B-boy breakout ― how street culture became popularOne of the most sensational cultural phenomenon of the last year was the B-boy or breakdancer. B-boys became a new vehicle to spread hallyu, or the Korean cultural wave. Korean B-boy teams have been invited to the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
A series of B-boy performances took place last year beginning with “Ballerina Who Loves a B-boy,” and B-boys became the stars of several television commercials. Cable television channels ran breakdancing competitions almost daily, and B-boys appeared in television dramas, films, games and books. What started out as an aspect of urban street culture has become part of the mainstream.
First-generation breakdancer Lee Woo-sung, 30, who is the leader of the B-boy team “Expression,” and Poppin Hyun Joon, 28, discussed the huge popularity of breakdancing last year.
JoongAng Ilbo: Do you realize the status B-boys now have in Korea?
Poppin Hyun Joon: The perception of the older generation, maybe those who are older than 50 years old, has changed dramatically. In the past, it was not easy to say, “I dance.” But these days, they look at my attire and hairstyle and ask if I am a B-boy.
A middle-aged man said, “I was a good dancer once. If I were born 30 years later than I was, I would have danced like you.” They do not give us skeptical looks anymore. They recognize our work as a profession. That makes me feel proud.
Lee Woo-sung: The amount of money we are getting is certainly different. In 2005, if 10 breakdancers performed at a promotional event for a department store or a car, they received one million won ($1,080). But last year, the amount rose to 3 million won. Now I can tell younger dancers that they can make a decent living if they are good dancers.
JAI: What brought this change?
Poppin: It’s because of the media. It began with newspaper stories, then television dramas, commercials and cable television programs all started to feature B-boys. The media let the public know that B-boying is not a special trick, but a cultural phenomenon that ordinary people can experience in everyday life. Basically, the growing interest in health and fitness decreased people’s negative attitudes towards modern dance.
Lee: The JoongAng Ilbo articles about B-boys on May 13 and Sept. 16 in 2006 seem to have made an impact. I realized what it means to “wake up one day and find you are a star.” People I know made a series of comments about the reports and I got many more requests for appearances. Even my parents were happy and said, “The story about B-boys was on the cover. We thought you were just a troublemaker but you are doing something great.”
JAI: What is the secret behind Korea’s B-boys becoming the world’s best?
Lee: Korean B-boy dancers are born with a sense of rhythm and have a strong sense of unity, but in the end it is the amount that they practice. Korean breakdancers practice harder than anybody else. Foreign teams are amazed with how hard Korean B-boy teams practice. It is true that Korean B-boy teams are a little behind in creativity. But there are no other B-boy dancers of any nationality who dance with as much heart as Korean B-boys.
JAI: There were many B-boy performances last year, some of them in dramas. What is your evaluation?
Poppin: Some people say that B-boy dancers lack acting skill and that most of their performances consist of dance battles. This is the limitation of Korean B-boy teams. And when they are confined in a frame, in this case a stage, their inborn quality of improvisation and wildness is not expressed as well. But it is too early to make a judgment. I hope people will look at us with more understanding and work with our talents.
Lee: I agree that B-boying is thriving but there are not many great performances. Others are worried that the current interest in B-boys may disappear instantly. But the biggest problem is that those who are not B-boy dancers try to have a say over B-boy performances. B-boy dancers need to be in charge of their performances to make them genuine.
JAI: What is necessary for B-boying to become truly competitive in our culture?
Poppin: It has to go into the mainstream. There are a lot of middle and high school students who like dancing. It needs to become a regular academic coursework, and when universities form a B-boy major, it can become more established.
Lee: As soon as the government decided to support B-boys financially, there were people who did not know much about it who were trying to form a B-boy association. What is most important is that B-boy teams that have met and then separated should come together and cooperate with each other.
by Choi Min-woo