Inside Washington’s Breakdancing Scene

The Red Bull BC One breakdancing competition comes to Blind Whino on June 20.
Inside Washington’s Breakdancing Scene
Toyz aRe Us, a Silver Spring native, is one of three judges at the competition. (Breakers apparently have a thing for unconventional capitalization.) Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool.

As a kid growing up in Silver Spring, Geoffrey Chang loved watching Michael Jackson and James Brown dance on TV. When he was 12, a VHS tape called Freestyle Session 3 introduced him to the gravity-defying head spins and handstands of breakdancing. Fifteen years later, Chang–stage name “Toyz aRe Us”–is one of the most notable figures in DC’s breaking scene.

On June 20, Chang will be one of three judges at the Red Bull BC One b-boy competition at Blind Whino. Pitting 16 dancers against one another, including eight from the Washington area, this battle is a stepping stone to the North American finals in Orlando in August. From there, the winner moves on to the world finals in Rome later this year.

So what’s the breaking scene like in Washington? What the heck is a “b-boy”? How do they learn this stuff? And most important, will Channing Tatum be at this event?

The answer to the last question is, unfortunately, no. As for the rest of it, Chang says Washington’s breaking scene is a close-knit community, one that’s much more laid-back than New York or Florida, where things can get “heated during battles,” and other dancers can really “get in your face.”

“No one tries to act like a fake thug here,” he says.

Most breakers hang out at dance studios–one favorite is at the University of Maryland, College Park. Chang loves breaking because it’s a creative outlet, but the community surrounding it is also big perk. “We’re all friends,” he says.

So how does one become a b-boy? Chang teaches a breaking class at Words Beats & Life, a Columbia Heights non-profit. Like him, however, many breakers are self-taught. Regardless of which path you take, mastering the dance requires a lot of practice, and learning can be a long, frustrating process. Breaking “is all very unnatural movements, so if you don’t practice consistently, the muscle memory goes away,” he says. “It takes five or six years to start being considered OK.”

When it comes to judging competitions, Chang says he assesses each dancer’s performance by category: power moves (all the fancy handstand stuff), foot work, top rocking (upper body movements), and freezes (when a dancer stands still for a moment.)

The rest of it is about finesse. “Originality and creativity are very important aspects in breaking… or else everyone would be doing the same thing over and over again,” he says.

The Red Bull BC One competition takes place on June 20 at Blind Whino. RSVP in advance here. Entrance is free.

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