For Niels Robitzky, who held a dance workshop at the Indo-German Urban Mela, b-boying is a new form of classical dance, because of its focus on technique and regular practice
Niels Robitzky casually tangles and untangles his knees in a b-boying demonstration while chatting with the 40-odd students behind him on stage. The dancers, who have signed up for his dance workshop at the Indo-German Urban Mela in Bangalore, are a sea of black and red, but, on the day I visit, Robitzky wears a lilac Peanuts tee-shirt that says “Be Cool”.
And he means it. “Even though you’re doing the most dynamic stuff, you have to do it like it’s nothing,” he tells the group, during a rigorous routine of steps. The music that they’re dancing to isn’t hip-hop: it’s funk master James Brown, “and other people inspired by him, like Bootsy Collins,” Robitzky tells me later.
Robitzky has been b-boying since he was 14. “In the nineties he kind of won every competition there was”, reads a line on his website. But it’s clear he’s equally comfortable teaching: the session, which is scheduled to take three hours, spills into an extra half hour, because Robitzky is busy giving individual students pointers.
“It’s a very individualistic dance,” he reasons, later. “Dancers need the feedback. And this is a form of dance where people want to leave their mark,” he notes, crediting this to b-boying’s origin in hip-hop culture and the need to assert oneself.
Robitzky, who is also known as ‘Storm’, says he hasn’t planned the lessons too rigidly ahead of the workshop, choosing instead to respond to the participants. “I adapt my material. There’s some beginner’s stuff, but there’s also something to take home, since some people here have danced before,” he says.
His demonstrations have the city’s dancers break into applause several times, but for all his athleticism, Robitzky brings a decidedly sober approach to the dance.
B-boying may be a street dance with origins in urban America; for Robitzky, it’s “a new form of classical dance”, because of its focus on technique and regular practice. “And it has always been international,” he asserts. “It came from an urban world. So anywhere there is an urban setting, b-boying will fit in. It is possible to adapt it with the local flavour,” he says.
Robitzky is also relishing the prospect of an upcoming research project, on ‘Performativity in Urban Space’, in which he hopes to document the rise of urban dance forms. “It’s important to document these things, because so much of it is just oral history,” he says.