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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

B-Boy Karam Singh: Breaking into news, one freeze at a time

B-Boy Kid Karam talks about his journey from watching B-Boys at funfair do head whirls upto reaching higher echelons of newest Olympic sport

Written by Shivani Naik | Updated: December 22, 2020 2:36:34 pm
Karam Singh, Kid KaramKid Karam is slated to lead UK's charge at international events as Breaking explodes and looks to mainstream into the taut tense milieu of the Olympics. (Instagram/kidkaram123)

As Breaking with B-Boys and B-Girls bursts onto the Olympic scene with its inclusion announced for the 2024 Paris Games, Express tracks down one of the biggest emerging names in the sport: Kid Karam.

Karam Singh, 22, traces his roots to Phagwara in Punjab, but was born and raised in a multicultural, gritty neighborhood of Normanton in Derby, UK. Known for his signature head spins on the Breaking circuit, Kid Karam is slated to lead UK’s charge at international events as Breaking explodes and looks to mainstream into the taut tense milieu of the Olympics, lending it plenty of thrills and a youthful vibe, while the Games let their hair down for once.

B-Boy Kid Karam talks about his own journey while explaining how a sport of the alleys has adapted to athletic parameters and is poised perk up the Olympics in the coming years.

How did the first connect with B-Boying and Breaking begin for you?

My first connection with Breaking occurred in Derby when I was just 7 years old. I attended a fun fair at one of the local parks where I witnessed a Breaking showcase from my first ever crew; ‘Trinity Warriors’. Ironically, in weeks prior to this I saw a music video with b-boys doing head spins and I made a passive joke to my sister quoting “one day I will do that”. When seeing it in real life I was completely captivated and I asked the crew if I could join in. They let me roll around on the stage and I then asked if I could attend any classes. My first teacher, B-Boy Foggy explained that the classes were for 8 year olds and up. I waited until my next birthday and I was at the next class!

Tell us about your family and how you wound up in dance sport.

My family on my father’s side are originally from India which makes me half Indian and half English. My Indian roots and our culture is something that I truly embrace. My family come from the small town of Phagwara in Punjab and they moved to England (Derby) in the 1960’s for work and a new life. In the 80’s my father participated heavily in the dance of shuffling. He would perform in the clubs and go all around the country competing and challenging other dancers with his friends. Similar to how Breakers used to do it back in the day. My uncle has trained in Martial Arts all his life. He has accumulated over the 4th Dan (black belts) and now teaches black belt classes regularly. My Grandfather back in India was a famous wrestler in our town. When moving to England he gave it up because he didn’t want to conform to the rules of losing and winning when told to do so over here. I guess this is where my competitiveness comes from!

What were the first moves you perfected when you started in Breaking?

The first three moves that I was proud of perfecting when I started were: The ‘Six Step’, The ‘Baby Freeze’ and The ‘Baby Love’. These were moves I’d seen in some of my favourite movies and so I made sure that every single day, in and out of class, I would practice them.

For a long lad – meaning high centre of gravity, your vertical spins and freezes are technically very very proficient. Tell me about the process of mastering the technique.

I can say I’m not one of the tallest b-boys at a height of 5’8” but being a little shorter would definitely help when throwing myself around. Throughout my years I have had multiple growth spurts in which I have had to readjust my breaking in order to feel comfortable. I find that the process of mastering the technique for any b-boy or b-girl is to drill your moves and set goals. For example, when creating or mastering a new move or mini-set, I would set myself a target when to have it mastered by and I would then do the move perfectly three times before moving on. If I am to mess up, the three attempts restarts. When struggling with moves, I have found that breaking them down into three; beginning, middle and end helps to master them as a whole. The more I practice these things, the more comfortable I feel when performing them. This is what provides the confidence to add character when completing them during a competition, which is why they look so proficient.

Who were your early influences and what did you specifically learn from each?

My biggest and main influence was my teacher, Foggy. Not only was he my teacher, but he was also my mentor and almost like a family figure. Growing up, I wasn’t always in the best position in life but Foggy always kept me on track in and out of dance and made sure I had everything I needed to give life a real good go. From Foggy I learnt all about Breaking the right way. I mastered every basic move with him and he would make sure he spent sufficient time teaching me the history of Breaking. In the early years, everything I did came through and from him.

