B-boys hip-hop up from street to stage
They’re b-boys. The “b” stands for “breakin’,” which back in the glam ’80s would have been called “breakdancing.”
The image of gangs of urban youth dancing in back streets, however, vanished with the decade, alongside fluorescent clothes and Michael Jackson’s pigmentation.
However, a comeback of breakdancing is beginning to gather steam in Korea. A dance crew these days has a full-time schedule, a manger and even a roadie. The dancing has even moved out of the street ―a theater featuring breakdancing shows recently opened in Hongdae, northwest Seoul, where clubbers jam the streets and bars on weekends. An association to foster street dancing was even established earlier this year.
Although b-boying has yet to become a national trend, the number of “b-boys” has grown, as have the size of live audiences. The image of Korean b-boys has improved largely because their skills have improved: Last for One, a group of nine dancers from Jeonju, South Jeolla province, won the prestigious Battle of the Year competition in Germany in October. Project Soul, a dance team comprising members from four crews ― Gambler, Rivers, Drifters and Last for One ― also took first place in the U.K. B-Boy Championships, held in Britain in early October. It was the team’s third straight victory at the annual competition.
The SJ B-boys Theater in Hongdae can seat 700, but no seat was empty on Dec. 9, the first day of its on-going non-verbal dance show, “Ballerina who fell in love with a b-boy.” B-boys from Gorilla and Maximum crews performed in the show, and Last for One appeared as a special guest after the performance. (They will perform for the show from Dec. 19 to Jan. 31.) Kim Sin-hye, 17, said she was there even though it was her final exam period. Although she watched b-boys dancing on the street, it was her first time to see them in a theater. As other young girls there, she was overwhelmed by the show, and kept saying, “he’s so cool.” Even after the show ended, she hung around for a while to get a closer look at the dancers.
It’s quite surprising that Korean b-boys are seeing remarkable results at international competitions, because the b-boying history here is relatively short compared to Japan, Europe or the United States, where b-boying started in the 1960s.
Korean b-boying changed dramatically after Korea hosted the World Hip-Hop Festival in 1999. “It was the first time that Korean b-boys watched foreign b-boys dance firsthand,” said Moon Ju-cheol, director of the International Street Dance Association, which was established in April. Before then, Mr. Moon said, Korean dancers studied imported videotapes, most of which came from the United States. “There was a limit: they learned techniques by mimicking, but lacked in understanding the music and expressing themselves through dance,” he added. With the festival, Korean b-boys were finally able to create their own style.
In 2001, for the first time a Korean b-boying crew, Visual Shock, was on the scene at the Battle of the Year in Germany and won the best show award. Expression Crew won the Battle of the Year in 2002, Gambler in 2004 and Last for One in 2005. Rivers won at the 2004 Hip Hop Planet in France and Gambler took the second.
Mr. Moon says that Korean b-boys have good technique, particularly in foundation skills, footwork (the rhythmic weaving of legs and feet in a continuous circular way, low around the axis of the hand that is carrying the dancers weight), toprock (upright footwork) and uprock (dancing with a variety of fighting movements). “But ultimately b-boying is about how well one expresses the music through dances with splendid technique,” said Mr. Moon, 29, who has over 10 years hip-hop dancing experience.
Mr. Moon said that despite increasing interests in b-boys, Korea should be more generous to b-boying and acknowledge it as a profession. “The young b-boys know only dancing. Sometimes they don’t finish their regular education. And they are treated like garbage in this society,” he said. In order to make it a professional job, b-boying should be educationally supported and operated systematically, he added.
“You know, sports dance, which is now accepted as a new professional dance segment, is actually what the older people danced in a cabaret,” said Mr. Moon. “But as more people started doing it, and some schools have a curriculum called ‘sports dance,’ it is considered as a ‘good’ dance.”
In that sense, it’s a great start to have a place like the SJ B-boys Theater. Lee Gun-hee, the director of the show and a famous actor, said that he’s happy that the young street dancers now have a place to play, free from social prejudice. Mr. Lee, 45, who had a rough period in his 20s because he wanted to be an actor (Korean society looked down on acting at the time), understands the dancers’ perspective. “The older generation should come and understand the young dancers through the performance,” he said. “If the older generation looks at the world standing on their hands, their view wouldn’t be so narrow.”
This has worked for some in the older generation. “I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected,” said Noh Jeom-soon, 52, who watched the performance with her daughter. It was the first time she saw b-boying. “I heard that [b-boys] dance on the street, but I think it’s better to see them on the stage.”
So what’s the future of the b-boys? Although there are some old people still dancing ― a German in her 60s and a Japanese man in his mid 40s, it’s not easy to remain a professional b-boy past one’s late 20s or early 30s because of the frequent injuries such as broken bones and slipped disks.
Many b-boys think of remaining as educators who can foster junior dancers. Gambler crew is planning to run a b-boying school in the near future, and it has already selected its new members through auditions. Seo Ju-hyun of Last for One, a senior at Jeonju University, will begin giving lectures on hip-hop dancing at the school from next semester. “[Last for One] has a busy schedule dancing on stages, for events, and appearing on home shopping channels, TV shows and around the nation. We once visited three cities in a day. Still, I can’t give up the lecture job, because it’s my future,” said the 23-year-old b-boy with 10 years of dance experience. He said if b-boys are trained more systematically, it could bring about better results at competitions. He also said that b-boys need professional physical trainers like other sports games as it is really a “(bone) breaking” dance.
“I sometimes ask myself seriously whether I should quit. But the next day, I find myself crazy at dancing,” said Mr. Seo, who wants to remain a professional b-boy until he is 30. “Achieving new techniques thrills me,” he added. “Dance is just another way to express myself.”
by Park Sung-ha
“Ballerina who fell in love with a b-boy” is performed at 7:30 p.m. on Weekdays, at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 4 p.m. on Sundays. There is no show on Mondays. The SJ B-boys Theater is 150 meters (492 feet) from the main gate of Hongik University toward Sinchon. Tickets are 30,000 won ($29) for adults and 20,000 won for students. For more information, call (02) 323-1957, or visit www.sjbboys.com.