There's a Thriving B-Boy Scene in the United States That Not Enough People Are Talking About
Houston spent a whole weekend showcasing how B-Boy culture is still thriving
Hip-hop has become so massive, so mainstream, that it would be hard to fault a young fan for not knowing some of the formational details. Like, for an example, what the four elements of hip-hop are.
So here’s a quick reminder: the elements are MCing, DJing, graffiti and breaking. And while MCing and DJing are still recognized as being vital elements of hip-hop culture, and graffiti has this new upscale gleam and trendiness to it, there’s a perception that breaking is a relic.
It’s a misconception. One that a small, passionate community of breakers are actively challenging.
“There’s a lot of people that break in the United States, said RoxRite, a San Diego-based B-boy who recently celebrated his 100th win. “There’s B-boys in every city. It’s about you going out and finding them.”
RoxRite is a certified breaking legend; he’s been breaking for over 20 years and has won battles in countries all around the world. RoxRite was one of the main breaking ambassadors this past weekend at Red Bull’s inaugural BC One Camp in Houston, Texas. The Camp, which lasted three days and was based in a deceptively large comedy club called The Secret Group, was a celebration around the culture of breaking. It was a weekend that paid homage to the past as well honored the B-boys and B-girls of the present.
The Secret Group has three main rooms. And at any given time during the weekend there was action happening in one of these rooms. So in the front, you might see up-and-coming dancers get pointers from RoxRite or Ronnie Abaldonado, another veteran US-based breaker. Or, in another room, you might see the Les Twins, who recently performed with Beyoncé at Beychella, or Jaquel Knight, who choreographed N.E.R.D. and Rihanna’s “Lemon” video, do a sweaty — and at times rigorous — workshop. Or, you might just walk upon a sprawling panel featuring legendary Rocky Steady member Crazy Legs and dancehall legend Blacka Di Danca.
The weekend, however, was centered around the competitions. There were three — one every night: the B-Girl Cypher, the All-Star Battle, and the BC One Cypher, which had the highest stakes. The winner of the BC One Cypher would automatically be eligible to go to the BC One Finals in Switzerland.
So, something to note: the B-boy scene globally is robust. You can find huge crowds in tournaments all around the world, from South Korea to Japan to Russia to the U.K. These are competitions held in massive venues, in front of massive crowds.
The B-boys and B-girls who compete in these battles have taken the groundwork laid out by Puerto Rican and black kids from the Bronx in the 70s and completely evolved it. Dances are elaborate and flashy, incorporating various martial art moves into their routines. But there is a nuance there that can often be missed by the casual viewer. Battles are decided not by the crowd and their reactions — which can be seduced by flashy moves (like a flip) — but by three judges, who look at things like footwork and fundamentals and execution when judging.
“It’s not always about the wow factors. It’s about the details, the movement, your charisma, being clean, having character and your own style,” said Ronnie who was a judge for the weekend.
Think of it in boxing terms. Crowds are often moved (and tricked) by things like aggression and punches that look snazzy but don’t have a lot of power behind them. But judges are smarter; they look at the fundamentals and how a boxer is executing them. They watch how a fighter establishes a jab to control distance or footwork to close off the ring. Those same things apply to breaking. And it’s in these details you can see how the breaking scene has evolved from back in the day.
“In the 80s the competition isn’t where it is right now. Even the way it was judged back then isn’t where it is now. There is an unofficial standard of what to look for,” Ronnie said. “Even breaking in the 90s; execution wasn’t really a thing. You could fall out of a move and you wouldn’t really get docked for it. It was more about if you can blow it up or if you could do something original.”
In the United States, the passion is there, even if the crowds are smaller. Tournaments aren’t done in arenas, but in rooms or community centers or… comedy clubs.
“The scene in the U.S. is still one of the rawest. And one of the more influential scenes in the world,” said RoxRite. “A lot of the world scene still looks to the U.S. for the next talent.”
The talent in the community was apparent in the B-Boy Cypher on Saturday. Sixteen breakers from around the country competed for a chance to head to Switzerland. In the end, it was Zebra, a young breaker from Queens, New York who is part of the Supreme Bingz collective, who was the last man standing, taking out a talented breaker named Jeffro.
Even though judges factor in the nuances and details of a performance, it was hard to ignore just how visually pleasing Zebra was. His performance was packed with flips and spins and crazy leg contortions. Zebra describes himself as being an “artist over athlete.” And…yeah, that holds up.
Zebra was emotional as he held his trophy (which sort of looked like a giant Red Bull sponsored pog.) He dedicated the performance to his young son, Ethan, who is in the hospital. He will now compete in Switzerland in the fall.
It’s the contemporary American B-boy’s dream. However, there’s some irony there.
“We have smaller events and [the] American B-boy dreams are to go overseas to perform on the big stage,” Ronnie Said. “But in Europe and Asia, where they’re used to performing on the big stage, they love coming to America and seeing the intimate rawness. It reminds them of the old American movies they used to watch.”
Check out pictures from the inaugural BC One Camp in Houston below.