By Kaitlyn Borysiewicz
Watching Altered Xpressionz, CNU’s breakdance club, practice on a Monday night was a far cry from the typical clichés we have all been exposed to in dance movies such as “Step-Up” and “Stomp the Yard.” The members of Altered Xpressionz are not a bunch of roughed-up teenagers, fighting for recognition, credibility or even the love of significant others.
When I asked about the accuracy of such movies, seniors Tyler Myers, president of Altered Xpressionz, and member Tommy Emanuel both agreed that the reality of breakdancing, more appropriately known as b-boying, is not as cheesy and romantic as such movies might claim.
Altered Xpressionz was founded 10 years ago by Dennis Deeohness (3Dee) as a subgroup of the crew XODUS, which was created in Yorktown, Virginia by Jevon Tyrone (2Face).
“You can trace the lineage of where your dancing started through who taught you and who taught them,” Emanuel said.
Aside from movies, Myers and Emanuel might spend around five hours a week seeking inspiration from watching breakdance videos on YouTube, which expose a diversity of different styles. “It’s like any artistic endeavor,” Emanuel described. “There are basic techniques you need to learn and once you have those down, you can elaborate them in your own style.”
B-boying originated as a form of street-style dance in urban settings where people would resolve their issues using dance to express themselves, rather than resorting to violence. As the hip-hop culture continued to emerge, the rise of the b-boy and b-girl grew alongside the MC, the DJ and the graffiti artist, which together signify the hip-hop culture. A real hip-hop crew, then, would include people that represented each of these elements.
The term “‘b-boy’ comes from ‘break-boy,’” explained Myers, and serves to differentiate cultural terminology from media ascriptions. “People that actually break dance call it ‘b-boying,’ people who don’t call it breakdancing,” added Emanuel. “There’s a distinction: when we call it ‘breakdancing,’ it means more of a hobby.” B-boying refers to a lifestyle.
Myers joined Altered Xpressionz three years ago and lamented that when he first started, it was more awkward than difficult. “You think ‘I look stupid doing this, I don’t want to do this,’” he said earnestly. But the real goal is to encourage people, not make them uncomfortable.
“The guys teaching you aren’t looking at you like, ‘He looks stupid,’” Myers explains. “It’s more like we try to look at what you’re doing wrong, and then we’ll help you get it right.”
The culture of b-boying is community-based. According to Emanuel, there is an attitude of “each one, teach one,” where if you know how to break dance, you encourage others and teach them as well.
So on Monday night I took advantage of the “each one, teach one” philosophy, despite my reservations and lack of coordination. The invitation to partake was inevitable though, and as I observed the members glide across the floor of the multipurpose room in the Freeman Center, I suddenly wanted to take off my boots and learn some moves myself.
I now knew exactly what Myers meant when he said b-boying felt awkward at first. I felt ill prepared in my socks, eyeing Myers apprehensively as he showed me how to do a 6-step, which is a basic sequence where the arms support the body while the legs move in a circle. Although I did not have the finesse of more experienced b-boys and b-girls, such as members Jonathan Rose or freshman Nathan Craig, it was not uncomfortable.
Craig has been b-boying for about two years and joined Altered Xpressionz his first semester at CNU. “I got basic moves, such as footwork and 6-step, within two weeks and began to push myself further,” Craig said. Being with other b-boys and b-girls has helped him improve his style and given him inspiration.
“All of my friends are super supportive of my break dancing, and think it’s a pretty cool skill to have,” Craig said.
Breaking down the moves
There are three basic styles of b-boying: toprock—steps performed from a standing position; footwork—movement on the floor with the hands and feet; and power—acrobatic moves. A b-boy or b-girl must incorporate all three of these elements into a set of moves, ending with a freeze or a controlled finishing position.
Emanuel, who has been b-boying since he was a freshman, said that “the most important thing is that you’re dancing with the music.” A b-boy or b-girl could have explosive styles, but he or she could lose the battle if not on beat.
“When you go to an event, or a ‘jam,’ they have organized battles” between individuals and crews, Emanuel said. XODUS member Darius Sumling, who does not go to CNU, said that competitions are “like a boxing match–you train for it, you get to know your competition and see what they have, and see how to top what they have.”
Altered Xpressionz has seen competitions at William and Mary, and at the end of March, they are planning to go to a competition called Circles, which is one of the biggest b-boying events in the area taking place at James Madison University.
I sat down with Rose after Monday’s practice, feeling a little sore but excited about the possibility of learning even more. Seeking guidance, I asked what advice he would give to potential b-boys or b-girls. The answer seemed obvious to him: “Some people say, ‘Oh, I want to do this because it looks cool,’ but they’re not doing it for themselves,” Rose said. “Be true to yourself. If you want it, you have to go for it.”