My favourite b-boy when I started and still to this day is B-Boy Mouse. He was a huge influence because at the time he was one of the best in the world, he was in “Bboy” the game on Sony devices and he was the first person from the UK at a Red Bull BC One World Final. He was something I always wanted to be just like. Over the years, I learned from Mouse that character and style is everything, just by watching him. It’s not about what you do but how you do it. I learnt from him that just by taking the extra time to focus on the basics you can find new ways in and out of moves allowing you to create new transitions. From him, I also learnt the importance of drilling.

Finally, I would say that my father heavily influenced me. He took me all around the globe in my early ages and he always supported everything that I did. He always involved himself and went the extra mile to do and give me the best and he always tried to help me with new ideas to make sure I was on track. I learnt from him that whatever we do in life or on the battlefield we give it all or give it nothing. I also learnt from him that during battle, no matter who the opponent is, there are no friends.

What was it like growing up in a Derby neighborhood and learning to dance and how much did the streets around you influence you? 

My crew and teacher always taught me the importance of being a well-rounded b-boy. Therefore, I think that is one of the distinctive features from the Derby based Breakers as a whole. We’ve always been more focused on being stylish and free than having the craziest moves. I’m from a neighbourhood in Derby called ‘Normanton’. My neighbourhood is one which represents many different cultures and ethnicities. It is also regarded to as one of the more ‘rough’ areas in the city. The youth in this area are much more boisterous; as was I. My upbringing and area influence my style in a way in which makes me playful, exciting and powerful. I like to entertain, be cheeky and have fun when I compete/perform and this is a result of my neighbourhood’s influence. Because of the area that I come from and there being very minimal success stories, my achievements have led to the award of a plaque in the ground of the city centre. It is Derby’s walk of fame and I am the youngest and most current individual to receive one, which I am truly grateful for.

Tell me about your first crew. 

My first crew is called the ‘Trinity Warriors’. The crew started out in the early 2000’s with leading members B-Boy Steady and B-Boy Boogie. Trinity became a collective as the crew also had members who possessed other elements of Hip-Hop. They were a crew who were hungry and raw in their approach and was one of the top crews in the UK; rivalling the Soul Mavericks. My teacher Foggy was one of the senior members of the crew and so I organically became a member in 2007 after completing my 10 initiation rounds against them. To me and my friends who just wanted something to be a part of, a crew to represent and feel cool, becoming a member of Trinity Warriors and having their exclusive handshake was a dream come true!

In 2008 we won the UK Champs qualification and went on to the World Finals against T.I.P crew from South Korea. In this battle I came out of a bag on stage and at the time I was the youngest person to ever compete on it. We won and repped at many battles together across the UK and in 2011 we came 2nd place in the TV show Got to Dance. This led to many new avenues and opportunities for us as individuals, and the crew started to separate. However, everyone still remains a member in their own way and the crew have an academy in Derby where we teach the next generation.

And the rivalry with B-Boy Sunni when you were crowned British champ?

Personally, I don’t think that Sunni and I have ever had any rivalry with each other. When I first started Breaking, Sunni would come to Derby sometimes to train with us. They were my first memories of him. I remember the first time he was at practice; he was one of the best young kids around. I tried to secretly throw burns while cyphering with him because I didn’t want another young guy to be better than me, but I also didn’t want to get smoked haha. Later on, Sunni went on to join Soul Mavericks and because of the crew rivalry, both of us being young and also having similar styles, everyone else in the scene compared us and always expressed how they wanted to see us battle each other. I think this is where the idea of the rivalry came from. However to this day, Sunni remains a huge inspiration to me because he has done a lot for the scene and country. When I was on my come up in 2017 and I started to take things serious again, Sunni was the best in the country and one of the best in the world. As a competitive b-boy he could have opposed me, but instead he gave me a helping hand by simply getting me to come to events and pushing the idea of us two doing it together and taking over the world. This was a huge blessing to me and this is why I class him as my family. To be crowned the British Champ was absolutely incredible for me. Out of everything, this was a dream come true. Ever since I stepped on the UK champs stage in 2008, I said to my father that one day I will win the solos. We promised each other that I would only do it when I’m older (around the age of 18/19) and I will go for the win and win only. In 2017 I lost out to Sunni and finished 2nd place and in 2019 I was victorious. This meant everything to me.

How much of Breaking is creativity of a dancer & how much the strength of an athlete? 

I think that you find the creativity of being a dancer in those moments where you are practising and you feel free with no pressure of competition. However, when competitions are fast approaching, it is the time where you become an athlete. I think it’s all about knowing, planning and organising when to differentiate your training for these things. The creative side for me just comes from dance sessions alone or with my friends without having any structure; this is where the new moves come from. The athletic side of things comes from the hardcore drilling and the other activities we do as Breakers to make sure we feel good and ready. For me, I love to run, attend the gym and swim to improve on things such as stamina, agility, speed and power.

