Break It Down @ Mac

By Shasta Webb

As I stood at the back of the dance studio, the breakdance instructor, Mr. Slim, called for the group to circle up. Each person entered the circle in turn to practice rotating handstand-like moves called carousels. Mr. Slim observed every member’s attempt, giving advice or praise when necessary. All 25 or so attendees, eager to learn the intricate and difficult art of breakdancing, wouldn’t have been in the Leonard Center studio practicing complicated moves if it weren’t for James “Flo” Zhou ’13. Zhou brought his passion for b-boy dancing (breakdancing’s true name) to Macalester last semester.

Zhou first became interested in b-boy dancing a couple of years ago after seeing some impressive YouTube videos. He really began to learn the art of b-boying while volunteering with an NGO called Tiny Toones in Cambodia last summer.

The organization is dedicated to offering a sanctuary for young people living on the streets. Tiny Toones works to promote healthy, substance-free lifestyles for Cambodian teens and helps them become roll models for their communities largely through the incorporation of breakdancing. Zhou hopes to return this summer to work as a live-in volunteer.

When Zhou came to Mac last semester, he immediately began a breakdance club, and knowledge about it spread quickly. By winter break, Zhou had managed to get a charter for the club, which allowed him to bring in a professional instructor that he met at the breakdance battle Mac held in the fall. Phil Cole, known as Mr. Slim to his students, is a talented Twin Cities b-boy who teaches breakdancing in his spare time.

Zhou said the most difficult part of breakdancing is sticking with it. Describing it as a “long, incremental process,” Zhou explained that the most important advice he could give to those interested in breakdancing is that anyone can do it, but you really have to want to do it and stay dedicated.

One of the students, Harry Kent ’13, said “it seems terrifying at first, but once you get in there it gets so addicting that you keep trying and trying to get it.”

Other students seemed to feel the same way as they repeated every move at least 10 times.

When I asked Zhou why he liked b-boy dancing so much, he said that “it makes you feel alive.” According to Zhou, breakdancing originated in Bronx during the socio-economic crisis of the 1970s. Gang violence escalated and young people got increasingly involved.

B-boy dancing emerged as a way for people to battle non-violently and overcome personal barriers. Individuals would challenge one another to breakdance battles to solve disputes, which in turn pushed them to focus on creating better dance moves instead of focusing on violence. Tiny Toones in Cambodia has taken this tradition and channeled it toward helping the youth in that country.

Zhou hopes to continue the breakdancing club for all four years that he’s here, and then to pass it down to the next generation of Mac students.

Zhou is open to answering any questions about b-boy dancing and encourages anyone interested to email [email protected] The group meets in the Leonard Center on Mondays from 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm, Fridays from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, and Saturdays from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm.