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So You Wanna Breakdance?

Get fit, learn cool moves and pick up a history lesson at a Breakdance Chicago class.
Saturday Feb 28, 2009.     By Maya Henderson
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Maya (back row) busts out her best bgirl moves
If you think breakdancing died with the '80s, think again; it may have disappeared from mainstream culture, but it never died. The art of breakdancing, one of the four elements of hip-hop (alongside MCing, DJing and graffiti writing), has grown into an international culture of crews, organizations and competitions that consistently take the dance form to awe-inspiring physical levels. Gone are the days when a windmill move would garner praise: These days, bboys suspend themselves in space doing air chairs, and movies like "Step It Up 2" and "You Got Served" owe many of their hot moves to bboy-inspired choreography.

In Chicago, the city's strong connection to hip-hop couldn't be more apparent than at a Breakdance Chicago class. At Dance Chicago, people from all walks of life come to live out their bboy and bgirl fantasies, something that 15-year-breakdance-vet Brian B. Rock Ekerman will tell you isn't easy to do.

"Breakdancing is hard. It's all about telling your body to do what your brain doesn't want it to," says B. Rock as he welcomes a new round of students to his Intro to Breakdancing class. He tells us that at the end of the session, we won't command a bboy circle, but we'll have learned a few cool moves, received a lesson in bboy history and language, and, if we're up for it, have a strong foundation to take our breaking to the next level.

The skinny: The instructors at Breakdance Chicago are members of the Chicago Tribe breakdancing crew. B. Rock started BDC in 2004, and he, along with bboys Steve "Stytches" St. John, Al Tamper and Micheal "Sneeks" Lim, have since taught over 1,000 students. In addition to breakdancing classes (level one and two), they offer hip hop dance, house dance and BreakFit, a cardio class that uses breakdancing moves.

B. Rock starts the class by discussing the origins of breakdancing, going all the way back to DJ Kool Herc's idea to continuously play the break of a record to keep people dancing longer.

After the brief history lesson, the class stretches (he encourages everyone to start stretching and warming up even before class), and then it's on to the important foundation moves: small, awkward exercises to get the body ready for the unfamiliar bboy acrobatics. Seemingly simple exercises, like standing on one leg while trying to shake the raised bent leg without moving the knee humble me. Then it's on to crazy legs and the ever-important uprock, the standing move that breakers use to find the rhythm of a song and command attention before getting down on the floor for windmills, headspins, etc. The uprock is the most advanced step you'll get to on day one, but by the third class, you'll already be trying ground moves.

The get up: Comfy sweats and fresh sneaks—the coolest thing you could possibly want to workout and dance in. Just note that you will sweat, and once the class progresses, you'll eventually practice moves on the floor, so don't wear anything you don't want to get dirty.

Wear and tear: A breakdance move gone wrong can be really, really bad. But the instructors always stress the importance of properly warming up before class and practicing those awkward exercises at home, and they make suggestions on proper alignment. If you're not very active, expect to be sore the next day or so after class.

The commitment: Breakdance Chicago classes meet once a week for six weeks for $95. You may find that to really grasp the moves, you'll need to practice outside of class. But, once a session ends, another one begins the next week, so if you really enjoy it, you can keep building your skills without a gap in instruction. Or, opt to take two classes a week for $125.

The payoff: Ever see a breakdancer with no shirt on? Not only is breaking physically demanding, but it requires the body to be strong and limber—a winning combination for a svelte physique. B. Rock says that 30 seconds of serious breaking is like running a mile. I'd have to check the science on that, but I do cardio kickboxing and spin classes twice a week, and I find myself out of breath while practicing my uprock.

Difficulty level: I've never had problems with rhythm and coordination, but by the third exercise, I'm sort of loss. But B. Rock and Tamper (who stayed around after his hip hop class to help the new students) are patient and give lots of personal attention. Besides, no one in the class is going to be poppin' and lockin' like a pro. We're all too busy worrying about our own moves to possibly notice each other's missteps.

The verdict: Between the music, history lesson, comfortable atmosphere, fitness level and fun factors, this six-week session is well worth the price. I'm already practicing my bgirl stance.

Want to become the best bboy or bgirl you can be? Learn more at


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