My big dope move which is what I’m known for at times is a crazy ‘Head Spin Drill’.

What do you think of Breaking making it to Olympics?

Breaking in the Olympics is music to my ears. As a competitive b-boy who represents the country all over the globe, I feel like this provides definition. It helps the Olympics to capture new audiences which is beneficial because it will ultimately increase sporting participation rates. It will inspire the young generation who just like myself wanted to be a part of something and feel cool, and get involved. I have always wanted to be the world’s best and I am gradually making my way up there. I love Breaking, so wherever it goes, I will go too. The Olympics is something I’ve always enjoyed and as a huge sports fan I’ve always wanted to be able to attend. With Breaking being an Olympic sport and me potentially getting to be a part of it, it’s a dream come true. I can’t wait for it!

Are there any Indian influences – music or Bollywood or bhangra – in your breaking sets? 

Because of my Indian roots, in some of my top rock steps I do have some Indian influences from Bhangra steps and movements. Depending on the music and mood I tend to emphasise them more. For example, if I hear any slight Indian influence within a song, I will play on that and bring out some of my Bhangra steps that I do with my family at weddings. I really like the artist Sidhu Moose Wala and Panjabi MC. I love their approaches to music and the energy and it is something that I carry with me in all of my sets actually. I enjoy training to their music and making videos to them also! One of my favourite songs, because it makes me happy and makes me want to dance, is Punjabi MC – Morni.

What sports do you play apart from Breaking?

Aside from Breaking, there are many things that I love to do. Firstly, I am a huge sports fan! I love every single sport, whether it’s playing them or watching them. My favourite is football and I love watching my team Manchester United play on the television. I love to play football with my friends, which I dedicate one day a week to. I play in two 5-a-side leagues and also for fun for a few hours. I enjoy playing other sports such as table tennis, tennis, cricket, basketball, badminton and many others. If there is an opportunity to get involved, I certainly will. This year I finished a degree at The University of Derby in Sports Coaching and Development. I really enjoyed this course because it taught me a lot about myself, my body, training preparation, dieting, hydration and so on. Completing this course through college to university helped me change my life.

Aside from sports, I really enjoy downtime with my friends and family. Whether it’s chilling at home watching movies, playing games or going out for food and creating memories. I enjoy drawing, gaming and spending time with my loved ones.

Tell me about life on the big competition circuit of Breaking. 

Being on the Red Bull circuit was incredible for me. As a kid, Red Bull BC One was one of the only events we would visualise and see on social platforms whenever we had access. The first BC One I watched was the 2006 edition. Ever since then it was something I’d always loved. As I grew older and more involved in Breaking, it became evident that it was the most elite breaking competition in the 1vs1 category. My dream was to be the best in the world and Red Bull could perhaps be the thing that provided such a label. From 2016/17 I really started pushing my Breaking properly again and all I wanted to do was to get a chance at Red Bull! In 2019 I was invited to the UK cypher, but I wanted to kill some more of the undisputed events which I had been doing to get a chance to be a wild card directly. Also because our qualifier was the day before UK champs and my focus and sights were already set on that. I would have loved to be in India! This year I attended the UK cypher and won without dropping a single vote! Following on, I got the opportunity to be amongst some of the world’s most elite breakers in the Red Bull BC One World Final in Austria.

How did the World Finals go for you?

I was mesmerised and shocked at how amazing life could really be! Despite challenges while being there I was just so grateful to be a part of such an amazing event. Up on that stage is harder than anyone can imagine! I felt pressure and nerves like no other. Although I wasn’t my best on the day of the competition, I fought hard. It was my first time there and my first experience of anything like it. I will take what I learnt from it and become better than even I can imagine. Overall, I’m just grateful for the opportunity and I will make sure I’m back again to take over! Because of the current covid restrictions it was difficult to see much of Salzburg but from looking out the windows you can see how much of a beautiful place it is.

What are Breaking’s competition hotspots?

Over the years, there have been many places I have travelled to and I’m extremely thankful for every opportunity that I get because I enjoy what I do and I get to see the world whilst doing it. Dublin was amazing, I was there for judging and doing workshops recently! France has almost become a second home because I’ve been to so many events there in the last few years, and other than the UK it’s where my most frequent wins come from. Lisbon was wonderful because I was actually there shooting a football campaign for Puma! It was beautiful. My favourite country that I have been to, the one that feels homely and the one that is the most pure is India. In 2019 I was flown out to New Delhi to judge and deliver a workshop for the Bharat Jam Competition. Experiencing the different cultures and lifestyles for the first time was overwhelming and the team and locals took the best care of me. I became a part of their family and they became a part of mine. It was the most pure place and I will cherish the memories forever. I cried on the plane back because I didn’t want to come back to the world I live in over in England.

