B-boying—also known as breaking, breakdancing or, in its female incarnation, b-girling—arose in early 1970s New York and has since spread across the globe, taking root in Asia, Africa, Europe and across the United States.
One of the places the highly acrobatic form of dance has migrated is a far, shadowy corner of the basketball courts at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center. That’s where 3HC: Holyfaith, one of the best breaking crews in New Mexico, practices. That is, unless a full-court basketball game breaks out, in which case they have to move. From the margins of society, b-boying has moved to the margins of a basketball court.
3HC: Holyfaith stands for Harambe Hip Hop Crew: Holyfaith, with “Harambe,” a Swahili word for “coming together as one” and “Holy Faith,” the literal Spanish translation of Santa Fe. As the name also implies, 3HC is more than just a breaking crew, it’s a complete hip hop crew, whose members—currently more than a dozen strong—also practice the other elements of hip hop culture: graffiti (only the legal variety, they insist), emceeing (rapping), beatboxing (vocal percussion) and turntabalism (an advanced form of DJing).
When the first 3HC members arrive in their little corner of the gymnasium, the first thing they do is set up their monstrous (in b-boy tradition) ghetto-blaster and get the breaks playing. Breaks are a form of electronic music—drawn from funk, soul, jazz and hip hop—that are characterized by 4/4 patterns and, especially, big smacks of snare. Breaks make you—really make you—want to wrench and rock your body and then forcibly freeze it. Next, comes stretching. Breaking requires extremely malleable, elastic bodies.
And then, ever so casually, the dancers begin their up-rocking, a standing combination of complexly patterned, floating footwork, and slides, shuffles and hops. Up-rocking is when a b-boy or b-girl first showcases his or her style (and style is the true, impalpable key to a breaker’s magic), engages with a crowd and gets into the rhythms that will be carried into their floor-work.
Soon the breakers hit the floor, to perform the dizzying, laws-of-physics-suspending flips and spins on their heads, hands, backs and stomachs that are referred to by breakers as “power moves.” Finally, they snap still into contorted angles called “freezes.” The moves carry descriptive names like “suicides,” “turtles,” “windmills,” and “head spins” as well as more opaquely-dubbed techniques, such as “1990s” (an inverted, one-hand spin that can go on for a seemingly unending series of rotations). The way breakers move within the break-beats—slowing and accelerating as though filmed by the makers of The Matrix—is literally breathtaking or, more likely, expletive-evoking. High-level modern breaking, which has evolved into a graceful, fluid and extremely acrobatic mixture of sport and dance, must truly be seen live in order to appreciate how awe-inspiringly difficult it is. It’s far from one of those sports, like sprinting or badminton, that an average person can realistically imagine doing.
Take, for instance, a move called “air-tracks.” Air-tracks begin as “flares,” a move borrowed from gymnasts (who usually do them on the pommel horses), in which a breaker is balanced on one hand at a time, his torso swung onto the x-axis via centrifugal force and his v-shaped legs swinging around in high circles that, through momentum, manage to never touch the ground. But then—into a move that is already insanely difficult—breakers insert these tiny little miracles: hops. Tiny hops make it appear as if a millisecond of time went missing or as if a strobe-light were projected on a man suspended and spinning upside down from a cable. During air-tracks, a breaker’s hands skim the ground, while his legs—like helicopter blades—propel him into levitation.
B-boying has come a long way, even as it has faded in popularity since the days when it was popularized in films such as Breakin’, Flashdance and Beat Street. And yet certain things remain the same. For one, the culture that undergirds breaking is an exceptionally supportive one.
This is particularly evident if you venture to watch 3HC practice. Though breaking is competitive, with crews and individuals battling for supremacy in impromptu or organized dance circles called “ciphers,” b-boys and b-girls have each other’s backs. From whoops of approval to encouragements given in hushed tones to cries of “sick!,” breakers—and this is so often true of marginalized, subaltern groups—have a fiercely loyal in-group familiarity, expressed in a nomenclature all their own. They also seem to genuinely care about each other.
“I get to do something with kids and actually help them because they like what they see,” 23-year-old José Luis Lujan Gutierrez, one of 3HC’s senior members, says. “It’s motivation. That’s what kids need these days and that’s what we’re here for.” Gutierrez, who goes under the nom de break of B-Boy Jos and whose specialties are flips, flares and other power moves, continues: “At the same time they help me too. Because every morning when I wake up I’m like ‘ah man, I’m going to go break and I’m going to see them,’ you know? It’s like a family now.”
And help the kids, it has. “I started getting respect and trust from my family again,” 13-year-old Edgar Miramontes, aka MaxiFresh, says. “Right now, if it wasn’t for breaking, I’d probably be gangbanging or something. Now I go to battles with my parents,” Miramontes, who’s impressively skilled, given that he’s been breaking for under a year, says. “It’s practically saved my life. Now, my parents actually tell me ‘go practice.’ And if they tell me I can’t go, I’ll like, beg them, practically. I’ll clean the whole house for them.”
“Orale!” 14-year-old Andres Torres, aka B-Boy Kid, exclaims. Torres is Miramontes’ breaking partner, best friend and schoolmate at DeVargas Middle School. Torres is noticeably happy about hearing how positive breaking has been for Miramontes, whom he initiated into 3HC.
It was Torres’ cousin who got him into breaking, back when Torres was only 3 years old. “I looked up to my cousin—I still do to this day,” Torres says. “He inspired me to breakdance. I’m catching you Cisco, watch out.”
Back around the practice cipher, I ask Gutierrez if 3HC is cool with people dropping by and giving breaking a try. “For sure,” Gutierrez says. “If you have the heart for it, come by. Just come and do it. Everybody has a different talent. If you like it, stay with it. If you don’t, try something else.” Orale.
Drop by the Genoveva Chavez Community Center basketball courts, Mondays at 6 pm for a first try at breaking.