It’s a Monday night at Snug Harbor’s weekly event, Knocturnal and a crowd is anxiously gathered horseshoe-shaped around the stage. But the action is not on the stage; it’s spinnin’, rockin’ and kickin’ on the floor in front of them, as b-boys & b-girls get down with the power, intensity, grace and swag.
interview by erin tracy-blackwood // photographs by shamus coneys, austin caine + lovofoto
Arecent and raging renaissance g-kicked the Charlotte-area b-boy culture something serious. New dancers emerged, new loyalties spawned, and new alliances with national organizations formed. A weekly night show windmilled the craft honing, competition, and show offs to eager audiences. Promoters rolled regional competitions to b-boys’ doorsteps on the regular. Dance studios called, demanding they teach their budding little b-boys all their best moves. And the beat don’t stop.
Stories are told of converting kitchens and dining rooms into practice spaces, and sleeping 10 deep in a single hotel room to battle at an out-of-state jam. Like most counter-culture art forms, breakdancing isn’t lucrative, and like most artists, these dancers aren’t driven by the potential for monetary wealth.
So why do they do it?
For some, it flares in the blood. Fellow 19-year-old Matt Sanchez has already made a name for himself, but it’s still a name driving him to perform – his father’s. “I just met him, so I gotta impress him,” he says. “People in the Bronx know his name, and I have to live up to that.” His father was an original New York b-boy. “A friend showed me an old video one day called Bronx Breakmasters and my mom was in it, with a man. She was like, ‘that’s your dad!’ It’s the only time I ever saw the two of them together,” he says. But they were always bound by the breaks.
Others are hungry to learn at a young age, and never lose that appetite. Teacher and pioneer of the Charlotte b-boy scene 2.0, Tron has been dancing for 16 years. California-born, he grew up in the ‘80s watching his uncle and films like Breakin’ and Beat Street. After spending years with his crew in San Diego, Tron decided a move to Charlotte was in order.
“I always heard about people going to a new scene and starting over,” he says. “When I came here the skill level was behind San Diego. I think just being here and sharing my knowledge with a select few has really helped grow the scene.”
“Scenes flip over – old cats stop dancing and new ones come in. That rebirth is going on in Charlotte right now. I want to bring the culture to the kids instead of them maybe, or maybe not, finding it on their own. These days, they study YouTube for years before ever even coming out. I’m trying to give them a real world place to start.”
That ‘start’ comes midway through another path for some. B-girl Leah credits Tron with bringing the culture to her. Although the kids in her Michigan elementary school would battle at recess, she never learned any moves from them. It was her college instructor who suggested she attend the annual battle at the Breakfast Club and it was there she met Tron and several other b-boys who took her under their wing and taught her not just dance moves, but the history that went along with them. “It gave me more respect for the art,” she says. “It’s an ocean of different historical puzzle pieces, deeper than I ever imagined.”
Dance became her primary focus soon after. She began battling for the confidence she needed to get into a cypher like the ones at Knocturnal.
In a cypher I was too nervous to get out there, but in a battle I had no choice. Eventually I lost all my inhibitions.
“When you see a really great dancer expressing their style, you can tell who they are. Dance is helping me discover that about myself,” she says.
While some discover, some use it as a way to get lost. “Sometimes dancing helps me vent my frustrations, and sometimes it makes them all just melt away,” says Lauren, at two months in. “I’m working really hard to get to a battling level and be given a b-girl name.”
For the reasons behind their passions and the different roads that led them here, these dancers all share a common chord – community, and it is evident every time you see them. They are always together, always cheering each other on, always down to help each another. They’ve built a strong foundation for this art form in Charlotte with power moves – and won’t stop rockin’ it.