Break It Down

When I was a youngster we had a babysitter who had the best trick to keep my brother and I entertained for hours. After my parents would leave for the evening, we’d roll up the rug in the foyer and he would break dance for us. He would spin on his back while we squealed with delight. Then we would take turns laying on our backs and spinning each other like tops. Since then I’ve always wished I could break dance, so it seemed about time to give it a whirl.

Break dancing started on the streets in the late 1960’s and surged in popularity in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s at about the same time as Adidas track suits. Much like the east coast-west coast hip hop rivalries of my youth (Tupac forever), there are two schools of break dancing, each of which cling to opposite coasts:

B-Boying” is what I, and maybe you as well, think of when you say “break dancing.” It’s largely characterized by hand-to-floor contact. B-Boying (or in ladies’ cases B-Girling) is the east coast style of break dance. “Poppin’” involves rapid muscle contractions, sharp well-defined actions, body waves, and other forms of contortion to create the illusion of the dance. It originated on the west coast.

Tony DeMarco of Boston BBoy agreed to help make my childhood dream come true at his practice studio in Cambridge. There, he and his colleague, Dragon, set out to turn me into a dancing queen, or at least a B-Girl.

Being the consumate reporter that I am, my lesson with Dragon began with an interview. Photo courtesy of Geoff Brownell

Being the consummate reporter that I am, my lesson with Dragon began with an interview. Photo courtesy of Geoff Brownell

As with learning any new physical skill, especially dancing, it’s best to break down (no pun intended) the steps, master them slowly, then put them all together and pick up the tempo. While I acknowledge that in theory, this is the best strategy; if you don’t catch on quickly it can leave you disappointed in your inability to do anything that even remotely resembles your goal. Dragon and I started off down on the mats, with both hands and feet on the ground. On his command, I would move a limb in one direction and then another limb in another. While I was following his directions to a tee, I couldn’t see how this would all add up to break dancing. In fact, it seemed like I was playing a slow-motion game of “Twister” by myself. Check it out:

As you may have noticed, one of my big problems is my lack of flexibility. As a runner, my hamstrings are really tight, so this left me unable to get my legs where they needed to go while keeping my hands on the ground and maintaining my balance. Then there is the fact that I don’t know my left from my right. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. How is that possible? That is a whole other blog post, but needles to say, being directionally challenged made it hard to follow Dragon’s instructions. When I tried to combine all the movements and pick up the tempo I toppled over. There’s nothing quite like losing your balance over and over again to make you feel like a total klutz.

Tony then took over the lesson and showed me the moves performed on two feet. I was correct to assume that I would be much better at this part. There are some simple steps—tapping your toes at the corners of an imaginary square on the ground—that once mastered (and thankfully I was able to do this) you can start to have fun with improvising arm movements. This part reminded me to those goofy old dances like the “sprinkler” and the “shopping cart.” Tony and Dragon encouraged me to think of a story or situation and tell it through movement. Because I was actually able to do these break dancing moves, I had a lot more fun than when I was on the ground. I dubbed my move of choice the “crack open a beer and guzzle it.” It was an instant classic.

I had more success with these moves. Photo courtesy of Geoff Brownell

I had more success with these moves. Photo courtesy of Geoff Brownell

While I was not personally able to do it, Dragon put the two types of moved together to show me how he break dances at clubs. Traditionally, when a DJ starts playing a record (we are talking about the ‘80’s here) a break dancer is dancing on their feet. When the DJ starts scratching, that’s when a dancer hits the ground, contorts and shows off his spins.

In addition to the moves I acquired working with Tony and Dragon; I also gained a new appreciation for the athleticism needed to break dance. You could likely see in the video, Dragon uses a tremendous amount of ab strength to do what he does.  It also takes coordination and flexibility (two things I need to work on). Like all the adventures I go on, experts always make their skill, talent, or life’s passion seem effortless. It’s rarely as easy as they make it look.

Tony and Dragon were extremely patient and supportive with me when I struggled, and shared in my triumph when I nailed a move. They are great teachers. And while the Boston BBoy boys were not able to whip me into a Fly Girl in a few hours, when Dragon encouraged me to give it another try, saying “I believe in you,” I immediately responded, “I believe in me too.”

And I do…and that right there…is a victory.

I’d like to thank Tony DeMarco and Dragon of Boston BBoy. They offer lessons for adults and children, and even do parties and corporate events. If you are interested in learning to break dance, check them out! Thank you to Geoff Brownell, my dear friend the best videographer and editor a gal could ask for! I was not compensated in any way for this post.

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