Internationally who do you see as competition?

There are so many b-boys out there who you get to compete against and have different experiences with. I don’t necessarily see anybody as competition except for myself. However, some of my best exchanges and bouts I’ve had are with B-Boy Kuzya of Ukraine, B-Boy Victor of USA and B-Boy Alkolil of Russia. I would say I look up to these guys and appreciate what they do, but we’ve had some entertaining encounters and I love battling against them. For the young generation I’d say biggest competition is and will be in the future Shigekix of Japan, Bumblebee of Russia and Zeku of the USA.

When you are in the middle of a competitive routine …. Say, Round 2 of a battle… What is the feeling like? 

When you are on stage in the middle of a competition, there is no other feeling like it. Once you’ve got through that first round you can begin to express yourself fully and have a conversation on the stage with your opponent. Those are the feelings that make us enjoy what we do. It’s almost as if you feel like you’re coming towards the end of the battle, but you have to give your everything to secure that win. With that being said, the feeling depends on how the battle is going. If you feel like you’re losing the first round or didn’t do so well, it’s an uphill climb to try and take control of it again. At that point, you can sometimes feel anxious because you know you’re down and that’s where your character comes into play to bring it back. With certain judging systems, this is transparent. On the other hand, if you know you’ve killed the first round and you’re in control of the battle; you feel more confident and you can intercept with the crowd, judges and music more.

How important are crowds for performance?

In my opinion, crowds are extremely important for performance. I feel like having them provides another sense of expression. When you have a crowd present you not only feel amazing when the crowd is going crazy for what you’re doing, but you also feel the pressure when they’re going crazy for your opponent. It’s a ray of emotions while trying to compete which you can embrace while on stage. I am a person who likes to interact with and entertain the crowd and I aim to try to win them over on the day of competition. Sometimes you might not win the event but winning the crowd and having them on your side can make you feel like you won. You go home feeling amazing! Having a crowd gives you that extra energy you need to push through your rounds and take the win at events also. The atmosphere is amazing when there are crowds present.

How did your folks respond to your choice of career? 

Luckily, my folks and friends have always supported my Breaking throughout my whole life! Initially because it simply kept me away from trouble in the streets of my neighbourhood. It was something creative and fun and they always knew that I enjoyed it so they pushed me and embraced it fully. They’d trigger me to show them something, test me on what I’ve learnt and asked me to show them something new. They always promoted me as if I was superstar and all of their friends and families also knew who I was and what I did. As things got more serious, they carried on to do this and made sure that I always had everything I needed to be great at what I do! My family and friends have never been against what I do and they’ve always inspired me and encouraged me to keep on going! Them alongside myself never thought that Breaking would reach the heights that it has but they are so proud of me. My father and family have never pushed me to do anything that I didn’t want to. They always kept me in check and made sure I was doing right by what I wanted to do.

What music drives you?

In music some of my favourite urban genres are RnB, Rap, Hip-Hop, Grime and drill. The biggest artists I listen to are mainly from the states and the UK. My favourite artists are Drake, Meek Mill and 50 Cent from the USA. From the UK my favourite artists are: Dave, Fredo, Nines, Stormzy, Potter Payper and Eyez. Of course, I was inspired by the earlier Hip-Hop music. Music by Run DMC, Method Mman and so on. I embrace and enjoy all types of music. I enjoy listening to soft rock, funky house, Afro beats, reggae, dancehall, pop and jazz. In terms of other dance styles, I really enjoying watching and vibing with house heads. I also love the style and vibes of popping and locking too! And I love the hype and energy that hip hoppers bring.

As half-Indian, did you ever venture hockey-wards or cricket-wards?

Yes, I love football on every level! I love playing, watching and attending live games. I love the World Cup, Champions League, Europa League and all of the top leagues around the world. I support Manchester United and also follow Derby County a little bit. I also really enjoy cricket! I used to play a lot in school when I was younger but not as much now! I love watching the matches on the television, especially the World Cup! I love watching my team India! My favourite player in history is Sachin Tendulkar, but currently it’s Virat Kohli of course. I also enjoy hockey, I do not watch it so much but I used to play it in school and I was good at it. I enjoy all sports and whenever there is opportunity to get involved, I will.

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