Chennai’s pocket-sized breakdancers

As this generation of under-12 Bboys and Bgirls shows, children today have it easier taking up ‘Street’ culture, cheered on by supportive mentors who paved the way

When Bboy Found steps on to the makeshift dance floor, you already know the crowd is rooting for him.

His determined eyes and slight frown of focus mirror that of his opponent: they are both ready for battle. The intensity of their performance, complete with flips, handstands and plenty of attitude, has the audience whooping. Even though Found doesn’t win that particular battle, it is clear that the crowd — which includes some of Chennai’s earliest and most seasoned street dancers — is optimistic about him. Largely because Found is barely eight years old.

He might be the youngest among the Bboyers gathered in Velachery for this year’s edition of Revolution 2.0, but Found is not exactly an exception. There are at least 20 participants in the under-16 category, and most of them seem to be younger than 12.

Chennai’s pocket-sized breakdancers

Of course, there are others as well — dancers who have represented India on global stages, dancers who have given a decade of their lives to building a Street culture in the city in the first place — but it is the little ones who kick off the two-day series of Bboying, hiphop, beatbox and rap performances.

The circles that form around them, the encouragements that are hollered each time they stumble or freeze, the “woooah!” that rings out each time they pull off an impressive manoeuvre, turns what was supposed to be a day of highstrung competition into a surprisingly nurturing space.

But it is surprising only to the outsider looking in. For anyone an inkling of Street culture in the city — indeed, for anyone who spends even an hour at Revolution 2.0 — it is clear that the city’s first generation of Bboyers is not only encouraging its youngest one, but also openly doting on it. And not just onstage.

Don’t try these at home
  • Kip up In this move, a dancer goes from lying flat on his back to standing upright in one leap
  • Windmill Here, the breaker’s legs are in the air in a V, and his torso is making circular motions while his shoulders and arms are on the ground for support
  • Head spin This is a common but difficult move, with the breaker balancing on her head and spinning along the vertical length of her body

Support all around

One of the oldest dance crews in town is All For One, whose founder, Anto George, has been tying up with schools to provide Bboying and street dance lessons to children for years. Today, many among the city’s Bboyers are following suit, teaching either at schools or dance institutions. And with the inhibitions and ignorance around the dance having been dispelled, parents are now lapping it all up, giving their children one more talent to build.

Chennai’s pocket-sized breakdancers

Take, for instance, Drusilla Melony. All of 12 years old, she doesn’t want to call herself a Bgirl just yet — “I am still learning different dances and haven’t decided what to focus on,” she says right after making it to the open style finals. “I can do pop, lock, break, house, contemporary and krump,” she lists out, but this is redundant information for anyone who has seen her battle her way up to at least two different final rounds out of the three — hiphop, break and open.

Drusilla has gone through a number of dance coaches in her seven years of Bboying. At the moment, she is learning at Raack Academy of Dance. She is not the only one to have come here with formal training, supportive parent in tow to keep her hydrated and take proud selfies. The tight circle around each battle is riddled with almost as many phone camera-weilding parents and siblings as Bboys and Bgirls. The shift, from Street’s early days in the city, is a drastic one.

“When we started dancing 13 years ago, we started from scratch. People were learning jazz and techno, but not street style. There was one man teaching us, and he had learnt it from the right places in the US,” recalls Bboy Dezee. “All the judges today and yesterday started out that way, with our parents not having a clue about what street dance is and telling us to focus on something else, something that will help us earn money,” he continues.

Chennai’s pocket-sized breakdancers

This was back in 2006-2007. In 2020, Chennai has around six dance crews and at least 80 breakdancers, many of whom either moonlight at dance studios mushrooming around the city or teach part-time in schools. He adds, “We didn’t even have identification for the different types of street dance. Now, these schools have the facilities and the know-how, which is also why the parents feel comfortable letting their children learn this.” Which is also why Drusilla now has the ability to focus on different variations of the dance, and tell us which ones she is good at.

Bboy Karan of the BFab dance crew has been dancing for about four years now, and also takes hiphop classes at Crews of Dance in Anna Nagar. “We teach the children, urge them to go for battles, and teach them the history of the art form. They should know where the dance came from,” he says, after having won a doubles final himself.

Dezee, however, is cautious in his optimism: “It is good that people finally have a thirst to learn this form of art. Now, it is up to the parents to do their research and approach a teacher who really knows the form. Only then can we build a solid culture in the city and take it to the world.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:26:51 PM |

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