Regulars and Shorts, Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance? The Bboy Federation

By Amy Brunvand

Growing the urban dance scene in Utah.
by Amy Brunvand

Ya but can you dance
—Bboy Federation t-shirt

“In the beginning…there was the DJ and the music,” says Joshua “Text” Perkins, executive director of the non-profit Bboy Federation in Salt Lake City.

Say what? Executive director? Federation? Doesn’t all that sound a bit formal for hip-hop which is, after all, a street-style urban dance? But Perkins says the formation of the Bboy Federation is just a sign of how much the art of hip-hop has matured since its origins 40-odd years ago.

You may have seen the Bboy Federation around – most recently members have danced at EvE, Utah Arts Festival, FanX 2014 and the “Light as Air” fundraiser for Western Resource Advocates. Last summer they hosted a jam at Liberty Park, and in December they put on a hip-hop art show.

Perkins says the original break-dancing from the 1970s would look almost incomplete by today’s standards. Since then, various styles have fused and intermingled so that nowadays there is a vibrant hip-hop subculture complete with DJs, fashion, rappers and graffiti artists in addition to the. More opportunities exist for hip-hop artists to compete, perform, teach and sometimes even get paid.

Utah’s hip-hop scene has not always been this robust and for a while it seemed to be fading out all together. “There was a huge explosion in the ’80s, then it disappeared underground where the people who are passionate about it carry on,” Perkins says. In 2008 Perkins and another dancer, James “Pyro” Karren, started throwing events hoping to generate a little more positive energy. Their effort eventually became the Bboy Feder­a­tion which gained nonprofit status just last year with the goal of promoting street-style dance as a respected and legitimate art form.

Besides workshops and performances, the Bboy Federation hosts practice jams and open events called “cyphers” where people can hang out and show off their dancing skills. Perkins explains, “If you’re talking about break-dancing particularly, it’s not meant to be performed for a crowd. The idea is that if you and I are both dancers, you think you’re better than me, and I think I’m better than you. The way a cypher works is, if I go to a party and call someone out we try to dance against each other until the other is convinced or until the people watching decide a winner. The cypher is the most authentic exper­ience you’re going to get. It’s unstructured, and raw, but it’s also kind of a conversation.”

Perhaps because of this competitive element, hip-hop is especially appealing to teenaged boys, and being part of a hip-hop community can help get them through the rough adolescent years. Perkins says, “I started break dancing when I was 17 or 18, and I really got into it. It’s one of the things that started as a hobby, but now it defines who I am as an individual. You can take boys who are shy and creative and it gives them recognition. It improves their self-confidence. If you are spinning on your head someone is going to notice.” Still, he says, one of the appealing things about hip-hop is, “It’s based on creativity, not athleticism. It’s not just more flips, more spins, harder tricks, but I can be better by being more creative.”

Within this male-dominated scene there are also bgirls. Josie L. Marine serves as Development Director for the Bboy Federation. Marine started out dancing with Children’s Dance Theater and at one time planned to study modern dance in college. Then she discovered hip-hop: “I had a hip-hop teacher in summer camp and I learned break-dancing and I literally fell in love with it,” she says. “All my time was taken up doing hip-hop and house dancing.”

If you’re curious to find out what’s so appealing about breaking, popping, locking, house, funk, and New Jack, the Bboy Federation is putting on a big show February 6-7. They Reminisce presents a history of hip-hop styles through three eras: from the 1970s Origins Era, the 1990s Golden Era and finally the 2000’s Modern Era. DJ Scratchmo will create the soundtrack.

They Reminisce doesn’t start with the stage performance, though. An open cypher before each show is an opportunity for dancers to warm up and enjoy the music, and for the audience to see hip-hop in its native element. You don’t need a ticket for the cypher and everyone is welcome to watch or even join in dancing. “We want it to be open to anyone,” says Perkins. “You’re welcome to hang out and get loose prior to the show. Kids from our scene can come hang out.”

Both Perkins and Marine agree that the best thing about Utah’s hip-hop scene is the dancers’ passion for what they do. “In LA, break-dancing will get me gigs, but in Utah our dancers dance because they love it,” says Perkins. He says Utah hip-hop artists are gaining a reputation out of state, and adds, “We get a lot of compliments that we have a great scene that has a great feel and great energy to it.” u

Amy Brunvand is a librarian at the University of Utah and a dance enthusiast

They Reminisce

Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center 138 West 300 South, SLC UT 84101
Feb. 6: 5pm open cyphers; 7:30pm show
February 7: noon open cyphers; 1:30 show
February 7: 5pm open cyphers; 7:30pm show

This article was originally published on January 31, 2015.