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FEATURE: Breaking It Down

Believe it or not, the Chippewa Valley has its own breakdancing scene

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by Janie Boschma photos by Andrea Paulseth

There’s an underground movement slowly creeping through Chippewa Valley schools and, soon, its followers predict, you won’t help but take notice.

Break-dancing, a form of freestyle dance that incorporates gymnastics and hip-hop dance, is gaining popularity with Eau Claire’s middle-school boys, high-schoolers, and college kids.

“I’m predicting in the next four to five years, it’ll be pretty big in the Midwest,” said Tony Lor, a recent graduate from Memorial High School.

Tony got into break-dancing four years ago, once his older brother showed him a few moves and he realized that soccer and football just wasn’t going to cut it for him anymore.

Why?

Break-dancing has all the perks of a conventional team sport (exercise, fun, and group bonding), but with more creativity, freedom, and a much better soundtrack, he said. And just like other school sports, break-dancing is physically demanding and potentially dangerous. Without considerable upper-body strength, flexibility, and coordination, a b-boy is more or less doomed, and certainly won’t last long in a battle (a dance-off against an opponent).

“It’s not a hobby. Actually, it’s a lifestyle,” said Andie Lor, a recent graduate from DeLong Middle School. “It’s a way to express ourselves.”

Almost all of the b-boys at DeLong wear knee pads and wristbands and some even wear helmets. And for good reason – earlier this year Andie broke his wrist trying to conquer the air track, also called the air flare.

“I guess that’s why they call it ‘break’-dancing,” said Kathy Bareis, a DeLong Middle School art teacher who has watched the boys dance outside her room after school several times.

But practice makes perfect, Tony said, and now Andie is only one of four he knows in the Chippewa Valley who have mastered the challenging air flare.

Though the boys are all Hmong, Tony said they didn’t mean to create an exclusive subculture; it just kind of happened. Many of them were friends beforehand, so it just seemed natural.

“You just feel more comfortable around your people,” Tony said. “If you want to do it, just come do it. We’re not going to hate on you or anything.”

Tony was quick to point out that when he first started breaking, he learned moves from an older, white friend.

Soua said everyone starts at the same skill level and though there’s some natural talent involved, the outstanding b-boys are just the ones committed to practicing. Breaking is definitely not culturally specific, Tony said.

A seasoned break-dancer wouldn’t dare call himself a “break-dancer.” The preferred noun is “b-boy” (from “break-boy”), or sometimes a “breaker.” “Breaking” and “b-boying” are the most appropriate verbs.

A female break-dancer is a b-girl. They really do exist; all of the Chippewa Valley’s break-dancers whom Volume One met just happened to be boys.

The lack of b-girls in Eau Claire could be attributed to the fact they actually have a school dance program. Bareis said DeLong’s informal breaking club is really the only outlet for male dancing there.

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