Monday, April 7, 2008

Subway breakdancers

I came upon a dozen or so breakdancers, organized as a kind of troupe, at the Herald Square subway station last Saturday afternoon. I was fascinated. First, they were amazing - the athleticism and training it requires is fairly awesome (for a taste..). Second, they worked the crowd beautifully, lining us up in an orderly but cozy circle, and greased our pockets with some effective one liners (of the large collection bucket: "Let me introduce you to my friend, Putin, as in 'For you to put in your money.'"). It was clearly a well-worked routine. But what most stood out to me was the social dynamic of the group. All but one were African-American (the oldest and most talented was Latino). They ranged in age from about 30 (a guess) to 7 or 8. They performed in age-order, oldest (who were the best dancers) to youngest. The older ones clearly ran the show: they worked the crowds, got the dancers in line, ran the music, barked the orders. The younger kids weren't very good - they clearly lacked both the experience and the upper-body strength - but the older guys made sure the crowds clapped for them anyway.

I wondered how the group is organized - how did these dozen or so guys meet? Is there a social network through which these guys got to know each other (like a dancing club), or is it just a bunch of neighborhood kids who were messing around and realized they could make some money off of it? Does the group operate as a training camp, with the younger kids working through the ranks? I wonder if groups splinter and compete against each other.

If anyone's looked into this, let me know... otherwise, more to come on the blog...


micah said...

Check out 'Planet B-Boy', now showing at Sunshine. As a documentary focusing on the high level international competitive division of 'b-boy culture', it doesn't deal specifically with the grassroots organization questions you ask, but it does cover the history, including how 'breakdancers' was a made up media term used to describe people who called them selves 'b-boys'. The international scope of the documentary provides a really interesting perspective on this part of contemporary hip hop culture, and the dancing on film is also really impressive. I get that you're interested in the local community aspect of it, but this film deals with the community aspect in places like suburban Paris and rural South Korea. Still, it provides a good grounding in a subculture that originated in New York and has blown up around the world.

Matt Schwarzfeld said...

Micah - excellent recommendation. I'll definitely check it out.

Good reporting technique, this blog thing.