Giving the young a break: how dancing helps empower poorer communities

Pictures: Kenichi Images

For most people, breakdancing tends to conjure up images of urban young people performing elaborate body movements in public places. But breaking, as it’s more commonly known now, is also having a positive impact in some of Scotland’s poorest communities.

Chaz Bonnar, aka Chaz B, who teaches children in areas of Glasgow like Maryhill and Anniesland, says interest in the street dance is growing.

He says: “A few years ago there were a couple of events a year at most held in Scotland. This year, we have nine, ranging from battles to showcased performances. Now, with more and people teaching and a lot of kids getting into it, the numbers suggest there will be a few more crews in the next few years.”

Recognised as one of the ‘five elements’ of hip hop culture, breaking was first popularised by Black and Latino youth in New York during the mid 1970s.

In 2014, Chaz was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust grant to travel across America and research its positive benefits on young people from deprived backgrounds.

He says: “It was designed as a means of expressing yourself. I’ve found it’s an amazing way to feel empowered and improve self-confidence. It’s about going off and releasing the energy that you have. I believe a lot of my teaching helps solve the needs of young people within local communities. Kids in these areas lack self-esteem, they don’t have many friends, they’re not integrated in their community, and they need a form of release.”

As well as teaching, Chaz organises the Resurgence breaking events multiple times a year. This weekend, Resurgence hosted 1 v 1 battles between dancers as part of the Yardworks Festival in Glasgow.

These face-offs might seem aggressive or confrontational to those not familiar with breaking, but b-boy Dmitrij Čechov, aka Deeman, of the Flyin’ Jalapenos crew, believes such events are an essential way for young breakers to develop.

He says: “Hip hop is about love and empowerment but it’s also about proving yourself. It’s not this culture where, like, mean people go at each other – some people want to battle, others prefer the social side. Doing either or both is cool.

“It’s not like other dances because there’s more freestyling, there’s less choreographed stuff and there’s no barrier to entry. I grew up with a lot of anxiety issues, but I feel like a completely different person when I dance. It’s freedom.”

Although equal access is seen as a fundamental principle of hip hop, a majority of performers are male. But Dmitrij, who himself teaches young people in Shettleston, says there’s a new generation of b-girls getting involved.

He says: “Shettleston is a rough area to teach in and it’s a lot of work to motivate young people, but there’s definitely a mix. I actually find it’s mostly girls that come along to my classes at the moment as they like that it’s a dance, but it changes on any given day.

“The most intimidating aspect for kids is technique. You have to learn to tone it down. Once that mindset is ready, then it’s like any other dance. It’s about co-ordination. You start getting the patterns and then you start making your own stuff up.”

The promotion of breaking as a constructive initiative in local communities is becoming more accepted. Resurgence is developing partnerships with local authorities and youth organisations for its next Glasgow event on July 2.

However, Chaz believes a lot more can be done by both authorities and local activists to ensure breaking continues to be utilised in a positive way.

He says: “Hip hop is seen as coming from struggle and there’s a prevalent us v them mentality. Sometimes we lack the desire to collaborate and integrate to make this more widespread. I’ll turn up to meetings in a suit and they’ll not expect it because people have this image of what hip hop should be. People of influence need to realise hip hop’s potential to positively impact people’s health and wellbeing.

“Just as rapping helps literacy, dancing helps physically and emotionally. When these people see hip hop serves a bigger purpose, hopefully they’ll advocate for it because it makes a big difference in these communities.”

You can find out more about Resurgence and the work they do here


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