By Alex Distefano
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There are really two distinct and parallel breakdancing resurgences at the moment. In addition to the rave kids dancing to jungle, a remnant of the original Bronx b-boy scene from the '70s still exists. At clubs and community centers, thirtysomething veterans teach the art to fresh converts like 26-year-old Patti Morris, who's been breaking for three years. "Ours is a separate scene [from the jungle crowd]," she insists. "We're very interested in tradition. With drum-and-bass, there is no history."
KidFreeze, who has been dancing since 1975 and claims to have invented the windmill, regards the drum-and-bass set wtih wariness. "They're tampering with the original b-boy formula. Instead of wearing Kangols and shell-top Adidas, they're sporting baggy pants, blue hair, and piercings."
More than 20 years after the first b-boy tied his fat laces, the aesthetics of breakdancing have changed, and so have the music and the moves. Because jungle beats are so fast, the new generation of breakers restrict themselves to short bursts of manic activity rather than the more graceful and fluid style of b-boy veterans. They rarely pop or lock their joints, concentrating instead on the more spectacular "power moves."
But it's not just the style and music that's shifted; the ethos is also very different. The economic background of poverty from which hip hop emerged, and the subsequent desire for status it engendered, is missing. Today, teenagers don't break to get a reputation on the street and aren't as territorial, nor do they invent alternate personas. There is no Mr. Wiggles or Pee Wee Dance in the jungle scene, it's just Matt or Sean or Ben. Children of lovey-dovey raves, these kids lack gang affiliations and consequently have a less competitive approach to breaking. "It's much more casual and friendly than the days when crews battled each other," says Mac McFarlane,who runs Konkrete Jungle.
Given the differences in class, race, and motivation, there are several theories about how breaking crossed over from hip hop to jungle. One idea is that when Latino kids started attending raves in the early '90s they taught the moves to white and Asian kids. McFarlane provides another hypothesis: "The current slower tempo of hip hop doesn't lend itself to breaking," he explains. "Drum-and-bass may be faster than old school hip hop but it's still closer to the original than the slow, head-nodding jeep beats of contemporary rap."
Despite the fond embrace of breakdancing by teenage jungle fans, some more mature drum-and-bass mavens are not pleased by the trend. One place where breakdancers aren't welcome is Jungle Nation, on West 14th Street. If a telltale circle forms on the dance floor, expect older party-goers to try and break it up. "Breakdancing kills the atmosphere of the club," says British DJ and entrepreneur DB, 34, who spins at Jungle Nation. "It becomes more of a voyeuristic thing rather than about keeping the vibe going on the dance floor. I know DJs, myself included, who sometimes refuse to play if people are breakdancing." In DB's opinion, the only appropriate form of dancing to drum-and-bass is freestyle. "Everyone having it. Not just one person dancing while 50 stand around and watch."
Still, for new school breakers like Face, dancing has become a way of life. Face makes his living dancing at bar mitzvahs and other events and trains for six hours a day, running, lifting weights, and performing martial arts. "The only time I'm really happy is hanging upside down on my head in the middle of a dance floor. I see breakdancing as a form of meditation." Still, he laments, "A lot of the new schoolers are stiff. They don't take it to the next level. The old school is still the best school."