by: Linda Pham
photo credit: Melissa Lee
Ten years ago, second-year Michelle Nguyen sat in her fourth grade classroom, in awe of her friend and her friend’s brother, as they B-boyed on a piece of cardboard for show-and-tell with the stereo blasting nearby. B-boying is similar to break dancing, an acrobatic dance. (However, be careful not to call a true B-boy a break-dancer because they will take offense!) Michelle watched in amazement thinking, “I want to be able to do that!” She, herself, didn’t pursue the art of B-boying until her freshmen year at UCI.
B-boying is a misinterpreted dance, more than simply dancers spinning on their heads and rolling around the floor, it is a form of literature and self-expression. These dancers are telling their story on the dance floor in order to show the world who they are. B-boying is a way for dancers to express themselves, and each dancer has their own style. They visually express their story through a variety of unique moves –windmills, footwork, popping and locking, the list goes on. Windmills are when a dancer spins their body while on their hands, mimicking a moving fan. Footwork is the basic foundation every move starts with. Popping is a robotic dance comprised of moves where your muscles are contracting to the beat. Locking is a funk style dance, which is an up dance that was created during the 70’s funk era. B-boying started in the 70’s as a street dance style, while break dancing started as a fad in the ‘80s. Cultural outsiders who wanted to give B-boying a more broad appeal, coined the term break dancing. “A break dancer is a punch line that lingers, while B-boying is a spiritual discipline, as much as a dance, as much as a self-realization as a series of movement” (Schloss). A break-dancer learns their moves in a studio from someone else who taught them step-by step. They do not live the b-boy lifestyle: going to a club, practicing on a sticky-floor everyday, and hurting themselves in order to better themselves.
photo credit: Melissa Lee
Michelle started taking break dancing classes with Victor Kim, who was on the television shows, So You Think You Can Dance? and America’s Best Dance Crew. This was where she learned the basic foundations for B-boying. The foundation is the basic footwork that every dance move is based on. This is not what created her passion for B-boying; it was her first encounter with Bboys Anonymous that instilled in her a love for this dance. Bboys Anonymous (BBA) is a dance club at UCI that is open to everyone who wants to learn the foundations of street dancing.
BBA started off as a group of friends who wanted to practice and dance together. Mark Kamimoto started the club around summer to fall of 1999 and started practicing at Crawford Hall; around this time he began coming in to contact with many breakers through a break dancing class he was teaching. He wanted to start a club so they could have extra time to practice. Now this club has developed into a family with 80 people enrolled, and 30 people coming regularly to their sessions. Michelle explains, “These dancers are my family and together we are BBA. They are my family away from home, and friends to dance together with; I even spent my Thanksgiving break with these people.”
photo credit: Melissa Lee
BBA holds session every Monday and Tuesday at the Anteater Recreational Center in the Activity Annex from 10:30pm – 1:00am. A session is not a regular practice; BBA does not have a routine practice. Each dancer dances by themselves or in groups, and helps each other improve.
Eclectic music is blasting from the stereo. Eclectic music is a mix of songs that draw from a lot of different sources: funk music, instrumental break, popular songs, etc. Dancers with bright fitted colored shirts, matching shoes, and fitted jeans spread out throughout the room, find personal space and practice in front of the mirror. On the opposite end of the room, other dancers form a cypher. A cypher is when dancers form a circle and one dancer jumps in the middle then starts breaking. The others have fun messing around- shaking their booty to the beat of the music, dancing and making funny faces at each other. Sessions are about improving their dance skills, but also about having a great time.
BBA is different from other dance crews on campus, such as the well-known crew KABA modern. Almost everyone on campus knows their name because of their premier on Season One of MTV’s hit show-America’s Best Dance Crew. KABA is part of the Filipino- American club, Kababayan, which was founded in 1992 to participate in their annual Pilipino cultural night. The stark difference between the two is that a dance crew focuses on choreographed dancing and learning big block routines in unison, while BBA focuses on free-styling. A dance crew has people audition so they will devote their time to learning choreography; BBA however welcomes new comers who want to learn the art of B-boying.
photo credit: Melissa Lee
It was fall of her freshman year when Michelle and her friends decided to go to the ARC to run laps. It was in the Physical Forum where they first saw BBA sessioning. The current outgoing and welcoming President Vincent Ngo also known as “Prince Vince,” invited Michelle and her friends in to learn new moves, but she very was timid when she first started coming around, and did not really ask anyone for help since she was one of the few girls in the room. BBA is primarily male dominant, but loves new comers. Last year, a exceptionally tall basketball player, Justin Ho came in to BBA’s session and wanted to learn how to b-boy, but he had no dance experience. Vincent thought, “This was awesome! Even though he had no experience, I could see the determination and the motivation in this kid. To a lot of experienced B-boys, that’s the main thing we look for from people who want to start because you’ll never be the best in the world, but as long as you’re willing to commit the time, you’ll be a good B-boy regardless.” Vincent taught Justin the basics of B-boying and little by little he sessioned with him, so he could ease in to the dance scene. In order to become a B-boy, a dancer cannot learn everything quickly; they must take it step by step. Justin Ho is now one of the club’s best up-and-comers.
