Breaking dance assumptions

Breaking and hip hop classes open to dancers of all skill levels at Queen’s

Dancers in Flow Dance session use hip hop and freestyle in their technique. Flow Dance practices take place in ARC studios throughout the school year.
Dancers in Flow Dance session use hip hop and freestyle in their technique. Flow Dance practices take place in ARC studios throughout the school year.
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Breaking is one genre of dance that attracts a surprisingly small number of female participants at Queen’s.

Olivia Margie, ArtSci ’14, is the only girl in the Queen’s club KinetiQ — a breaking performance crew.

“The guys are really nice and don’t treat me differently,” she said. “It would be better if there are more girl breakers, but it’s still a good experience.”

While Margie only started breaking in the winter of last year, she said she’s observed a definite gender divide.

“Maybe it’s because of the strength required … boys are naturally stronger than girls and inclined to work out more heavily.

“But I don’t really know why there are less girls because it’s still a creative dancing expression.”

Margie said she’s benefited from being amongst male dancers.

“They’ve developed their own styles and I learn from it,” she said.

After joining the breaking club in the winter of last year, the members asked her to join the performance crew.

“I definitely hated having to perform at first because of all the attention on you, especially if you’re the only girl people, can pick on you after,” she said. “But the guys are really encouraging.”

Margie said she’s hopeful about breaking gaining more female participants.

“It could change, and it’s probably different depending on the circles you’re travelling in. In a big dancing community there are probably more girls doing it, where breaking’s more popular,” she said.

“More girls would start if they knew you can just start when you know nothing, and you improve when you work at it.”

Charles Gao is this year’s KinetiQ president. He said the talent of B-girls, or female breakers, doesn’t disappoint.

“I have personally seen some amazing female dancers, and gender inequality [in breaking] is only reflective of gender inequality in society at large. I like to think of B-girls as resisting the status quo, that girls can get down like the boys do and express themselves as equals,” he said.

“[Famous] B-girls Bonita and Feenx come to mind as girls who maintain their femininity, but can hold it down in the cipher [dance battle].”

Breaking itself isn’t a commonly known sport, Gao said. The genre evolved in New York City in the 1970s and was originally referred to as breaking or B-boying by its proponents. For this reason, the media’s popularization of the term break-dancing is offensive for many breakers, Gao said.

Gao, Comm ’12, learned how to break in his first year at Queen’s.

“Almost no one comes to Queen’s knowing how to B-boy,” he said. “The only prerequisite is that you have a B-boy mentality when you dance.” Gao said breaking has changed his life.

“I was trying to find something new to do and I’ve always kind of wanted to do it, but in the suburbs there was no one to teach me,” he said. “Now it’s an integral part of me.”

According to Gao, there are four main moves in breaking: toprock, downrock, power moves and freeze suicides.

Top rock involves dance steps that a breaker does from a standing position. Downrock is when the dancer uses their hands as well as their feet on the floor to move. Power moves require the breaker to use their upper body strength as they spin the rest of their body in a circular motion, while freezing involves the suspension of movement in any variety of complicated moves.

“It’s really intricate and there’s a lot of structure to it,” Gao said. “When I started, I was really skinny and didn’t have much muscle … I took like a year [to learn],” he said, adding that he turned to Youtube to perfect his style.

Breaking moves borrow from many different types of dance styles. For example, the flare is a well-known breaking move that borrows from gymnastic styles.

“It’s the one where your legs are just swinging around and you balance with your hands,” Gao said, adding that it takes more than physical strength to excel in breaking.

“It’s combination of your determination to push and improve your body, how well you treat it, and who you have teaching you,” he said. “People that I’ve taught the same moves to have picked them up in as quickly as two months.”

Breaking classes at Queen’s are geared towards recreation, Gao said.

The KinetiQ club practices in a studio at the ARC for four hours per week. The club has 35 members.

“We always start off with a bunch of people, and some people aren’t sure if they want to do it,” Gao said, adding that people tend to drop out as schoolwork picks up.

Gao and the six other members of KinetiQ performance crew teach classes to club members.

Like all sports, Gao said he engages in warm ups before practicing with his crew.

“There are of course injuries that occur, just like in any sport,” he said.

Wrists, toes and thumbs are most commonly injured.

“It’s very rare for someone to seriously injure themselves,” Gao said.

While breaking stays true to its original form, Gao said, this isn’t the case with all hip-hop dance.

“In a lot of modern hip-hop dance, they try to combine all the styles. It may look cool and they perform it very well, but there’s a lack of acknowledgment of the history of dance,” he said.

KinetiQ aims to educate its members on the history of hip-hop, Gao said.

“We try to promote a kind of original street dance style,” he said. “When you know the exact names of the moves you’re doing and where they came from, it has more meaning.”

Inside Flow Dance

The Flow Dance Club also draws from hip hop and encourages participants to express themselves creatively.

When I attended a Flow class, the first thing I noticed was that each dancer sported a pair of brightly coloured running shoes. When I asked whether the shoes were a mandatory part of a flow dancer’s uniform, I was told they were optional, but important.

“Its part of the attitude that comes with being a hip hop dancer,” Cassie Jackman, Flow co-president said.

The club started at Queen’s in 2007.

“It was started because dancers wanted a club that wasn’t just class-based —something that was more of just an outlet for freestyle,” Jackman, ArtSci ’12, said.

According to Jackman hip hop incorporates freestyle or improvisational moves, unlike in ballet or jazz.

“It’s not arranged by levels and is open to everyone,” she said. “The choreography is usually at an advanced level, but taught at a slower pace.”

Judging from the swiftness and complexity of the dance moves, I beg to differ. The Flow dancers casually plowed through a routine to Keri Hilson’s “Gimme What I Want” using impressive choreography they apparently learned briefly last week.

“There’s more top 40 music,” Jackman said.

As a result of the hip hop dance community’s inclusivity, Jackman said the participants in her classes have become close friends. Each class can have up to 50 participants.

“We have socials and we’re all so close. Because there are no levels, there’s no competition and no trying to be the best in the class,” she said.

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