Keep­ing step with hip-hop

As the city gears up to host the na­tional fi­nals of a hip-hop dance com­pe­ti­tion, it’s time to ask whether mu­sic has over­shad­owed dance when it comes to this emerg­ing sub-cul­ture


ONE Man Army House is a non­de­script build­ing that is lo­cated at the far end of a by­lane close to Fun Repub­lic in And­heri West. That’s where we headed three Sun­days ago to check out the Mum­bai au­di­tions of Shuf­fle, a na­tional plat­form that gives hip-hop dancers a chance to show­case their moves. It was a snap lo­cat­ing the venue once we en­tered the by­lane. A group of young­sters with turnedaround caps and baggy clothes were milling about out­side the main gate. An­other bunch was lost in se­ri­ous con­cen­tra­tion in a bal­cony vis­i­ble from the road, prac­tis­ing their steps be­fore their names were called out. “This is it,” we told our­selves af­ter notic­ing these tell­tale signs. And so we reg­is­tered as an au­di­ence mem­ber and shoved open a large wooden door to en­ter the per­for­mance area.

Once in­side, we found our­selves in a to­tally dif­fer­ent world. Over 150 peo­ple had formed a cir­cle in the room, leav­ing space in the mid­dle empty for the dancers. Three judges were seated at a ta­ble lined against a wall. And an MC read out two names at a time, with both peo­ple start­ing a dance­off that lasted roughly five min­utes, and which in­volved typ­i­cal hip-hop moves such as twerks, hand­stands, freezes and spins. It was a scene that could have been straight out of a movie like the 2006 Chan­ning Ta­tum-star­rer Step Up. Ex­cept, this was And­heri, and all the per­form­ers were 20-some­thing de­sis from Mum­bai.

Moves in the city

The same scene was also play­ing out in an­other room on the first floor, and the level of pro­fi­ciency on dis­play left us, at least, gob-smacked. These were no am­a­teurs. In­stead, they had ev­i­dently trained hard at their craft, be­cause it wouldn’t be pos­si­ble oth­er­wise to pull off the in­cred­i­bly tricky moves, like head­spins for ex­am­ple. So it made us think. It’s fair game to say that hip-hop mu­sic has found a de­gree of main­stream cre­dence in In­dia, af­ter DIVINE and Naezy broke through in 2014. It led to gully gangs and other re­gional rap crews emerg­ing from the shad­ows across the na­tion. But hip-hop cul­ture is not re­stricted to mu­sic alone. In fact, it’s in­com­plete with­out break-danc­ing, which was an in­trin­sic part of the cul­ture in New York’s Bronx in the 1970s, which is where the hip-hop move­ment took birth and spread glob­ally, there­after. So, if we are to co-opt that same cul­ture in an In­dian con­text, what sort of a push are we giv­ing these dancers com­pared to the cor­po­rate sup­port that mu­si­cians have re­ceived? Are we do­ing enough to en­sure that they, too, have the con­fi­dence to pur­sue break-dance as a ca­reer? Or are they be­ing left by the way­side even as the mighty Bol­ly­wood in­dus­try gets ready to screen Gully Boy, a movie on hip-hop mu­sic in Mum­bai?

Break­ing out

It’s a thought we put be­fore Ro­hit Gaik­wad aka Lil Rohn, one of the judges for Shuf­fle’s re­gional au­di­tions, who’s been a pro­fes­sional dancer for a decade now. And he tells us that, firstly, the roots of B-boy­ing — as hip-hop break-danc­ing is called — grew si­mul­ta­ne­ously in the late noughties with the un­der­ground rap move­ment. “Back in 2009, we had only about 150 to 200 break dancers in Mum­bai. But then in 2010, an en­ergy drink brand brought down four of the finest in­ter­na­tional B-boys to Mum­bai, and sud­denly the num­ber grew to over thou­sand. The scene got a fur­ther fil­lip when a group of dancers from the UK came down a year later. But by 2012-13, the re­al­isa-

Au­di­tions be­ing held for Shuf­fle; (right) Jo­hanna Ro­drigues aka B-Girl Jo

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