Vol. 9, No. 13 (Aug 30 – Sep 6, 2001)
How Jake Evans and other local street-dancers are turning Halifax on its head.
Break it up
Local street-dancers put a new spin on Halifax.
Jake "Per-verse" Evans, brown hair peeking out from under his baseball cap, leads a group of track suit-wearing friends down to the wave near the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Evans previously used an old refrigerator box to battle friction, but now he and the Lokdown Crew mark their territory with a sheet of red linoleum fastened to a stage-like portion of the boardwalk with strips of red duct tape. Funkadelic’s "One Nation Under a Groove" starts to blast from the battery-powered CD player, and George Clinton’s cry of "Feet don’t fail me now" never sounded more apt. Soon, a crowd gathers as the crew members clap in unison. Eagerly, they groove on the sidelines, as each one takes a turn busting a move for the audience.
It’s Saturday, around 7pm, and Evans and his crew are passing the evening breakdancing, the way they do most Saturdays. The hip-hop dance form that emerged on street corners in Los Angeles in the late ’70s, and has been claimed by New York since the early ’80s, went mainstream in major films like Flashdance, Beat Street and the Breakin’ series. Not long after, it faded from view, even becoming a bit of a joke in suburbia.
But today, international competitions like the B-Boy Pro-Am in Miami, the B-Boy Summit in Los Angeles and Freestyle Sessions in Seattle, Houston and Chicago prove the dance has lasting power. Here in Halifax, breakdance competitions at the Khyber Club draw crowds, raves feature hip-hop and breakbeat DJs and school dances are battlegrounds for a new generation of breakers. Hip-hop fans here, as in other cities, are helping to keep the form from being tossed on the heap of forgotten fads. "It went underground. In Nova Scotia it was gone, dead," says Jake Evans. "People were probably embarrassed to do it. I tried to find original breakers. I know they’re out there. Probably laying tile somewhere."
Twenty-nine years old and working in corporate sales, Evans started watching videos in 1998 and imitating the originators. His interest in hip-hop stems from his school days. "A group of breakers came to my junior high and I was blown away," says Evans, now both a teacher (every Sunday evening at the Dal Studley building) and student (he recently returned from The Underground Dance Masters Training Camp in Los Angeles) of the art of street-dancing.
And he’s not the only one in town to keep the art alive. Armada, the SuperCity’s other main crew, featuring Dartmouth native Brendan "Kojak" Sutcliffe and Bathurst-born Christy "Kinder" Wade, splintered from Lokdown early on. They fuse Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, with their own style. "It all just kind of evolved," says Sutcliffe. "Certain people that you click with-a group of friends-you end up dancing with them. Every one of us has our own style. We are not built from any mould."
That individuality also appeals to Evans. "There’s your move, and then there’s what you do with it," says Evans. "How you make it your own style is really what hip-hop is supposed to be about. You can be pretty generic about it-like a technician-and have no feel, but for us it’s all about attitude." His crew may be playing with street gang imagery, but he says Lokdown Crew is "just like a sports team or a social group."
Like any sports team or social group, breakdancing crews try to find their place in the life of the city. "We were at the Marquee retro night every Wednesday, and after a few times, DJs would see us and expect us to be there and put aside five songs," says Evans. He hopes that kind of support will spring up in closer quarters. "Halifax is awesome for its hip-hop. I totally support local artists, although it hasn’t really come back to us yet. Hip-hop is supposed to be four elements, and it seems in this town, it’s only the MCs and DJs. The graffiti writers and the breakers are doing their own little thing on the side, but it’s not supposed to be like that."
Still, Evans says, interest in breakdancing is on the rise, from commercials for clothes to selling pop music. "It can get much bigger. When I first started, there may have been 20 people. I must have taught six or seven hundred people since I started teaching."
Later that night, at the Marquee, members of Lokdown, Armada and several free agents are around to check out a hip-hop show. In this environment, dancers have to be on their toes to deal with broken glass, cigarette butts and puddles of mystery liquid-not to mention strobe lights, rowdy crowds and overactive bouncers.
