In my brief career as a DJ, I've had the privilege to spin records at a wide assortment of locations - from the Super Bowl Village to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Along this journey, the most open-minded audiences I've encountered have been found at b-boy battles.
For the uninitiated, a b-boy battle is an organized tournament style competition among breakdancers (a.k.a. b-boys). The DJ plays a crucial role at these events, establishing the tone of the dance through careful song selection. No matter what style of music I throw at the b-boys, they devour it ravenously. Whether it's Bollywood funk, Nigerian afrobeat or Cuban son, if the rhythm is pounding, the dancers are game.
The open-minded and accepting nature of b-boy culture extends far beyond musical taste. When first witnessing a battle, one is struck by the complete diversity of the competitors. Gender, age, ethnicity and skill level are irrelevant. In this forum, anyone with a passion for the culture is welcome to participate. The openness of the art form has allowed it to spread rapidly across the globe. From Germany to Brazil, from Zambia to South Korea, b-boy culture has a worldwide appeal.
Recently, while spinning a battle at the Boner Community Center on Indy's Eastside, I decided to investigate what makes b-boy culture so universally accepting. Looking to the dancers for answers, I spoke with fellow DJ and b-boy Sutiweyu "K. Sabroso" Sandoval and event organizers Nick "SkyShaker" Pitts and Erica "Peprika" Culp.
"Latinos, blacks, East Asians or Indians -- the groups of people you see at a battle are as eclectic as the music," Sandoval said."Strangely, it's harmonic when you get everyone together"
For Sandoval the roots of b-boy's universal appeal are embedded in its musical foundation. "Funk music is the most direct core influence on breakers. In the '70s, funk took over the world and it was influencing musicians from India to Italy. We draw on these influences today through remixes and reworking of this material."
"The diversity was born into how creatively the originators were seeking inspiration," Sandoval continued. "They would go look at kung fu movies and bring those styles into the dance. They were looking at other cultures for influence."
"People see how pliable the core dance is. You can bring your own style and background in. Every time b-boy culture has evolved in the past, it was because a new group of people brought in a new cultural influence. When people started taking more influence from capoeira, dancers started going upside down more often."
In the case of Nick Pitts, capoeira provided an introduction to b-boy dance. "I got into b-boy culture by happenstance," Pitts said. "I started out doing martial arts, particularly capoeira. My capoeira instructor took our class to a b-boy tournament."
For Pitts, the link between b-boy dance and martial arts was an attraction. "I don't think many people understand the connection between martial arts and dancing. Bruce Lee is not someone you think of as a dancer, but he was a champion ballroom dancer," Pitts said.
The open minded attitude of b-boy culture was a major draw for Erica Culp.
"I've always loved music and dance, but I gravitated toward b-boy culture because it is so accepting," Culp said.
Like Sandoval, Culp was also impressed with the malleability of the b-boy dance form.
"Everybody brings their own style and people integrate whatever their foundation is into the dance. I have a cheerleading background, so I do flips and acrobatics," Culp said.
I felt there must be a deeper explanation beyond all the talk of stylistic concerns. As I considered this, I was reminded of something Sandoval told me.
"One thing that united everyone in the early hip-hop movement was low incomes. Hip-hop was formed by kids who grew up in a place with busted public education and inactive community centers. The people who pioneered the dance were young kids with no resources." B-boy and hip-hop culture have become an important creative voice for the young and dispossessed worldwide.
This column is dedicated to Brandon "Edge" Haines. A b-boy and major supporter of the local dance scene, Haines recently announced that he'll be leaving Indianapolis to serve in the United States military in Afghanistan.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection focuses on tracks off the new debut LP from French electronic music producer dÉbruit.
1. Havana Cultura - Orisa [Chancha Via Circuito Remix] (Brownswood, 2012)
2. dÉbruit - Rêve Du Niger (Civil Music, 2012)
3. Ogyatanaa Show Band - Disco Africa (Soundway, 2004 reissue)
4. dÉbruit - Mega Wagna (Civil Music, 2012)
5. Wganda Kenya - El Lobo (Soundway, 2011 reissue)
6. dÉbruit - Zef (Civil Music, 2012)
7. Addison Groove - Dance of the Women (50Weapons, 2012)
8. Stubborn Heart - Need Someone (unreleased, 2012)