These days Beijing is a hip operation- a thriving metropolis where pop culture has saturated itself into media, fashion and society; and, among other things, there is a bubbling underground hip hop movement that has been active for at least twenty years.
Hip hop, more specifically breaking or break dancing – as coined by a New York reporter in the 60s – or b-boying started in the streets and clubs of New York. B-boying started as a street dance that mixed together a range of dance styles from latin to jazz, to funk, to locking and popping. Within a couple years of its introduction, dancers introduced acrobatics into the dance, resulting in the power moves that are key characteristics of break dancing today.
There are several aspects to break dancing: First there is uprock or top rock; just like its name, dancers move their bodies standing up in various ways. One can include any style imaginable from latin to contemporary, or even ballroom. Some claim that top rock is one of two sources of style and musicality in b-boying; the second source is down rock or floor work. Foot work during floor work is one of the key points to transition to the third and forth factors of b-boying. Power moves are the flashiest, hardest parts of b-boying and they draw in many spectators. Power moves require a lot of strength, acrobatic ability and balance. The final facet of b-boying is ‘freezes,’ where b-boys hold a certain pose as a statement at end of their dance set.
Though in the US break dancing exploded from the 60s and carried on right on through to the 90s, in the past few years the excitement has lessened, but other continents have picked up the baton, most notably in Asia. Thanks to social media like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Tumblr, break dancers around the world have been able to advertise their events/competitions (called Jams). Competitions like Red Bull BC One are held all over the world as well as the Battle of the Year where a handful of b-boys have had the opportunity to attain fame.
In Asia, Korea has headed a break dancing wave that has lasted over a decade, often dominating worldwide competitions, while Japanese b-boys have entered more quietly but with with a typical sense of style. Though b-boying has taken over Asia, where are all the Chinese b-boys? With such a large influence in Japan and Korea, one would naturally expect for things to take off in China too.
Researching Chinese b-boys was tricky, with no Youtube or Facebook, it was difficult to search for my American friends to see if they had any Chinese b-boy connection. I came to the realization that my situation is reversed for Chinese b-boys too. They cannot easily access videos for how-to guides on new moves or watch the hottest dancers compete in group and solo jams. They in turn cannot post their moves on global networks, and show competitions and videos to the rest of the world to support them and help them rise to fame. They are severely limited in what they can see, to the point where b-boys cross from China often go to Hong Kong, to copy youtube videos onto DVDs and bring them back to the mainland to distribute.
Even with these these limitations, the art of breaking has continued to flourish, leading to many crews (group of dancers, not just b-boys but poppers, lockers and more) forming in many major cities in China. Though still an underground movement, more and more people are joining and learning the art form to the point where dancers become “full time” b-boys. Some foreign break dancers that come are surprised that quite often dancers choose to become “full time” b-boys, who are often supported by their parents as they try to make it big. Some other dancers are dropouts from school who are drawn into the the world of breaking and trying to find fame. This is a drastically different mentality from US and European b-boys where dancers have steady jobs and break as a hobby.
South China Morning Post interviewed a break dancer by the name of Michael Li Ka-Shing. He tells us that his family are supportive of him, as they see how passionate he is about breaking, but says that other parents are not as open-minded, and think its bad because it’s just “teenagers hanging out in the street.” Parents may see b-boying as just a fad because not only do you have to dance, but you have to look the part too. Some b-boys too, have commented that some people try to break dance just because that is cool and hip; and that these newcomers don’t understand the true meaning of what it means to be a b-boy and to dance to a break-beat.
To some, being a b-boy is to freely express one’s emotions through dance, to ‘dance’ to a message of peace and love as well as to strive to be an innovator of new moves and styles. As more Chinese breakers uphold these purposes, they are starting to be recognized internationally.
The preliminaries for the R16 World Bboy Master Championships were held in Shanghai during the 2010 expo where seven of China’s best crews competed for a chance to represent China in the Championships in Korea. This may just have been the first breakthrough for Chinese breakers to get their name out, but whether this push was enough has yet to be seen. Chinese breakers still will have to pave their way through the numerous obstacles, before finally being able to stand firm on the world stage of dance.
If you want to check out and support the b-boy scenes- in China, there are lots of forums online, mainly in Chinese, but with a few in English. If you’re in Beijing, Mao Live House has some occasional performances and Section 6 in Yugong Yishan also holds a b-boy competition on the last Saturday of every month in Beijing.
Image courtesy of LG전자 through Wikimedia Commons