Toprocks, flares and windmills: My brief introduction to the world of b-boying
Nestled intricately beyond the face of Rotterdam city lies a subculture teeming with daredevil acrobats. It’s far from a circus, mind, yet flips and madcap spins are commonplace. Performers manoeuvre much like boxers in a ring; tauntingly squaring up to each other, meticulously calculating the others’ next move yet all to the rhythm of hip-hop and without a single hook thrown. Welcome to the world of breaking.
Or should I say my brief introduction to the realm? Just less than a month ago, I was invited to attend Red Bull’s BC One Western European qualifier held, for this branch of the competition, in Holland. Over the past few months, hundreds of B-Boys have engaged in one-on-one battles at sixty cyphers held across the globe for a place in the final in Rio de Janeiro on December 8.
Fittingly, Rotterdam is a region that has cradled the musings of hip-hop culture since the 1980s, brewing a microcosm that has embraced the exploits of its American counterpart. Early innovators – including artists like Postmen and Blonnie B – and turntablists such as DJ DCS, DJ Save and DJ Alien were amongst those providing a novel platform for others to dance upon. The city’s relation to hip-hop is even mildly echoed in its architecture. No longer than a five minute walk from the flurry of feet inside Rotterdam Central station and the transport lungs of the area lies a hip-hop monolith albeit discreet in appearance.
HipHopHuis (translated as The Hip-Hop House) on Delftsestraat has existed since 2002 and was created to provide a haven for lovers of the culture in the surrounding parts as well as an apt stomping ground for over 400 young people to learn the trade. Being there evoked similarities to a training ground of sorts when I entered; a stripped down atmosphere resonating break sections of old school soul refrains and an air only punctuated by b-boys metrically grating their gym shoes across the floor.
One such b-boy was Rabbani Sayed, who lived locally and also taught workshops in HipHopHuis. Intrigued, I asked him to briefly expand on Rotterdam’s fascination with dance: “I think it was back in 1992 or 1993 where in Europe especially, there was a mini revival of sorts for b-boying. That’s how I got into it,” he says.
His own approach to dance is serious and cerebral, renowned for an absolute physical control in movement. “There were a lot of people at the time that were doing really great things to inspire myself and the legacy that they’ve left behind is here to see,” he admits before returning to his repetitions.
Representing the UK and rather more calculative in his decision to dance was Lee Crowley, known in this world as Reckless Lee. Lee started off as a trampolinist in the Welsh national squad up until the age of 15 before discovering b-boying: “I was b-boying for fun for about two years and didn’t take it seriously at all. I was just trying to spin on my head and back and stuff like that. Then, I decided that I really wanted to do it. At first, I was just learning the simple things and didn’t really understand that there’s also a flavour and style that comes into it.”
After that, the style and flair he speaks of becomes a noticeable element in all that the b-boys in front of me do. It exudes in each person’s routine and almost instantly, you become more aware of the intricacies of each move, be they boisterous or seasoned with finesse. Whether honing in on the crowd-pleasing aerobics of power moves or focusing instead on dance steps and the charisma of the ‘style-heads’, there’s plenty to admire from a non-dancer’s view. Ample time has been spent making this what it is and when Lee certifies that they train every day, I’m not surprised in the slightest.
It mustn’t go amiss how much b-boying blood runs through the UK’s veins too. Although it’s had its fair share of dry patches, crews such as the infamous Second To None, have helped to forge a style that the UK could recognise as its own and which Reckless Lee’s own Soul Mavericks could build on. “Whilst I was with [my old crew] H2O, one of the founding members of Second To None was our teacher. I spent a lot of time training around them and they helped me with a lot of my moves, so there’s a lot of what they had in what I do now,” he concedes. “Soul Mavericks are trying to add to the legacy of the UK flavour because we don’t want to look like the other countries.”
That influence extends to the event proper, where another legend in DJ Renegade is representing the UK via vinyl mixes and cuts. A highly respected figure in the scene, Renegade has been around the scene for a foreseeable amount of time; first as a dancer and since 1987, on the decks. He’s also the founder of Soul Mavericks.
It’s an all-together different atmosphere in the Maassilo venue. The audience are touch-tight and a tangible energy secretes through the air, centred on the raised podium where the b-boys roam. As Reckless Lee describes: “It’s not like you’re waiting for a round of applause, it’s just a constant energy throughout. It’s also pretty nerve-racking because if you don’t do well, the crowd are harsh, so you’ve got to show that you’re worth being on the stage.”
There’s a gladiator-esque feel to the battle that is impossible to ignore and whilst one contender goes, the other stands eyeing each effort, pointing out any errors with self-explanatory gestures. Mimic your opponent and you’re ‘biting’, repeating a move doesn’t go unnoticed.
The crown that night is handed to B-Boy Mounir, a breakdancer from the French streets of Angers, but for me it’s the excitement of the show itself that protrudes. Although I’ve only had a glimpse, the attraction to this domain is clear. Just don’t expect me to pull off a windmill any time soon.Tagged in: b-boy, hip hop, HipHopHuis, holland, Reckless Lee, Red Bull’s BC One Western European, Rotterdam, Soul Mavericks
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