Break it and make it: Escaping restraints through 'Breaking'

By Anjani Chadha| Published: 03rd July 2022 08:50 AM
Vivek Nainwal mid -performance

It was in early 2008 that Dakshinpuri-resident Vivek Nainwal saw a group of dancers practising—he mentions he thought it was hip-hop—in a park located near his home. The dancers were spinning on the floor, standing on their heads, and performing movements such as air-flares. The sight of these dancers levitating left Nainwal awestruck. “[Performing] Breaking was equivalent to being a superhero,” he comments. Intrigued by the dance form, Nainwal started reading about it and decided to meet other dancers.

With the popularity of YouTube, the 26 year old was glued to the digital screen, watching videos of dancers from around the world engaging with breaking. It did not take a lot of time for Nainwal to adopt this dance form—breaking is one of the four elements of hip hop culture—that he now proudly calls the “purpose” of his life. “I don’t think I chose breaking; breaking chose me,” shares Nainwal, who currently conducts regular breaking classes in Defence Colony.

An athletic and improvisational street dance form, breaking originated in New York City during the 1960s and 70s. It is believed that the dance form (while it was formerly called breakdancing in pop culture, currently the term is considered incorrect and sometimes offensive) gained prominence in India only in early 2000s, precisely with the advent and easy access to the internet that exposed people to international B-boys (male breaking dancers) and B-girls (female breaking dancers). The earliest generation of Indian dancers skilled in breaking mostly comprises self-learners who have perfected the movies by watching others on the internet. 

A form of self-expression

Breaking is not what it used to be two decades ago. The dance form has formed a subculture of its own especially in Delhi. One will find breakers performing in public spaces every now and then. Local breaking jam sessions are held almost every weekend in city spaces such as Dilli Haat, etc. Apart from that, international events such as Red Bull BC One—a Boy and B-Girl competition—takes place annually. In fact, in 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave a nod to this vibrant dance form as a ‘provisional sport’ for the 2024 Summer Games that will take place in Paris.

Apart from being a “stylish and expressive dance form”, embracing breaking has helped many young individuals create a path to escape poverty, oppressive caste-class structure, and other similar restraints. Ashif Khan, founder of the Delhi Breaking Culture—a pro bono platform through which he teaches and provides tips and tricks on breaking to slum children—recalls how the dance form “saved him”.

“Many around me took to violence, drugs, and other negative things. Breaking gave me an identity of my own. I got a lot of appreciation and love. I got many platforms to perform and also make a living,” shares the 25 year old, who has previously worked with KHOJ, International Artists' Association, Khirkee Extension and is currently teaching breaking to young children in his hometown, West Bengal. “This dance form helped me, and I want others like me to escape too.”

An evolving equal space

Globally, several B-girls are changing the face of this dance form. In India, the entry of girls to the breaking scene has been rather slow. Priyanka Gupta (26), popularly known as B-girl Spark in the homegrown breaking realm, explains that families are not comfortable with letting girls learn the dance, which is why the gender gap.

“When I started, I did not tell my parents. Later, as my father came to know, he just said, ‘you either get to come home or dance’. I chose breaking,” mentions the Uttam Nagar resident. Her neighbour, Shruti Sharma (25), also a B-girl, chimes in and concludes, “The dance form is taxing. One needs strength, a lot of hard work. It is believed that girls are not as strong, but this is slowly changing."

Tags : Breaking Dance Artform

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