Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Breaking Grahamstown; Breakin' the Dance: Exploring the Role of Break Dancing in the Construction of a Break Dancer's Identity

Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Breaking Grahamstown; Breakin' the Dance: Exploring the Role of Break Dancing in the Construction of a Break Dancer's Identity

Article excerpt

B-boys are in da House: The First Round

When someone becomes a B-boy, it is like being initiated into a prestigious brotherhood.1 It is this space and fraternity that I began to explore - the way break dancing influences identity construction. While there has been much focus on "traditional"/ritual dances in Anthropological writing, I attempt to understand contemporary dances' influence on a young persons' understanding of the world. Tate (1992) agrees that being part of a crew is like belonging to a fraternity (cited in Foreman and Neal 2004: 157). Who a person chooses to be and why they choose this identity will be analysed in this paper. The identity construction will be analysed in terms of historical stereotypes, subcultural stereotypes and gender stereotypes, and storytelling through embodiment of identities. In focusing predominantly on the body as a site of pleasure, I want to further unravel the role that dancing plays, separate to political protest or social commentary. I want to propose the possibility, as Nuttall and Michael (2000) suggest, of dance and its pleasure being a form of escapism and an end unto itself.

My primary informants were the members of a break dancing crew 2 in Grahamstown and my research took place in 2010. In beginning my research, I attended breakdancing battles and performances and generally "hung out" with the dancers. Anthropology methodology is participant observation - we chat, we question each other, we participate in our participants' everyday life (in this case dancing, dance battles and visiting friends) and we exchange knowledge. There is little formal structured interviewing or surveys. Rather, Anthropological methodology relies on long term emersion in the lives of the participants and we often refer to our methodology as deeply hanging out. Furthering my emersion into the break dancing crew (I danced with the dancers), I began to see their 'exclusivity' as a sub-culture and the way a dancer entered into the sub-culture of a break dancing crew became important to further understanding how break dancing affects and is affected by identity construction; and these identities were multiple. I take time in the paper to consider the political implications of identity construction for these break dancers and how they are agents in their own everyday construction of identity. Their "exclusivity" also meant that it took me a long time to find them - I couldn't just open the telephone book and search "break dancers in Grahamstown." Only when they decided to 'reveal' themselves in specific places in Grahamstown did I find them. This paper is thus an exploration as much into the use of space and embodiment of identity through use of space, as it is the construction of identity based on one of the four elements of Hip Hop.

Let's break it down!

Break dancing does not stand alone but is part of a Movement called Hip Hop. The Movement is comprised of four elements: MCing3 and/or rapping; DJing; street dancing and graffiti art work. Potter (1995) says that the incorrect associations of Hip Hop with gangs is because the media (which has been the driving force in spreading Hip Hop around the globe) ignores the histories of where the music, the dancing and the art work come from (p. 26). Yet there is still a strong assumption that Hip Hop is a large reason why young men engage in untoward antics on "the street" and Hip Hop/rap music is seen as the main instigator for this (Oliver 2006). To understand the history of break dancing and where it came from, one also needs to understand the history of African American youths and how break dancing has emerged out of specific socio-political environments- often in poorer areas, where government service delivery was lacking and where little or no provisions were made for young people; in other words, often racially divided areas where non-white youths had little opportunity to entertain themselves in lavish night clubs or even had the money to do this. …

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