2 B-boy or Not 2 B-boy: Emerging Urban Traditions
By Russell C. Rodríguez
Because of conditions in aggrieved communities of economic abandonment, police brutality, and social marginalization, youth became incredibly creative in developing survival skills, which necessarily included manners to express themselves. Hip-hop was an especially vibrant umbrella of expression that emerged from marginalized communities in New York during the late 1970's. DJ artists such as Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Master Flash, graffitti artists like Lee Quiñones, Zephyr, MinOne, MC’s Master Ice, Mister Biggs, and Pow Wow set a context in which B-boys and B-girls like Ken Swift, Richard Colón (aka Crazy Legs), and the Rock Steady Crew could contribute to this powerful aesthetic.
Hip-hop has since manifested into a multi-billion industry that is often times co-opted by corporate capital venture. In addition to the commercial success and popularity of rappers such as Jay-Z, 50 cent, and Snoop Dog, all of whom are household names, hip-hop has provided the soundscape to sell cars (the Kia Soul that uses Black Sheep's The Choice is Yours is one of my favorites), soft drinks, energy drinks, McDonalds, and most any other consumable item. Hip-hop, however, maintains various streams of production, transmission, and presentation. We should understand that there are many DJs, MCs, graffitti artists, and b-boys and b-girls who are still grounded in vibrant cultural scenes that have root in community and social politics and who are invested in understanding hip-hop as urban tradition.
Delaware-born 2011 ACTA “master of the traditional folk art of breaking” Raphael Xavier is a committed hip-hop dancer, who has continuously invested in his skill as a b-boy in eras when break dancing was seen as something of the past. His determination and love for the form has put him in unique positioning when b-boying was revitalized during the mid 1990's and in later eras. For the past 15 years, he has been able to work solely as a dancer in different shows and venues. After touring as a breakdancer for various years, he began choreographing his own work, sharing with many the artistry of b-boying.
Finding his groove during the early 1990's, he is considered part of a second generation of breakdancers. Xavier recognizes the important history and rich lineage that makes valuable this expression, yet he is cautious not to get tied up in the parameters that become set by the earlier generation. The idea that b-boying has become “circus acts, a bunch of tricks, gymnastics” as it has been criticized and characterized by the pioneers and previous generations, Xavier believes that all the new influences are cool because one way or another it always returns to the foundation b-boying. He emphasizes that the youth need to have the same freedom to create moves and ideas that the first generation had, which ultimately makes the (traditional) practice vibrant and interesting. Xavier importantly takes on a responsibility to tie what happened in the late 1970's with what is going on at the dance jams and battles today through articulate discourse and dance choreographies. This is to reassure to dancers, audiences, and promoters that b-boying maintains a rich history as it transforms.
As a forty-year old man, Xavier still attends jams to keep up on moves, but also to keep his chops up as a dancer. It was in 2009 when he saw his current ACTA apprentice Tyler White “representing from Jamaica, Xmob Crew, that’s how I roll,” at a jam with his crew that consisted of 9- and 10-year old boys and a girl, who were battling and shaming 20+ year-olds. Though he is not an avid historian on b-boying or hip-hop, he is definitely informed on the protocols of breaking. He laid out the landscape of jams and battles, explaining that many jams have been taken over by corporate agents offering money prizes for dancers to battle. The jams should be a gathering in which people come to share moves, practice, and interact with other dancers, at which a battle can emerge. The paid jams, however, are just organized battles to which many of the well-known dancers attend with intentions to win money.
Though they both attend the jams, Xavier and White take advantage of ACTA's Apprenticeship Program to maintain a different space for them to practice and develop as dancers, whether to prepare a strategy for battling or to rehearse a choreography for a show. The space is one of mutual respect and sharing, where both are teachers and students and more importantly, where they can just be-boys.