Freedom, agility, self-expression… watch a break dancer bust a move, their life lessons are in every swing. The art form has travelled from the Bronx across the Atlantic where kids practice in abandoned buildings, dance studios and the streets. All that bboys and bgirls need are their bodies. And a fierce desire to tell their story, through dance.
The first street style evangelist, Prasenjit Kundu aka Tony, made his way here in 2005. Today, bboying is a phenomenon. Back then, it was nothing more than a trickle. Tony’s each-one-teach-one disciple-ship included the earliest break dancers in the country. The artist himself moved from a small town in Springfield, Virginia to New York, it’s the journey millions of Indians make from small towns to sprawling metropolises. At the epicentre of them all is hip-hop. The half Bengali-Indian, half French dancer spent countless hours dedicating himself to the fifth pillar of the genre: Knowledge. He put the foundation for the legion of bboy crews across India, from Shillong to Secunderabad
Hip-hop melts the boundaries between classes and cultures. The colour of your skin or your last name is irrelevant: all you need are the skills. And Tiny Drops made a mission out of the statement. Founder Netarpal Singh aka Bboy Hera gave street kids an alternative, an inspiration when they had none. The pace of bboying matches the crazy lives of underprivileged kids. But its movements allow them to forget the madness for several hours every day. Hera also inspired Dharavi resident Akash Dhangar aka bboy Akku to set up Slum Gods: to offer his friends and others in Mumbai “to create culture on their own terms and to use it to transform their communities. So children can manifest their individual potential – whether as a life-long source of personal delight or in order to connect it with a collective purpose and expression.” Sometimes, the bboys throw down their best moves at the 17th century Sion Fort. It’s a celebration of imagination, technique, style and hours of practice at an event they call Battle Fort, Dharavi. Tiny Drops and Slum Gods are now both national movements that consistently add streets kids to a pan-Indian hip-hop family.
India’s bboy scene exploded in 2010, flourished for the next three years and plateaued after. Besides bboys, bgirls and crews, battles and competitions increased thousand-fold. What went missing is a space for everyone to come together as one. An occasion where “it's about love, peace, unity and having fun.” So Roc Fresh Crew, India’s most decorated bboy outfit started Cypherholics. They host the event as an itinerant free jam space “open to all ages and abilities, facilitated by breakers for the hip-hop community.” It’s an established and evolving fertile ground for dancers What’s more, “it’s a platform for local artists that includes MCs and graffiti artists to perform and come together around art and its processes. It is a gathering ground and a chance to network, expand channels and create dialogue across all levels of community - from professional artists to aspiring youth; from passersby to local families; from the sarpanch to street vendors.”
Indian bboy crews are taking their art to the corners of the world. With a little help from break dancers who share similar passions. Like the Germans, who have organised workshops, jams and exchange projects for our bboys to learn new techniques, re-learn the basics and acquire different styles. And to reassure them they are part of a larger, international community. It's an injection of fresh ideas and different perspectives. We’ve had reality TV shows for street dance like Footloose with Tony was one of the judges. Indian artists represent the country at international competitions like Battle of the Year and BC One. It’s an endless quest to finding their own medium of self-expression through bboying. It’s art activism expressed through dance that they hope will sustain further bboys for generations to come.