This article is from 2007.
Think breakdancing died out in the 80s? Think again, says Mark Edmundson as he talks to Benson Lee, the writer-director of Planet B-boy which charts its epic resurgence
Most of us are familiar with breakdancing as a form of street dance now adopted by iPod commercials and pop videos as a shortcut to hip hop cool, but the phenomenon started out as ‘b-boying’, an integral part of hip hop’s holy trinity alongside graffiti and the musical innovations of DJs and MCs. After garnering acclaim for 1998’s unflinching social drama, Miss Monday, Canadian-born Korean-American writer-director-producer Benson Lee has turned his camera towards this resurgent movement and the b-boy teams who converge on Braunschweig, Germany for the b-boying Battle of the Year.
‘B-boying is a street dance that originated out of the gang culture of New York City in the early 70s,’ explains Lee. ‘At that time the gangs developed gestures that emulated fights and applied it to the music of the times, which was soul and rock. For this reason the dance was originally called rockin’. As it spread throughout the boroughs, the dancers eventually took the dance to the floor and it became known as b-boying.’
After coming to the attention of the world through feature films such as Flashdance, b-boying went back underground only to mature and re-emerge in recent times as a breathtaking acrobatic art form of unparalleled athleticism and artistry. Having chanced upon an online video, Lee’s love for the movement knows no bounds.
‘B-boying is the most original dance in the world,’ says Lee. ‘The form can borrow from any other dance, sport, martial arts or movies just as long as you apply “b-boy flavour” in the approach and execution of the moves; a certain type of aggressiveness and attitude that shows off the b-boy dancer as a warrior and joker in the battle.’
While bristling with the energy of this confounding bodily expression, Planet B-boy, like the Sundance Grand Jury-nominated Miss Monday (which challenged the stereotyping of individuals on the basis of appearance) also entertains a higher ambition. It uses the long road to Braunschweig as a means of opening a window on the lives of the young men who devote themselves to and sacrifice so much for the form.
‘My goal was to express culture, social issues and personal issues through the context of b-boying and to show that this is not a sub-culture but a very important element in a global youth culture,’ continues Lee, the driving force behind Mondo Paradiso Films NYC, which promotes cross-cultural understanding. ‘I wanted to show that hip hop culture is not about the images being perpetrated by the media as a subversive, violent youth culture. This is the furthest thing from the truth for the people who have devoted their lives to it.’
Lee’s camera follows the personal trials of b-boy teams from Japan, Korea, France and the USA as they prepare for and compete in this b-boying world cup. We meet a 12-year-old white b-boy in France whose racist mother is uncomfortable with his black teammates; a boy in Japan finding solace in the artform after the death of his dad; and a Korean father and son who find themselves initially at odds but later brought together through the dance.
Lee has now become one of the dance’s foremost advocates. ‘The Battle of the Year is unique because it focuses on the choreographed show element that requires b-boys to focus on the theatricality as opposed to the raw battle. This is an important component for the culture to show the dance world that b-boying is not just a group of street dancers rolling around on the ground, and that it ranks right up there with any other dance form.’
The screening will be followed by a breakers convention with competitors from Australia, Jamaica, Ireland and the UK stepping into the ring with the Last For 1, the Korean crew who feature in the film.
Planet B-boy, Filmhouse, Lothian Road, 0131 228 2688, 18 Aug, 1.50pm, prices start from £6.50 (£4.55).