Local B-boy crews are reviving break-dancing, the neglected element of hip-hop
The four essential elements of hip-hop: the MC, the DJ, the graffiti-writer and the break-dancer. The lyrical, the musical, the visual and the physical. Back in the day—the late 1970s and early 1980s—all four were considered equal parts of the culture. The break-dancer was considered as prominent and important a contributor to the culture as the rapper.
But the four elements have grown apart since the heyday of hip-hop culture. Today, many people, hip-hoppers and haters alike, have the sad misconception that the term “hip-hop” is simply synonymous with “rap music.” Rap music is just one facet of the expressive, activist, youth-oriented, urban culture of hip-hop.
These days, most rappers—at least the ones with any media exposure—couldn’t care less about anything except cars and women. DJs have all but lost the art of mixing breaks to make unique music. Instead they just spin Top 40 hits. And all graffiti-writers seem to do—at least in Reno—is fight each other.
There are exceptions, but those are the trends.
So perhaps break dancing is the purest element of hip-hop today. Break-dancers are commonly referred to as B-boys and B-girls. The B stands for “break.” Break-dancers earned their title by dancing when the DJ would spin breaks, instrumental pieces from old funk records.
Break dancing is an artform with tradition. Most of today’s B-boys learn the basics—the footwork, head spins, freezes—from older generations. “Basically, what you do as a B-boy is you take that to another level at your own risk,” says Erwin “Rez” Tiangco, 23. “Turn it into your own style, so that it’s not so similar to who you learned off of.”
Tiangco has been break-dancing for six years and is part of the Gorilla Spyderz Crew. He learned to break-dance from his older sister’s boyfriend. Now Tiangco and a handful of B-boys teach other kids how to break-dance at the Rec Center on Neil Road on weekday afternoons. For free.
Hanging out at the Rec Center is refreshing for a hip-hop fan. A boom box sits on the floor of the stage where the B-boys practice. Eric B and Rakim’s 1988 song “Follow the Leader” plays: “Music mixed mellow maintains to make melodies for MCs motivates the breaks.”
It’s a reminder of a time most the B-boys in the room are too young to remember—a time older fans describe as “when hip-hop was one.”
Enthusiasm for break dancing is tangible. “I just fell in love with it as soon as I saw it,” says Art Romero, 23, a six-year veteran of the Floor Damage Crew. “I used to write [graffiti], so I’ve always been involved with hip-hop.”
Romero is shy at first—confident in his skills but not sure how to express his craft in words. But after a bit of small talk, he loosens up.
“B-boying, in general, it’s all about the love,” Romero says. “Express yourself … just like MCs express themselves with lyrics, graffiti writers with the art. … B-boying is our way of being involved with hip-hop. Not just being a fan on the side. We are hip-hop.”
“I think hip-hop in general is always classified with gangbanging … that’s what sucks,” says Gerald “Juss Cuzz” Segura, 24, also of the Floor Damage Crew, “Because it’s always about peace and love.”
Setting the scene
The Floor Damage Crew says that the B-boying scene in Reno is small. Break dancing is not as high profile as the other elements of hip-hop.
“In Reno, B-boying is the forgotten element of hip-hop,” says Segura.
But that’s starting to change.
Popular Reno-Sacramento hip-hop group Who Cares has been incorporating B-boying into their shows. A show billed as “Hip-Hop 101,” held in early April at All City Live in the Grand Sierra Resort, was booked by Who Cares and headlined by Afrika Bambaataa, founder of the Universal Zulu Nation and widely considered a Godfather of hip-hop culture. Tiangco and other B-boys—from Reno and Portland—performed at the event in front of hundreds of hip-hop fans.
“Hip-hop is a whole culture, a movement,” said Bambaataa. “It brings a lot of people together. Certain songs come on, and people just get mad on the dance floor. Mad in a good way.”
“Hip-Hop 101” is now a monthly event, happening on the first Friday of every month.
Passing it on
Back at the Rec Center, all the B-boys are eager to talk about their influences and their opinions on break dancing and hip-hop in general.
“You know, it’s a real form of art,” says Aaron “Quiet Storm” Seewald, 27. “I kind of compare it to a martial art. You have to train to really develop your skills. It takes years. It’s not something you’re gonna get good at in a couple weeks.”
Seewald, also of the Floor Damage Crew, has been breaking for eight years. He is the oldest and most experienced in the group.
“I love the challenge of learning new moves and just, like, pushing myself,” he says. “There’s always something new to learn. You can never stop learning in this art form. And I think it’s helped me out with a lot of other aspects of my life.”
Floor Damage is a diverse crew. While Seewald is sporting a bandanna and graffiti printed T-shirt, 17-year-old Mateo “Noodle” Hernandez practices his windmills and other moves on the other side of the stage.
“It started out as something just to try for fun,” says Hernandez. He’s only been break dancing for about six months. “It ended up being so fun that I started practicing a lot.”
Hernandez doesn’t look like a stereotypical teenage hip-hop fan. He dresses plainly and speaks without slang: “I didn’t even listen to much music at all. And now I love the music. I’ve learned a lot about hip-hop. … I started not knowing about hip-hop. … It’s about the culture, too. I’ve learned a lot.”
One day, Hernandez will be teaching the next generation of 17-year-olds the art of B-boying.