It started in the New York’s Bronx county and danced its way into its popular culture in the Eighties. B-boying,or to use the slang,’breaking’,dominated street dancing in those years,when youngsters loved hip hop music and energetic,sometimes gravity-defying,full-bodied moves. And from there it spread world over.
The Battle of The Year (BOTY),first held in 1990 in Hanover,is today the biggest gathering of b-boys and b-girls from around the world,and attracts thousands of participants from around 80 countries. India,too,is mighty smitten by the phenomenon. Over the years,Mumbai has fast emerged to be the central grid of b-boying crews. Chennai,Bengaluru,Delhi and some pockets in Mizoram too are active in this party.
What draws these dancers to the cult is more than its street-smart appeal. They embrace the motto of Peace/Love/Unity/Respect,the flamboyance (be it crew names or hairstyles) and the fairness of the ‘battles’. B-boying may have originated in another world,but for many Indians,it has become a path to self-realisation.
For me,it’s a lifestyle, says 25-year-old Gautam Jeewan from Freak n Stylz Mumbai,arguably the first b-boying crew of India. B-boying is very competitive. You cannot pursue it while having a desk job,because someone,somewhere is practising and getting better. Most b-boys in the country have no real legacy to follow,so they start with curiosity,trawl the Net for videos,and then develop their own styles. At first,I was interested in just the moves. Then I researched and understood the musicality of it. I love doing things on beat,I dance for myself, says Jeewan,adding that on an estimate,there are 300-400 b-boys active in Mumbai today.
Twenty-year-old Prathamesh Sawant,who started two years ago,is one of them. It was amazing to watch people dance like they were from a different world, he gushes on how he got addicted. The flipping around,all the crazy moves,the crowd loves it. It makes them happy, he adds.
Every b-boy/b-girl swears by the emotions t generates in them – that are beyond the obvious calisthenics. They scoff at the crudeness of the commercial hip hop and align themselves to the old-school harmony. Even the word ‘battle’ is a misnomer,they say,because the crews here fight for perfection in movements,and not for one-upmanship. I am not the kinds who would go out there and be aggressive, says 21-year-old Naser Al Azzeh from Bengaluru’s Black Ice Crew. Some people mistake it for the gangster attitude,that is why hip-hop is dying. Hip-Hop was and is about having fun. Like most breakers,Azzeh started when he challenged himself to replicate what he saw in some videos. Black Ice is the only full-fledged crew in Bengaluru today. I am still surprised it all worked out, he chuckles.
The key to the success of hip-hop culture in India,especially b-boying,is often diametrically opposite to what’s peddled in movies like the Step Up series and the music of 50 Cent and ilk. The core of inspiration is in the original funk and soul musical genres and the idea of freedom from social strictures. The dance has few,if at all,written rules; there is no definitive dressing style,though the choices of the original breakers have become a cult; and everyone is welcome,gender no bar.
It is so physical that it’s constantly challenging. The idea of battles may sound corny,but I draw parallels with life, says 19-year-old Shraddha Kutty,the only b-girl in Freak n Stylz. It makes us work harder,it asks you to maintain confidence even if you mess up,be disciplined,and hit back only with your skills. You converse only on the floor.