|Breakdancing - $0 - As Much Time As You Want|
|Student Organization Information|
|Written by Michael Swingen|
|Thursday, 10 March 2011 23:18|
On the coattail end of another bleak and dismal February a merry band of three Campus People Watchers set out to peoplewatch the University of Minnesota’s Break Dancing Group, who were, we were tipped, presently dancing and whirling away in an equally dreary and bleak sub-sub-basement of Comstock Hall, a UofM dormitory. The CPW President, David Shaffer, announced at the previous Meeting that the CPWs would splinter off into separatist Fraction Cells in order to survey more effectively the vibrant student group culture of UofM. After completing our detailed ethnographies, we’d report back our findings. We were one of those cells. It was Jeanette Chalgren, a third-year triple-majored budding CPW, Nate Buck, a second-year double-majored CPW (computer science and music –an invincible combination), and humble me, your trusty unreliable narrator.
We banded at the Coffman Commuter Lounge and made our way in the cold night. At Comstock, we headed down a twisting staircase, descending further and further into the Lounge Area where they were reportedly practicing. In the staircase, we heard under the sound of crashing and spinning washers and driers unmistakable music of a dancing character….
The Lounge Area was filled with benches and tables, vending machines, a ping-pong table, and a kitchen where three girls were making, so it smelled, blueberry muffins. (None of us ventured to ask for one.) I, for one, your trusty unreliable narrator, had never been to Comstock Hall, and its cultural dimensions were foreign to me, amorphous, alien…. I could smell the odor of Tide laundry detergent that leaked through the cracks in the walls. I’ve always used Purex. I knew, suddenly, how far away I was from where I have had always been. We traced the music to a nameless door, opened it.
The hysterical, crackly voice of James Brown bellowing lyrics from a 1990’s boom box greeted us at the door like some crazy uncle haunting every Thanksgiving family reunion.
Like a, like a sex machine, man, (yeah go ahead!)
Movin' and doin' it, you know
Can I count it off? (Go ahead)
One, two, three, four!
Get up, (get on up)
Get up, (get on up)
Stay on the scene, (get on up), like a sex machine, (get on up)
We knew we were in the right place. The room was long, dimly lit, bronze with anachronistic light. We descended a carpeted ramp that led to a lounge area furnished with five or six blue- and red-colored waiting chairs with teak wooden armrests – the usual props one will find at any UofM waiting room, anteroom, library, et cetera. Quickly, to the right, the carpet ceased, turning into lacquered wooden tiles where seventeen to twenty break dancers were in the heat of dancing, twirling, spiraling, whirling, spinning, and falling to the alternating music of feverish soul, quirky funk, and 90’s hip-hop. We turned the chairs around, and peoplewatched. There they were. Satisfying, smug smirks smeared our faces. We made it. I think Jeanette and Nate, being friends, exchanged a secret handshake. The music was louder in here, relentless, wonderful, booming off the walls, the lyrics accumulating and adding up. People were wading in them.
The demographic was variegated. There were, approximately, five Indians, two blacks, nine whites, and five Asians. There were two girls. Uniting them, visually, was their style of dress: urban, trendy, sleek, and all wearing pants, as the occasion demanded. Shirts and sweatshirts with declarations like Break on the Break and RAP WON’T SAVE YOU were frequent and colorful. They all seemed to know each other and exchanged pleasantries as newcomers trickled in. Smiles were abundant; movement and hospitality warmed the ambiance….
They were not break dancing, but were practicing break dancing. They’d practice specific moves. There were never more than three dancers dancing at a time, and few would venture a sequence of moves. While two or three dancers danced, the others warmed up and stretched on the fringe, waiting patiently their turn. I, your trusty unreliable narrator, observed one dancer particularly. He was tall, maybe 6’1’’ or 2’’, slim, and wore a maroon baggy sweatshirt coupled with tight mesh khakis that stopped at the tip of his clunky skater-punk shoes, which, I assume, simultaneously gave him traction and support. His moves were disjointed, catatonic, but were ruled under some sort of weird, overriding personal logic. I mean his style. It was as if a scarecrow danced, slowly falling apart straw by straw. He’d start upright, pivot on his legs, bend his knees unpredictably, and then collapse on calloused palms. They would support his entire body that was suspended in the air like herculean columns of ancient aqueducts. Then, catlike, his body would transform into another eccentric position as his arms and legs, flailing, transitioned and linked spasmodically, connecting in characters and icons that expressed his own internal symbolic order. He danced the most. We watched him, all three of us, with a sublime look of confusion and awe.
But we needed to gather recon for our monograph, our ethnography. After debate, Nate went in. He dangerously weaved and tumbled his way through the dance floor and fringe and approached John, reportedly the founder of the group. Nate brought him back to our camp. We made acquaintances and questioned him about himself and the group. John is a graduate, who still attends the Break Dancing Group (as he is the founder). He founded the group two years ago. Surprisingly, he never participated in sports before he started break dancing, something I, your trusty unreliable narrator, wouldn’t have guessed. We asked him if the group was all-welcoming, or a secret society that upheld the most rigorous and arcane initiation ceremonies. He smiled; the group is all-welcoming, as we all anticipated. I asked him about the moves and wondered out loud if people had their own “style” dictated by the moves they did or did not do. He excitedly affirmed my guesswork and began to talk about different moves that are part of the repertoire of break dancing. Moves, he explained, were categorized according to what parts of the body they stress. There were about five different categories, and they usually follow a certain sequence. “The Top Rock,” for example, are moves done while standing up. They stress the legs and resemble traditional dance. Here are just a few of the names of the moves under this category:
• Apache Step
• Outlaw step
• Hip Twist
Then follow “Floor Rocks”. Floor Rocks are moves performed while one’s body are in contact with the floor that primarily involve spinning-like movements. (Note: this was my example’s penchant.) Here are a few examples:
• Body Rock
• Belly Swim
• Body Glide
• Coffee Grinder
• Figure 4
The “Power Move” is the tour de force of break dancing. A Power Move is any type of move composed of combinations of spinning and/or rotating. This is, primarily, the idiosyncratic “look” of break dancing that one recalls to mind when thinking of the dance style. Power Moves are subsequently broken into further meta-categories that emphasize different parts of the body.
• Piked Airflare/Bongo Thunder
• Munch Airflare
• Lotus Airflar
• Chair Flare
• Double Chair Flare
• Sandwich Flare
After explaining some of these moves to us, John ushered over a break dancer, a petite Asian named Filipe, and asked him to perform a “Tombstone” for us, a Power Move. He was hesitant, but eventually the floor cleared for him, and he did it.
It was great.
After the applause, we thanked John for our conversation, shook his hand, and he went back to the fringe. We stayed and watched for a while more, but the creeping gnaw of homework slowly chewed away the scene at its edges with guilt. Like a ghost, homework called our names. After all, it was a Monday. Soon, the night was late, and we had to go. We thanked them for letting us watch and ascended from the Lounge Area, into the main floor of Comstock Hall, into the cold night. Suddenly, we were on familiar ground. We had maps for these territories. (I, your trusty unreliable narrator, doffed his brown, worn fedora.) Jeanette and Nate headed back to West Bank, and we said goodbye. I headed north, to Walter Library, to plunge into another sub-sub basement. I descended, once more, but this time into the labyrinthine corridors of Walter Library, crammed with monographs, in order to write our cell’s own for Campus People Watchers.
|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 November 2011 15:48 )|