Bridget Di Certo takes a breakdancing class for a peek into the underground culture that is flipping and spinning its way to the top. Photography by Conor Wall.
Breakdancing’s hypnotic appeal comes from watching enthralled as B-Boys throw themselves into manoeuvres where they look like they are about to fall, but don’t. As a learner, the first half of this recipe for success is easy, but the second is harder.
American B-Boy ‘Peanut’ began breakdancing in Seattle when he was aged 12. “Pretty young,” he says modestly. In a few short years, he had turned professional and was reaping the rewards of glory and fame in competitions staged across the world.
For Peanut, growing up in America meant that breakdancing was as natural a past-time as basketball. The dance style had graduated from its underground, gang-associated origins in the 1970s to a well-respected and high-earning career option.
“Breakdancing is the original hip hop dance. It’s kind of aggressive, masculine,” he explains, adding that perceptions of the dance style in Cambodia are similar to those prevalent in the United States 40 years ago as “there’s that stigma that it’s only for street kids.”
Four years ago, Peanut came to Cambodia to work with breakdancing NGO Tiny Toones and has now branched out on his own, teaching classes at Laura Joy Kiddle’s Dance World Cambodia at the Cambodiana Hotel.
All breakdancing, Peanut says, is based on reinventions of four key moves: the Top Rock, the Six Step, the Freeze and the Power Move. Coincidentally, these moves are also listed in order of difficulty and likelihood
The Top Rock is relatively easy for beginners to master. It involves the B-Boy or Girl bouncing forward on to one foot and rocking the opposite foot behind the leading leg. They then swing the leg back out and bounce forward on the opposite foot, sweeping the previous leading foot behind.
The move will be familiar to anyone who has trained in hip hop, but advanced variations come with bigger and faster bouncing, travelling and arm movements full of attitude. While teaching the move, Peanut gallops around the rehearsal room as if the floor is a trampoline. I try the Top Rock and find the floor more like wet cement.
The Six Step is another instantly recognisable move and perhaps the most synonymous with breakdancing. Starting in a push-up position, the dancer scrambles his legs underneath him in a circle, rocking back and forth between hands as he spins around on the spot. The step consists of six moves that, when executed properly, ensure the dancer’s legs and arms don’t become entangled with each other.
Peanut’s Six Step looks effortless and graceful. He spins, kicking his legs out from underneath him with enough speed and finesse to encourage confidence in students. Reality, however, is always different from the show.
Trying the Six Step for the first time, I realise three things: one, I can’t remember the last time I did a push-up; two, ‘effortless’ dancing comes with a lot of effort; three, on a scale of one to ‘confused spider legs’, I have zero coordination. “Come on, you almost look like a B-Boy,” Peanut cheers encouragingly. “Almost,” he laughs.
Breakdancing competitions are judged on criteria such as creativity, explosiveness and team work. For someone with no hip hop background, it could take about two months of regular practise to get the four basic moves down.
However, breakdancing is also an accessible sport that wins bonus points for being a fitness-boosting and coin-saving passion. Moves can be rehearsed anywhere that has a relatively flat surface and a regular spin gives prospective B-Boy or B-Girls abs and guns of steel.
“Beginners are often surprised with how quickly they catch on, especially the little ones who have a lot of coordination,” says Kiddle, pointing out that a breakdancer doesn’t feel all the muscles they truly used until the day after.
For more information, contact Laura Joy Kiddle on 012 634 008 or visit universaltalentasia.com and danceworldcambo.wordpress.com.