Next year’s Vice President, second year, Julius Villanueva describes Vince: “He is a very hardworking guy, ran the club on his own, takes care of public affairs, keeps track of every single member, and is always there to hang out.” Vincent started break-dancing his freshmen year of college. His interest in B-boying was sparked in high school when he started listening to hip-hop. However, he didn’t start B-boying until college because of his parents. He grew up with very traditional Asian parents who wanted him to concentrate on school instead of extra curricular activities, so he did not have time to really practice B-boying until college. Unlike Michelle, he wanted to be on a team that does choreographed dancing, but he took break dancing classes as a back up. Every choreographed dancer needs to be well-rounded dancer, but by his 3rd year here at UCI, he knew that B-boying was more then just a hobby. BBoys anonymous was in a bad position last year and needed to be restructured due to constant arguments and conflicts in personalities. Vincent was upset at a couple of people on the board because they were not doing their job. Vince describes his enragement, “Why was I mad at these people it was just a club after all? After I took over and the current president stepped down, I realized that B-boying was subconsciously in my heart and it was more than just something I do everyday. I put up with the turbulence because I wanted to make the club better.”
photo credit: Melissa Lee
“Real B-boys know the history of hip hop culture and they don’t just learn moves, they have history and symbolism in their dancing” (Schloss). To understand a B-boy a person must understand the history of hip-hop. There are three different concepts of hip-hop. The first concept refers to the related art forms of visual and sound movement, which were practiced in Afro-Carribean, African American, and Latin neighborhoods in New York City in the 1970s. It also, refers to the events, and people who practice them. The second concept is the popular music that was developed out of hip-hop culture, known as rap music. Hip-hop existed as a culture and performance context for five years (1974-1979) before it became a genre for popular music. The last concept is hip-hop attitude and the generation, loose demographics related to African-American youth. There is a lifestyle to B-boying and it shows when people are dancing because each person has their own story. “A break dancer is someone who learns moves so they can go to an audition and get a job based on it.” (Schloss). It is true that B-boys know the culture while learning and practicing because they are in love with this art.
BBA members do not dance for the competitions, but for their love of dancing. They do an exhibition piece for the annual Vibe competition every year. An exhibition piece is a routine they perform for the competition, but they are not competing. The fraternity Lambda Theta Delta puts on the competition every year and there were eleven competing teams for this year’s show. BBA was performed in the preshow. Before the show started the two directors, Vince and Julius set the dancers up on the wrong side of the stage. Because the dancers were facing the wrong side of the stage, they panicked. They had to reorient the dance and it was nerve-racking. Fourth year Alex Pham described the anticipation, “It was nerve-racking before doing it, but once it started I felt nothing but doing it.”
The dance opens with the song, Across 110th Street by JJ Johnson blaring across the brightly lit stage. Jay (several names have been changed to keep in accordance with the dancers) in a bright red jacket and red backwards cap, stands on stage with his arms crossed, while Joe in a blue puffy vest starts his breaking on the floor. Jay follows with his own move then stands up, fists are raised at one another, gesturing this is war. Dancers in white t-shirts come behind Jay and Joe breaking, mimicking a battle between the two colors. The song changes to a more robotic song for a popping piece; boys in white shirts are the only ones on stage doing robotic moves with tutting to the beat of the music, as the crowd goes crazy and cheers. Tutting consists of positions and movements using mostly right angles with the body to give the impression that the dancer is made out of geometric shapes. The song changes again to Against All Odds by Chase. Jim starts off this part by completing a daring flip without letting his hands touch the ground, to which the crowd goes wild. The dance ends with Daft Punk’s Aerodynamic, while every BBA dancer comes together to form a cypher, and a few jump in the middle to start letting their energy loose through their moves. Vince describes the experience, “Even though, we were panicking in the beginning, everything came together at the end and we can feel the energy coming from their group.”
For the first few sessions, Michelle sat in a corner and stretched by herself while observing everyone around her breaking. One day, she got over the intimidation, stood up from her corner, waltzed up to a member, and politely asked him to teach her some moves. He happily obliged, Michelle was ecstatic about meeting new people and learning new things, so she showed up to more BBA sessions. She is now BBA official “little sister.” They have exposed her to hip-hop culture, street dancing, and the dancing lifestyle. Now, she is not afraid to ask an experienced well-known B-boy for help. According to second-year Victor Truong, “Michelle was timid when she started, but she has improved a lot, her moves are getting bigger and she has become more aggressive. Her dancing has become more ‘in your face’.” Fourth-year Seton Chiang describes Michelle, “she is the most determined B-girl in BBA. She is always willing to learn new things and looking to go the extra mile. She puts herself out there 100%” BBA has helped her grow as a person and impacted her life. In the wise words of Michelle, “Being a part of BBA has been one of the best experiences I have had during college so far. I have made friends who became my family. I have learned how to express myself through dance and I am still learning. Through the art of break dancing, I have challenged myself, both mind and body in creative movements, moving in ways that I have never thought I would have been able to before. I like to break; I like to dance; I like to defy expectations and strive for individuality. Everyone is different. Everyone has something to offer. And everyone should embrace those differences and make something of it, whether it is dancing or just living your life. “
photo credit: Melissa Lee
-Observation for approximately an hour every week at their sessions on Tuesday
-Lengthy interview with Michelle and Vincent
-Attended Vincent Ngo class on break dancing
-Other interviews with Julius Villanueva, Victor Truong, and Seton Chiang
-Observation live cypher at the art department
-Book: Foundation by Joseph G. Schloss
-Michelle’s Facebook note about BBA
-Youtube observation of Vibe performance
-KABA modern’s website
-BBoys anonymous Facebook page