you on. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d probably still be standing on the sidelines.