You don’t need bulging biceps to breakdance. B-girls are taking over the breaking scene – and they’re doing it with style.
Words by: Emily Murray
The ceiling is a whirl as I spin around on my back. Finally I grind to a halt and wait until the world does the same. Sweat is trickling down my face into my hair and I can feel a bruise developing on my back, but I’m elated. In one hour I’ve learned the basics of breaking – and it feels good.
I have to admit it’s not what I’m expecting. When I entered this, my first ever breakdancing class, I thought I’d be in a room full of lads spinning on one arm while I fell on my head in the corner. I was half right; some of the B-boys here in london’s pineapple dance studio are performing gravity-defying stunts, flipping themselves around and spinning on their heads. But impressive as these boys are, it’s the girls who hold my attention. They’re breaking to the beat in a fluid, sexy, kinda way, and they’re looking street-cool in baseball caps, loose tracksuit bottoms, Adidas hi-tops and funky tees.
‘Girls hold the beat better than guys,’ says class teacher Skam. A former graffiti artist, Skam has been breaking since 1981 and teaching in Europe for the last 10 years. He’s noticed increasing numbers of girls attending his classes, from teenagers to those in their early thirties, and today there are more ladies than gents rocking the beat.
One is 16-year-old Tammy Clark. She came along today with a B-boy mate, and is getting stuck in learning the steps. Together the class has mastered (attempted, in my case) the ‘top rock’ dance step and the ‘six step’ floor move (where your feet scurry in a circle round your hands), and we’re starting to get a feel for the hip-hop rhythm, encouraged by our classmates.
‘I thought breaking would be all about power holds and strength work, but it’s more about footwork and dance, which is great,’ says Tammy. ‘I’ll definitely be back.’
So is one class all it takes to be a B-girl?
‘Definitely not,’ says Skam. ‘This is just a first step. To be a B-girl – or a B-boy – you’ve got to eat, sleep and breathe breaking.’
Peppa is a fully-fledged B-girl who battles with the boys. She’s danced for stars such as Gwen Stefani, and in ad campaigns for the likes of Red Bull and nikita. When I speak to her, the 30 year-old LA superstar is hanging with B-girls and B-boys in Stuttgart, Munich and Salzburg as part of a hip-hop exchange programme. Peppa tells me she’s hyped by the standard of breaking she’s seen in Europe so far and wants more girls to get involved.
‘Don’t let anyone discourage you just because you’re a girl – there are so many amazing breakers all over the world to learn from,’ she says. ‘But it’s a real mission and takes time, dedication, pain, sweat and passion.’
Proof of breakdancing’s revival – and the part girls have played in its comeback – can be seen everywhere from B-girls rocking the stage at queen-of-cool Madonna’s world tour, to Nike’s ad campaign starring French B-girl Sophia. Now there’s even a film about a female breakdancer. Called B-girl, it stars legendary breaker lady Jules as Angel, a young dancer who earns her place in the male-dominated world of breakdancing (bgirlmovie.com).
B-girl director Emily Dell, who spent months hanging out with breakdancers, says that girls are sometimes intimidated by the competitive side of breaking and can find the upper-body strength moves tough. But she has seen increasing numbers of girls getting involved and beating the boys at their own game.
‘B-girls have a lot more style in their dancing; sometimes guys just go for the big power moves and forget the style,’ says Emily.
Having style in what you wear is also a big part of being a B-girl.
‘If you’re gonna rock the spotlight in a cipher (breaking battle), it’s best to look fresh in your threads – it adds to the artistic effect,’ says Peppa.
Nowhere is style more apparent than at the big breaking events. One of the biggest in Europe is the B-Boy Championships at London’s Brixton Academy. Crews come from around the world to take part and hooch, a former DJ who started the contest in 1996, reckons the B-girls and B-boys get better every year.
‘The B-girls we see here are dope,’ he says. ‘They don’t want special treatment – they can dance with the best of the boys.’
Burn Baby Burn
Aside from the sense of achievement (I never knew my body could do those things!), breakdancing burns 400 calories an hour and is a full-body workout.
‘The freezes require balance too, which builds your core strength,’ says top personal trainer Kathryn Freeland.
So same time next week I’ll be back to learn the next set of moves, but for now I think it’s time to straighten my fresh B-girl threads and settle down with a bar of chocolate.
Most of Peppa’s weight is on her arms; her head is used mainly for stability. This freeze is not as hard as it looks. The knee locks into the opposite elbow, which helps fix the position and adds style. Holding this pose after some fast footwork shows you’ve got attitude.
Peppa also calls this move an ‘ankle sprainer’, which is what can happen if you lose your balance, as she discovered. All her weight is supported by one hand and one foot and her back leg is locked in tight behind her front leg. This hold uses Peppa’s stomach, arm and leg muscles.
A very impressive-looking pose, but one that’s hard to hold for any length of time. Peppa either kicks up into this freeze like you’d do a handstand, or transitions straight from a shoulderstand. What’s really cool is how she manages to style her legs while she’s in the air.
Nike Rockstar Workout, across Europe
Nike is running hip-hop dance workshops in cities all over Europe, from Manchester to Munich to Marseille (nikewomen.com).
Pineapple Dance Studio, London
The Foundationz Cru run breaking classes on Mondays (for beginners), Thursdays and Saturdays (pineapple.uk.com or 020 7836 4004).
Break Station, London
This dedicated street-dance studio runs breaking classes to suit all abilities and styles (breakstation.co.uk or 020 7613 5770).
Battle of the Year, European-wide
Evolution Europe, Europe-wide and USA
Newly-established European comp. Winners qualify for the international Evolution breaking contest in the US (evolution-europe.com).
UK B-Boy Championships, London
International breaking battle held every October at London's Brixton Academy. See the illest skillz you'll ever see (bboychampionships.com).
An international forum for B-girls and B-boys across the world to exchange views and tips on breaking, and to arrange breaking sessions with people in your area (bboyworld.com).