Thursday, January 20, 2011


All this week we'll take a look at some classic hip-hop films from the 80s and talk about the early days of the music and the culture from four different angles: graffiti writers, deejays, breakdancers, and emcees.

seen online at YouTube

I never had the body for breakdancing. I've always been a little on the rotund side. Even as a kid, I could never see myself spinning and flipping around like that. Popping seemed simpler. I think I spent most of the sixth grade working on my popping moves - unsuccessfully.

Truth is, I wanted to dance like Michael Jackson. Back then, who didn't? The first time I saw him moonwalk, it was like a revelation. Breakdancing may have been the move back in the 80s, but there was no doubt who was the dancing king. This was also the dawning age of music videos, and with every new video of his, Michael had moves that I looked at and studied and tried to imitate - again, unsuccessfully. And it's not even like I aspired to be a professional dancer or anything. It's just that he was Michael. And to be able to dance like him was to capture a tiny fraction of his magic.

I knew a few breakers in junior high, though I don't remember too much about them. I do remember years later, however, when I worked with this one young dude who was a breaker. This was the late 90s, and I remember being surprised at the time that breakdancing was still around. These days, it's not unusual to walk around Manhattan (or even in the subways) and see some dance crew performing out on the streets for cash. Sometimes they're breakers, but not always. They've become tourist attractions more than anything else.

The difference between Breakin' and Beat Street is like night and day. The former was the bigger commercial hit, but the latter, as I said yesterday, seems more genuine. Breakin' is set in Los Angeles and has a white lead character, which, while not an inherently bad thing, is a marked contrast to Beat Street, which is more interested in showing hip hop's roots. Breakin' kinda skirts around the edges of race without actually going there; one almost gets the impression that the characters want to be able to talk frankly about it instead of hiding behind phrases like "they're a different class of people," but that would be far too much to ask of what is essentially a good-time dance movie.

I don't really have a whole lot more to say. I've never been much of a dancer in general, and I don't wanna get too much into other forms of dance, since this is supposed to be all about hip-hop. Anybody have anything else to say about breaking? Now's your chance.

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