Sutcliffe and Wade are unstoppable forces on the floor tonight. Sutcliffe has lots of flavour when he dashes about in between flares, but has access to even more powerful moves. Wade, in her fully zipped up jacket and no-nonsense toque, combines crazy L-kicks with even crazier 360-degree crouching head-spins that would make a chiropractor cringe. It’s no surprise she competed at Miami’s Pro-Am last spring. "It was pretty intense," she says. "Anyone can go but once you get there, you have to make it through the preliminaries. Everybody in Miami was so full of style." She didn’t come home with a blue ribbon, but she did build her already strong repertoire.
On the surface, breakdancing looks like it’s all about strength, but it’s really about balance, flexibility and agility. The most important ingredient? Rhythm.
"Some people forget that music is involved," Evans says. "It helps to know your music. I can get the most obscure funk, disco song and bug out to it. With that, you have to know all the stops, all the horns."
"Originality-I think it is extremely important," emphasizes Sutcliffe. "It just goes with the music. Sometimes I think what’s my entrance move going to be and maybe I’ll have a grand finale move instead of going in and haphazardly moving around. Enter with a bang and leave with a bang. It punctuates the routine."
Of course, there are always people who come out to see flashy power moves. Sutcliffe is often asked if he can do the worm. He replies almost without thought, "Yes, I can, but I don’t." Evans reports similar experiences. "Yes, I can do a windmill. But no, I’m not showing you. It’s like running before you can walk. A continuous windmill or head-spin is impressive, but there’s very little rhythm in it. Keep it in the context of the dance."
Back at the wave, Brian "Hednsholdas" Sanchez, one of the first inductees into the crew, wears a green Lokdown shirt with shorts and kneepads as he practices what looks like ultra-fast yoga moves on his head. Before long, his face takes on the same tint of red as the mat. Adam "B-boy Stylez" Reddick, looking the part with his afro, white head band, tank top and black Puma pants, spins around and around on the ground and then across the ground on his hands. Kim "Check-It" McKenzie, whose quiet demeanour could be mistaken for shyness, is the lone female member of Lokdown. When it’s her turn to hit the floor, her deliberate hand movements and intricate footwork emphasize the art. John "B-boy Rock-it" Strugnell, the youngest at 17, wears a mesh LDC hat half-cocked to the side. Although he’s slight of frame, he is forceful enough to skip the CD when he ends a routine of summersaults with a suicide-dropping suddenly to the ground and landing flat on his back. Kyle "K-Low" McMullin, with wide laces and goatee, is a top rocker, which means his arms and legs snap to the music gracefully in all directions. He places his brown hat between crew and crowd, and tips pour in.
The street lamps gradually replace the sunlight. Jake mentions plans for the crew to appear in Trailer Park Boys (which explains his choice to "rock the mullet"), and that the crew will be packing the linoleum to New Brunswick for a battle with friendly rivals NDE (Near Death Experience). On this day, The Lokdown Crew is joined by b-boy Roger "Unique" Sparks from Dartmouth. He’s a link to an older school, having retired from breakin’ a year before Evans even began. Sparks is now getting back in the game, and looks to the first wave of breakdancers, like legendary pioneer Ken Swift, for inspiration. "You gotta know what the history is about," says Sparks, "When you see where it came from you will have a understanding of what’s going on." *
You can find Lokdown Crew on the waterfront near the wave most Saturdays starting around 7pm. Breakdancing classes are Sunday afternoons at Dalhousie. Armada can often be found busting a move at the Khyber on Wednesday nights.
There are many styles of street dancing, but locking, popping and breaking are the three main categories. Locking is when you freeze a particular pose, with exaggerated arm movements. Popping has to do with isolating muscles, a series of arm movements that are at once fluid and jerky, caused by contracting muscles to the beat. Electric boogaloo is a form of hip-gyrating popping, that turns a regular person into a cartoon character. Breaking, the term bastardized by the media, is actually uprocking, footwork, power moves and freezes. Moves can go from basic old-school soul dances to jaw-dropping acrobatic feats. -IKM