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B-Girl Bar-B on the floor: From a Mumbai suburb slum to World Final in New York

India Breaking champ Siddhi Tambe has benefitted from growing in small spaces and now aims to take on the world.

Written by Shivani Naik |
Updated: July 5, 2022 7:07:06 am
Siddhi Tambe, grew up in the constricted spaces of a Mumbai western suburb slum, before moving into a typically-crowded one-room rental quarters at Bandra East. (Express photo)

B-Girl Bar-B, born Siddhi Tambe, grew up in the constricted spaces of a Mumbai western suburb slum, before moving into a typically-crowded one-room rental quarters at Bandra East. Such compressed and squeezed spaces lend themselves beautifully to hip hop’s popping (movements that accentuate flexing and relaxing of muscles) and locking (movement freezes) basics.

Though it was the 18-year-old’s mother Sneha, whose unconditional support, born out of her own unfulfilled dance dreams, that pushed the teen into Breaking, and has now earned her a ticket to New York after emerging India champ at the Red Bull BC One Cypher earlier this month.

“Main hamesha hilti dulti rehti thi” (I would keep swaying from one foot to another and never stood still), Bar-B recalls, adding that what might appear weird to the world was seen as groovy and blessed with a sense of rhythm and beat, by her dance-mad mother.

Mumbai’s chawl and low-income housing localities have always boasted of a community dance culture – be it Ganeshotsav Mandals, street dandiya under makeshift shamianas, beach-side koli colonies, tiny mirrored dance studios for amateur Bollywood ‘steps’ jigs or community centres ballroom dances in Christian neighbourhoods. Where B-Girl Bar-B took her first steps in Breaking was a similar community centre with long windows and yellow-and-cream walls shared by her Cardinal Gracias High School in Subhash Nagar’s Ali Yawar Jang Marg.

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Fearless she was, but nailing the backflip took one year – on a mat. When she hit her first windmill move, she was in love with Breaking. (Express Photo)

“My mother took me to the ‘audition’, where you dance to a song, and the reward for being selected is you get to learn choreographed Bollywood dances under seniors. It’s there that Ashok Dada and other Dadas (older male dancers) taught me footwork, style and the basic moves of Breaking,’ she recalls.

Very tiny for her age, but not petite in the ambitious dance moves she attempted, Siddhi was trying headspins on her own when she was spotted by her first crew. “I was a complete tomboy, with a boy-cut trying out stunts without fear. So these older boys thought they were teaching a boy initially,” she laughs. The misunderstanding cleared out quickly due to her voice, but the name B-Girl Sid stuck. “Siddhi got shortened to Sid and till I actually went into ‘crew battles’, I didn’t think of changing it. I used to love Barbie dolls and all things pink, so we changed it to B-Girl Bar-B,” she says.

Fearless she was, but nailing the backflip took one year – on a mat. When she hit her first windmill move, she was in love with Breaking.

Matchbox home, sky-high dreams

At home, Siddhi’s elder sister was aiming to pursue engineering, and Bar-B was reluctant to let go of academics too. “I come from a financially-struggling family, I need a strong back-up so not studying or being poor at it wasn’t an option,” she says, having taken up microbiology. “Yeah, classifying microbes, bacteria and fungi is very different from the creative and competitive Breaking. I’ve gotten serious about Breaking now after winning, but I aspire to a PhD if I end up only studying,” she says.

Her father Sumit worked as a ward boy on a salary of Rs 200, she recalls through her childhood, before becoming a permanent employee in the labour department of Bombay Hospital only 10 years ago. Her mother works as an Aanganwaadi teacher, and ensured entry fees for participation in jams was always rustled up, no matter how dire the situation at home – a one-room kitchen set-up. “And my older Dadas, who taught me hip hop, introduced me to formal Breaking and funded everything from travel to entries,” she recalls.

As the smallest of the crew, Bar-B learnt all the tough moves – a sponge for backflips, ground-drops and freezes. “I didn’t know when I was learning that it was called Breaking,” she says. These were not the ‘wow’ moves, just the fundamentals, but learnt with dedication like continuous repetitions and the taalim of a classical dance form, broken down into shorter movements and not allowed to progress till the bit part was mastered.

Fearless she was, but nailing the backflip took one year – on a mat. When she hit her first windmill move, she was in love with Breaking. (Express photo)

It was when Bar-B pulled off a ‘coin-drop’ – “it’s suicidal if you go wrong” – that the pursuit got serious. Coin-drop is a power-move where one starts from a standing position and drops into a floor windmill, swinging on the shoulder blades and rolling on the back before the limbs stab back to standing position after the floor swirl. “You roll on the shoulder on the floor and pump back to a standing position. I was very nervous at the BC One finals, but I did a good job of looking confident. That’s what B-Girls do – no place to show nerves,” Bar-B says.

Tough, on and off the floor

B-Girl Jo of Bengaluru is technically India’s most proficient, but it was B-Girl Glib that Bar-B battled in the finals, and the Jaipur Breaker did throw in a serious Burn, though Siddhi had crisper lines in her movement, and a more compact technique. “Usually, I don’t like watching my own videos. But this time after the finals, I wanted to watch them. I never thought I’d win, but I knew I’d done well,” she says.

Juggling studies and Breaking had been tough till Class 12, but she put in longer hours in preparation for this year’s edition after winning the Breaking Nationals earlier. The longer prep time was also forced on her as her regular city crew 3D was slowly fraying as crews growing older do. “Yeah, all Dadas have bigger priorities than dance – families, jobs. So I train on my own mostly now, unlike earlier when I could bounce ideas off them. I learn from YouTube,” she says, a tad wistful about the mentoring she misses now.

However, Bar-B’s strong fundamentals and form were acknowledged by B-Boy Mounir, the French champion breaker who has been working as an ambassador for Paris Olympics 2024, who reckons the Red Bull BC One will remain the pivotal point of reference and ultimate goal for Indian breakers at the highest level. “Bar-B is very young, but she has great style. Now she just needs more experience and the World Final (New York) will definitely give her that. In general, I thought the level was great,” he said, having been pleasantly surprised with the “originality and skill” of Indians which pointed to some real potential.

B-Girl Bar-B has come a long way from the neck grooves and march steps, scooby-doos and leo-walks she fluidly learnt at 11-12, and left behind early dreams of being seen in reality shows on the tube. “This opens up the chance to be at lots of jams and battles, and represent India and gain experience,” she says.

New York will also be the first time she flies on a plane. Not that she’s not flown, and created her own momentum before: hand-stands transitioning to air-flares, where the upturned legs swirl through the air with palms forming a circle, is Bar-B’s fantastic world.

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First published on: 30-06-2022 at 07:24:45 pm

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