Dancing is and has always been a global phenomenon. From the Michael Jacksons to the Prabhudevas, dancing has left an indelible mark to global culture and society in some way, shape or form, for the better. Recently, in the heart of one of India’s most dynamic city - Bangalore, a select group of individuals are planting the seeds of a movement that is at the cusp of blooming into a full-grown dance movement. In a country that sometimes hesitates to grapple with positive westernisation, we take a look at how a group of youngsters are breaking the mould of stereotypes surrounding the lesser known forms of dance.
‘Breaking’ also known more commonly as B-boying (although there are B-girls as well) constitutes one of the core elements of hip-hop. It involves the use of every body part imaginable and no boundaries. Arjun Thomas , a member of arguably Bangalore’s best crew - The Black Ice - tells us about his initial exposure to the dance form and his early experiences trying to grapple with it. “Personally, I just happened to watch a video of this crew called ‘ The Flying Steps ‘ and found them super cool. I went back home and searched for breaking tutorials and voila! They were all over Youtube. That’s when I realised that this is something I want to try out. A year or two into it, I knew I was hooked,“ he says as he describes how he captivated by the idea of the individuality of dance. He adds, “once you’ve learnt the foundation, you can twist the rules out of shape to create something that’s truly you.”
Of course, in India, usually anything that doesn’t conform with the accepted ‘norms’ of society is deemed to be strange or weird in some cases, but that didn’t really stop kids who wanted to do anything it took to learn and preach the art form. “In a country like India where the education system ostracizes most people who don’t fit a certain stereotype, breaking can be very liberating,” he says with a smile on his face. In a way, the city of Bangalore has been instrumental in bringing people of different backgrounds and beliefs together, laying down the foundations of The Black Ice crew. The cosmopolitan nature of the city has played a big part in enabling this movement. “Initially, every crew member lived in Kammanahalli or Lingarajapuram. So we met up and practiced together quite often. Besides this, Bangalore is a city that’s extremely supportive of this culture and it has helped our crew find new members and recruit them,” says Arjun echoing the sentiments expressed earlier.
As time progressed, breaking gained popularity across neighbourhoods as more kids took to the art. Practise session turn into jams that were both challenging and fun in equal measure. In a way, Bangalore has earned the tag as the defacto shimmy capital of India. “Bangalore also hosts the most number of jams in the country, and this alone pushes every dancer to train hard.” says Arjun. The roots of The Black Ice Crew - whom many regard to be one of the best bunch of freestyle dancers in the country, grew along the same lines. The crew started off with founding members Nas and Likith who conducted classes in Kammanahalli. Arjun and a few of his friends wound up enrolling there and thus formed one of the meanest crews in no only the city, but also the country in 2009. Trial by fire is how they learnt the ropes of their trade as the dance style still hadn’t gained widespread popularity across the globe. A typical crew session would involve hours of gruelling training, some of which end with heated dance-offs between crew members. Fast forward to 2017 and things are a lot more accessible that they have ever been with up and coming artists, those in training and even the uninitiated being able to seek-out help from the older generations of breakers.
The road to success is, however, not as smooth as it ought to be as the radical dance form also has it’s fair share of dangers. “As with any artform, breaking comes with its own set of mental, emotional, and physical challenges. Personally, I have been seriously injured twice. The first time I stopped dancing for about 8 months and the second time I was out of the game for about two years,” admits Arjun , highlighting the not-so-glamorous side as well. He also candidly points out the emotional struggles that dancers have to cope with as they channel an art-form that sometimes people do not really understand. When asked about how his parents reacted the first time he told them , he says “it has always been difficult to convince parents and family that dance is a legitimate career and something that we cannot live without. I mean, how do you explain this to someone who has no idea about the artform? I think facing things at home and convincing your parents that this is a ‘real’ career are two of the most challenging aspects of a dancer’s life. And then there’s the monetary side of it too.”
He also highlights another bleak side of the scene by admitting that currently it is setup to help only for those at top to succeed. Also, it is the preconceived notion that ‘dancing’ isn’t really a job and that probably dissuades potential aspirants from taking it further and exploring the possibilities of nurturing a career in his opinion. “I think that personal connection with dance is lacking, which makes it difficult for people to relate completely and take what we do seriously,” he admits rather piquantly.
But that doesn’t stop him and many like him, who still yearn to make it big one day. With the right level of training and dedication where a dancer spends 5-6 hours of his life at the studio perfecting various styles, the dream is not impossible to achieve. It is this belief that has also inspired the second generation of freestyler who are helping push the profession in the right direction. “Now that the scene has been alive for nearly ten years, many dancers have found their role in the community and are really helping to take the scene forward. I have dancer friends who are also videographers, DJs, and writers who use these additional skills to showcase the scene to the general public and show them why dance is something worth their time and investment,” he says with a maturity that belies his age.
Bangalore’s reputation of being a culturally vibrant city, ready to adapt diverse, creative palates of the younger generation just got another shot in the arm with crews such as Black Ice slowly but surely breaking to the surface!
Feature Image: Nasser Al Azzeh & likith Achiah - From the crew who got to compete at outbreak 2016 in Slovakia