B-boying isn’t dead.
Just look at the crowd that gathered around the dance floor in the Clark Middle School parking lot June 27.
It was the day of the annual Mountain View Street Fair, and the first-ever Mountain View Street Fair Jam. Don Megga was on the mic, while a DJ kept the music going. Two by two, teenage b-boys battled it out on the stage. A handful of highschoolers surrounded the dance floor, recording videos on Iphones. Slowly, the audience multiplied.
Joshua Good, 22, sat in between the two other judges in front of the stage, using arm signals to pick a winner following each brief dance battle. In Alaska, b-boys are kids from every side of town and people from all over the world. Dance is the common denominator.
“We stick together, pretty much. Not only that, but we have so much drive, so much hunger for what we love to do,” he said. “We put so much on the dance floor.”
Don’t write it off as an ‘80s-era trend. Anchorage’s b-boy scene dances the line between underground and mainstream, but it’s very much alive.
You can find them practicing in the halls at East High School at lunch. At Service High School, they use an empty classroom. They gather to dance at the Northway Mall, the Fairview or Spenard Recreation Center, the University of Alaska Anchorage student union or a studio tucked away in an industrial area off Arctic Boulevard.
There are more than a half-dozen crews in Anchorage alone; breakdancing spills over into hip-hop and other choreographed dance. Good dances with the crew called Express Original Rhythm, or EOR. There’s also Multiverse, the Illaskan Assassins and many others. For the most part, their members are teens and 20-somethings. Many have been dancing for years.
Good learned to dance as a six-year-old growing up in the Philippines. In Alaska, he took up breakdancing after meeting a man named George Martinez, who inspired him with a dose of hip-hop history and poetry and ideas about what it really means to be a b-boy. That was more than 10 years ago.
B-boying goes beyond breakdance itself.
“B-Boy means ‘Bronx boy,’” Good explained during a break in the competition Saturday. “A Bronx boy came from 1975, when a couple cats out there just wanted to get down with the scene, and DJ Kool Herc came out and said, ‘Hey, let’s all gather around so we can stop the violence.’ And that’s what started this motion, this movement. I don’t know if you want to call it a trend, because it’s gone for 30 years.”
People get hip-hop twisted, he said. Really, it’s all about unity, and all the people packed around the dance floor in the middle school parking lot Saturday afternoon. Elementary school-age kids scooted close to get better views. One briefly took the stage to show off a few moves of his own.
Parents wandered up from the street fair to see what all the commotion was about. Teenagers and young adults filled out the crowd, snapping photos and videos of the dancers in the middle. People of all ages and cultures stood shoulder-to-shoulder, transfixed by the same show.
And that’s the whole point, Good said.
“That’s really what it was—it was to bring people together.”
For the most part, Anchorage’s b-boy community keeps a low profile. There’s a closed Facebook group where people post photos and spread the word about upcoming events. There’s no overriding organization. The people who organize the jams are usually the same people you’ll find out on the dance floor or in the judges’ chairs.
Most events are small—just a few dozen people gathered around a smooth floor with little to no publicity. In Fairbanks, the Midnight Sun Break-Fest can draw several hundred people. In Anchorage, it’s a different story.
The Mountain View Street Fair Jam was one of the first events that united Anchorage’s local b-boy scene with a big mainstream audience.
It was organized by Artistic Drift, an Anchorage hip-hop choreography crew led by 20-year-old Marcus Freeman. The group has been going strong for about five years now. In August, they travel to San Diego to represent Alaska and perform at the Hip-Hop International World Championships.
On Saturday, they registered dancers and sold event t-shirts at the street fair jam. The event was a way to bring the Anchorage dance community to a much broader stage, Freeman said.
Marquece Blanks, a recent Bartlett High School graduate, has danced for more than half of his life. When he was nine, he started teaching himself. When he was 11, he joined the Underground Dance Company. These days, he practices and performs with Artistic Drift. There’s a lot of dance in Anchorage, but not a lot of exposure.
“It’s just kind of on the low,” Blanks said.
Josh Collins was surprised by the dance scene he found in Anchorage.
Like Good, Collins learned to dance in the Philippines. When he moved to Anchorage, he didn’t expect much—Alaska seemed like an unlikely place for a b-boy. But Collins discovered a tight-knit community bound by its love of dance. Four years later, it’s still going strong.
“When we battle, we’re basically teaching each other,” Collins said. “So it’s always a lesson and you’re always learning.”
Bringing Anchorage’s hip-hop dance community to the next level means teaching those lessons to a new generation of b-boys—the wide-eyed little kids sitting around the dance floor at the street fair jam, the pre-teens performing for the first time at their school assembly and all the kids who showed up for a recent hip-hop summit at Begich Middle School in May.
“For me to perfect what I love to do, I have to pass it down,” said Good, who shares his talents with his young relatives and hopes to find new opportunities to spread the skills.
That starts with building a crowd. Good pulled out of a big competition down in Seattle in order to support the street fair jam, “so whoever is watching could see the numbers of dancers.”
In Mountain View, as people gathered, young dancers flipped and spun across the stage, moving to hip-hop mixes and old-school beats. It was hard to look away. Alaska’s b-boys were out in full force. On Saturday, they found a whole new audience.
“We need this,” Good said. “We’ve needed this for so long.”