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A Message from a Student

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Some people are natural dancers and others look like me, but I show up to the Bboy Factory every week because I’ve convinced myself that anyone who does anything well has at some point done it poorly. There’s no way around it, there are no shortcuts. I’ve tried.

On Sunday afternoons the music already vibrates when I walk through the door. My glasses come off before class begins so I squint to see myself in the mirror. My knee pads slide on and I wear a padded beanie to protect my head. Breakin is a warrior dance, and this is my armor.

There are no right and wrong ways to interpret the moves we practice. Ian says if there are five breakers on the floor, there are five different stories to tell, so there’s complete freedom to figure out what your individual contribution to the dance will be. I don’t know mine yet. That’s why I arrive to class with the same excited anticipation a third grader has when they know the recess bell is about to ring.

Ian and the other teachers at the Bboy Factory have been perfecting their craft for 20 or 30 years, dedicating their lives to this artform. They’re what you call “OGs.” You can see the experience and wisdom in their demeanor. You can almost internalize their effortless ability to teach technical skills – top rocks, power moves, footwork – like building muscle memory through osmosis.

I’m in year two, the training-wheel phase. I’m what you call a “no G.”

I tried the advanced classes at the Bboy Factory, and I’ve never spent so much time upside down. I was jealous how these young kids contorted their bodies in a manner I was sure would end their night, just to see them bounce back to their feet, smiling, ready to do it again. I don’t have that luxury anymore, so I rely on my armor and a reminder that if I’m the best breaker in the room, I’m in the wrong room.

Painted on one wall in the studio is the Bboy Factory Code of Conduct. The first code says Respect the Culture. One day I asked Ian what that means to him, and I even prefaced the question with, “I’m sure you can talk about this for hours and I want to respect your time, so a CliffsNotes answer is fine.” He appreciated the question, and it was apparent he’s spent his career deeply considering the topic. There was no intention of giving a shortened response.

The conversation fascinated me; Bboy Factory history, Ian’s upbringing, what it means to him as “a guest within the culture” to acknowledge and preserve and promote it authentically.

I wanted to learn more and share it with other people, so I pitched the idea to the editor of Westword, something I had never done before. They saw the same potential in the story as I did, and they accepted the pitch. Real recognize real.

Something I learned while writing the article was that the business aspect of the Bboy Factory is secondary. Ian prioritizes people and art and creativity. That’s where his effort and focus flows, and the business follows. It’s what I admire most about what he’s been able to accomplish, and as a student, it’s a pleasure to see and experience.

Above all, he cares about teaching. Nothing is phoned in; Ian wants to be the best. He’s taught me to be uninhibited with my gracelessness while he balances confidence with humility and patience. He sprinkles history and physics lessons into class, Picasso metaphors too, and a deep knowledge of hip hop culture to compliment the movements.

The Bboy Factory community and camaraderie is hard to find elsewhere. In one place; mind, body, soul, no holds barred expression, and a welcome reminder to leave my comfort zone at home. It’s something I’ll never take for granted.

It’s the end of class and we’re Breakin in a cypher. It’s a vulnerable state, like a hermit crab in between shells. There’s no time to be self-conscious; there’s only time to tell your story, even if it’s a rough draft.

I’m in a flow state. Nothing outside the circle exists when I slide into the center of the floor under the spotlight. I’m moving faster than I can think, trying to pat-my-head-and-rub-my-belly at the same time. I spin on my back, fumble my footwork, and try to play it off, laughing out loud at myself. I’m changing levels and directions, leaving sweat and fingerprints all over the Bboy Factory logo.

I finish my set with a freeze and exit the circle with as much style as I’ve soaked up the past two years. My heart bounces off my chest. I clap to the beat of the next breaker, feeling fulfilled, artistic, accomplished, supported, and I leave the studio wondering if I’ll have enough energy left to make dinner.

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