A Lesson In Breaking

The Temple Breakers

By Amelia Martinez

Before social distancing was implemented, I went to a Breaking workshop hosted by the Temple Breakers on campus. This week-long event had many movement sessions and lectures by leaders in the breaking field. The Temple Breakers is a student organization on campus that meet in Mitten Hall to build community together through the learning of Breaking technique. You can find the Temple Breakers on Owl Connect: https://temple.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/templebreakers

One of the speakers at this event, Kwikstep, challenged me to think about the lineage of the dance. He spoke about how we as dancers need to orient ourselves within the lineage and history of the dancers and dance form before us, instead of just trying to learn the tricks in the movement. The lessons need to be learned with a respect for the development of the form and the meanings behind it all. Hip Hop was not meant to just be a movement independent from the music but an integrated pairing that, at its start, was a voice of social protest. In this, the aesthetics of cool in Breaking can be examined and understood by the lineage. This gives respect to the history and meaning beyond the perceived aesthetic. Lineage seems to be a powerful value of Breaking that the dancers in this club hold onto. This is one of the reasons they dance this form of movement, because they connect to it in a deeper historical and meaningful context beyond that “it looks cool” or “it’s fun”. Granted, Breaking does look cool and is fun; but the people who really invest in this technique and go far in the field are the ones who take the time to care about the lineage. It is the placing of their own identities within that lineage that carry forth the future of Breaking.

During one of their movement workshops I was able to observe the technique and community environment of the organization. There were various students and local professionals in attendance, and even our very own Dr. Sherril Dodds, who is the faculty advisor to the Temple Breakers, participated in the workshop! The class started off with a group warm up follow-the-leader style around the room, doing various cardio and non-static stretches. The class had various levels, so there were moments in learning the beginner Top Rocks and Side Steps one-on-one while the intermediate/advanced students were in the middle doing an introductory Cypher.

It seems to be an inclusive and inviting atmosphere for people in their movement journey to grow together. After this they learn to Stack, focusing on the proper placement of the body to build up to a Freeze that can be performed in the final Cypher practice. Three groups form of Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, and they take turns practicing their Stack in a half-circle format where the dancer can be encouraged from the dancers around them. After the buildup of the Freeze, they take a moment to shake it all out as a group while the President of the organization, Renaissance Ray, tells a story of the Iron T-Shirt. Renaissance Ray leads everyone in a slapping massage of their limbs to “break out the damage from walking all day” and then encourages all to wipe the tension all off, leaving them renewed. Finally, everyone comes together in a circle to take turns in the center performing their newfound skills while the group energetically cheers them on.

In speaking with one of the dancers during the class, he said that he had been training in breaking since he was fifteen. He keeps coming back to these sessions because of the community and understands that it is more than just the initial strength and shapes but about the people he is here to grow with.

Some words of advice from Renaissance Ray, the club president, to beginners in Hip Hop and Breaking is: Know what you are getting into, it is high impact, but you grow more as a person than just in body. It is a self-exploration beyond physical boundaries as you invest in the lineage and history of the dance as a form of communication and community. You may find your identity as part of the rewards you reap through the blood, sweat, and tears that you and the people before you have shed. It is an “Each one, Teach one” mentality that passes the knowledge and lineage to the next dancer, but first, you must Reach one (Kwikstep’s words). 

To advanced dancers Renaissance Ray says: “Know what your goals are, who you are, and what role you play. Not everyone can be the superstar”. This reminds me that all parts in this community are valuable in building and carrying that movement history to the next generation.

So, if you want to go to the Temple Breakers to dance with them in the new academic year, let me know and I will go with you!! Together we can embark on this community journey and find new strength within it. I don’t know about you, but after this season of isolation, I will need some positive community to grow with! Why not let it be with the Temple Breakers?

Amelia Martinez MFA in Dance Student

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