Making their move

Kristin Walsh
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Whatever you call it — breaking, urban dance or street dance — it’s growing in Newfoundland and Labrador

The worm. The robot. The windmill. For those of us of a certain age, those terms are reminiscent of the 1980s, in the early heydays of Much Music streaming in new styles of urban dance to the Canadian masses.

Today, bboys and bgirls prefer the term “breaking” which both respects the roots of the dance form as an street-dance style originating in New York in the 1970s and distances itself from what is seen by many as the overhyped glare of the media that oversimplified a complex and subsequently misunderstood dance form.

While there is anecdotal evidence that there were breakdancers in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 1980s, their dance training and performance was likely limited to basement rec rooms and dances in the school gym.

Today, the Newfoundland and Labrador breaking community is a tight-knit, growing group of dancers who take their art form very seriously.

Linked ideologically with its kinesthetic cousin, the locally popular hip hop, the style of breaking falls under the rubric of street dance, an umbrella term that includes breaking and hip hop as well as funk, house, punk and many others.

Contemporary breaking has evolved to include top rock, footwork, getting down, freezes and power moves.

Because dancing takes place in a social setting, either in a cipher (where dancers form a circle and individuals move into the middle when the music moves them) or in a battle (where dancers compete through their moves), breakers usually freestyle, or improvise, their choreography on the spot as they are inspired by the music.

The energy is important to the dancers, who feel that the cipher helps to replicate the social context that is so critical to breaking as a dance genre.

The province’s breakers are largely derived from East Rock Crew, whose almost accidental formation became the driving force behind the surge in breaking’s popularity for both dancers and the public.

The seeds of East Rock Crew were sown when Tony Ingram (Bboy AhhhSUM), now widely acknowledged to be a leader in the local breaking community, was walking past the now-defunct dance studio in the basement of Memorial’s Human Kinetics and Recreation Building.

Ingram saw a guy breaking inside, and realized that the dancer, John Layton, was performing just the dance style that he had always wanted to learn.

Inspired, Ingram first began to learn from Layton, then moved towards perfecting moves on his own. And soon, through the small town that is Newfoundland and Labrador, he quickly found likeminded wannabe dancers.

Eventually the MUN Moves club was formed, which led to the creation of East Rock Crew in 2004.

The crew set out with a solid plan to raise their technical level by training and performing both home and away. Over the next several years, members went to Halifax and Toronto, and brought artists to Newfoundland. Although membership changed as some of the guys went away for school and work (and some came back), and several new members drifted in and out, a core group of dancers remained to carry out their plan to grow the community and to keep dancing.

Support by the dance community has also helped immensely, such as that from hip hop dancer and co-owner of Mount Pearl School of Dance Erika Wilansky, who provides space for breakers to jam on a weekly basis.

Through performances, school tours and workshops across the island and in Labrador, and widely popular events like Hustle to Get Here (a local battle with judges from the mainland who also hold workshops for the dancers), East Rock Crew became a force to be reckoned with.

But as the only breaking crew in the province, members felt that more needed to be done.

Rather than keep adding to the membership of East Rock Crew, its dancers agreed that they needed other crews to grow the community.

Since breaking is meant to be danced in battles and in the cipher, more groups are needed for dancers to hone their skills and show their chops.

To do so, the senior East Rock Crew has passed both the love for dance and the desire to grow the form across the province.

Several of the next generation of breakers has enthusiastically taken up the torch.

Becki Peckham (Bgirl Beep) and Justin Power (Bboy Rock One) recently participated as teachers in an after school program sponsored by SportNL, which culminated in a jam with crews made up of junior high school kids.

Power has also formed his own dance company, Street Movement, that provides a neutral space for any and all interested dancers to jam.

So, how does a group of Newfoundlanders express a dance form that is borne in urban gang culture? Local breakers are very serious about understanding the history of breaking, the OG (original generation [of dancers]), the culture, even if they don’t feel like they need to emulate that culture in order to respect the dance form.

 “The culture is very open in terms of it not being about a specific place,” says Matt Power (Bboy Ugly), Hustle to Get Here organizer. “It is about originality. It is a sense of community. It’s about a respect for music and a lifestyle in terms of just committing to something that is not necessarily counterculture but it isn’t exactly mainstream either. We just studied the art form. (We) Didn’t just teach moves, but taught ideas and concepts, and tried to practice what breaking used to be and create an environment of what breaking is in Newfoundland.”

And what about the bgirls?

There are mixed opinions about the role of women in a dance form that is male-dominated, a rarity in the dance world.

While some of the men enjoy the camaraderie that is formed by a group of males in a social situation, there is strong agreement that women are welcome and should feel welcome.

Peckham, one of the very few bgirls in the province, says the intimidation factor lessened as she learned more dance moves and became more confident.

 She doesn’t find gender a barrier as she has found her way into the heart of the breaking scene and constantly pushes her level of proficiency along with her male colleagues.

Where will the breaking scene in Newfoundland and Labrador move?

The current generations of dancers all want it to get bigger. They are focusing their efforts on raising both the profile and professionalism of their dancing to attract new, younger dancers. Ideally they want a large numbers of crews so they can jam and battle on a regular basis.

You can call them breakers, bboys or bgirls. You can call it urban dance or street dance.

Just don’t call it breakdancing.

Organizations: Mount Pearl School of Dance Erika Wilansky, Street Movement, OG

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, New York, Halifax Toronto

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Recent comments

  • Trisha Boyer
    September 16, 2013 - 12:45

    The after school b boy and b girl program was part of School Sports NL non competitive program titled Participation Nation.