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Photo: Anna Sutterer.

Break Dancing Is For Kids

Denver's young B-Boys and B-Girls push forward street dance culture.

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From the street corners of the Bronx in the 1970s to 21st century studios in the Denver metro area, breaking keeps inspiring young dancers. It’s not just about who can spin on their heads the longest or who performs the quickest footwork—it’s about the aesthetic of hip-hop culture and community.

Dancers age three and up enter BBoy Factory, a studio at the intersection of I-25 and I-76, to find not only a space to test their moves, but also a cultural center lined with graffiti art, stacks of boom boxes, rows of DVDs, and shelves of competition awards.

“I wanted to create a ‘Field of Dreams’ for breaking; a place to connect, to bring people from out of state and out of the country to teach and be a bridge between the global community of breaking to our local community,” Factory founder Ian Flaws says. The studio offers drop-in classes for all skill levels that focus on break dance moves, hip-hop and popping, plus guest instructor workshops.

Flaws started breaking in Boulder at the end of his high school years, in 1998. As a dancer, his style is traditional and foundational, and as a teacher, he makes sure students understand rule number one of breaking: have fun and enjoy the movement.

On late Saturday mornings, the youth team practices intermediate and advanced skills. They begin with jumping jacks, lunges, pushups, and wall sits. It’s like a typical warmup to an athletic event, until the kids start matching steps, kicks, and handstands to the breakbeat.

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“Breaking is super athletic [and] creative; it’s a counterculture that connects artistic mediums,” Flaws says.

Remixed History and Culture

During its inception in the ’70s, DJs found they could string together pieces of funk, disco, soul, and jazz records to create dance beats. Breakers would show off their musicality and athleticism by sprinkling Lindy Hop, disco, gymnastics, and other styles into their performances. The art form, developed by Black and Latino youth, made public expression and empowerment accessible through just a piece of cardboard and a pair of sneakers.

“Breaking is purely remixed American culture,” Flaws notes. “There’s an ethos in hip-hop to be unique and original. So while we (at BBoy Factory) learn and teach foundation and fundamental moves, we’re constantly flipping them and adding our own style to it. It’s about preserving the culture and pushing it forward at the same time.”

The current group training at the Factory has promising talent, according to Flaws. They may follow in the footsteps of previous generations, kids who went on to become national and regional battle champions, and wowed audiences at local arts and culture festivals and conventions.

Breaking and Thriving

But B-Boy/B-Girl achievement means more than battle wins and street cred. Besides the physical strength benefits of the dance, breakers often develop off-the-floor skills, too. Nicole Silva, mother to Caleb Martinez, says her nine-year-old has opened up socially and developed a positive work ethic. At home, Caleb does extra training in the basement on a piece of linoleum flooring. “He understands that if he wants to get better, he has to put in the practice,” Silva says.

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Seven-year-old Issac Montoya, aka B-Boy Ismo, infuses the culture into his everyday life. He takes classes at BBoy Factory three to four times a week and spends dozens of hours studying videos of battles (dance competitions where the winner is chosen based on creativity, skill, musicality, and attitude). “To wake up, he has to listen to break dance music,” Montoya’s dad, Hector Montoya, says. “He doesn’t wear jeans because if he goes to school and wants to battle kids, he has to be ready to dance. Any kind of music he hears at grocery stores—he’s constantly dancing.”

Grant Llafet appreciates the camaraderie between entire families involved at BBoy Factory. Parents congregate on couches next to the dance floor and talk about their lives, even plan camping trips and birthday parties for the group. For Llafet’s son, Charlie, break dancing has helped with his sometimes overwhelming energy and some behavioral concerns. “It’s been a total game changer for his life, honestly,” Llafet says. “He really succeeds here.”

Talk the Talk

As breaking created new moves and formed its own culture, lingo emerged to describe elements of the art form. Here are some terms and phrases you’ll hear at a practice or battle:

B-Boy/B-Girl: someone who practices breaking, and follows the hip-hop culture and lifestyle

B-Boy/B-Girl name: a moniker typically given to a breaker by a mentor or other crew members; it might reflect the B-Boy/B-Girl’s dance style or be a play on their given name

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Crew: a collective of B-Boys and B-Girls who come together as a team under a name; they might include DJs, graffiti writers, and MCs

Battle: dance competitions between two individuals or crews who take turns, the winner is chosen based on creativity, skill, musicality, and attitude

Cypher: a circle that breakers form and dance within; dancers enter one at a time to dance to the music and can battle each other here

Set: a breaker’s prepared combination of moves they’ve practiced in sequence

Cypher cat/cypher B-Boy or B-Girl: a breaker with a reputation for high level talent inside the cypher; they might go multiple rounds without repeating moves or getting tired

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Power head: someone who loves to mostly practice and perform power moves (relying on speed, momentum, and acrobatic elements) in their breaking

Footwork cat: someone who loves to mostly practice and perform footwork in their breaking

Repeating: when a breaker does a move they’ve already performed; it’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t repeat moves in a battle

Bite/biting: when a breaker steals or copies moves or style from another breaker, which is frowned upon

Crashing: failing an attempted move and falling out of it badly; the best breakers know how to turn a crash
into a new move

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Bust a Move with a Group Near You

BBoy Factory in Denver welcomes dancers to its broad wood floor to enjoy break dance and hip-hop classes. A smaller studio in the back provides space for one-on-one instruction, and B-Boy memorabilia provides the whole space with a colorful artistic context. After gaining some experience, dancers perform at local events such as the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival or Wings Over the Rockies ’80s vs. ’90s parties.

Block 1750 in Boulder offers kids and teens crew classes each week, plus drop-in classes. Young breakers level up through the studio’s Block Beanie System (akin to the belt system in martial arts), which helps students progressively work up through rhythm and musicality, battle experience, freezes, and tricks over the years—eventually making their way to a black beanie. New students should try a drop-in class and consider the Breaking FUNdamentals online course to get started.

On The Break Dance Academy in Colorado Springs rounds out its break dance training with hip-hop, acro, and Pilates classes. The small community of dancers along the southern Front Range is led by four instructors. Little Ones classes, for kids ages two to six, focus on basic coordination, learning patience, and technique. The acro curriculum, combined with break dance dynamics, helps students learn power moves like handstands and spins, and traditional hip-hop sessions offer a dance workout plus opportunities to learn new style moves.

School of Breaking in Aurora facilitates breaking programs for all levels of students, ages three to sixtysomething. Kinder Club prepares little ones ages three to six for breaking and hip-hop fundamental movement. School of Breaking teachers also go out to school districts to increase the movement’s influence in Colorado, and SchoolYard Sessions offer B-Boys and B-Girls a space to practice outside of regular classes (reservation required). Drop in to a class to check out the vibe, or consider a membership for weekly class commitments.

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