After years of effort, Cal Poly has an official breakdancing club: SLO Breakers.
Art and design junior and founding member John Duch was disappointed by the lack of a breakdancing scene when he came to Cal Poly as a freshman. He sought to change that.
“I decided to create this club because I felt like the Central Coast is lacking a huge hip-hop community, comparing it to LA or San Francisco,” Duch said.
Duch quickly found fellow b-boys at Cal Poly. He realized others shared his passion, but they didn’t have a place to come together.
“If I’m here and I have that passion, why not share that passion with everyone else and spread the love of hip-hop and the vibe of the community here?” Duch said.
Duch was involved in the Cal Poly chapter of Hip-Hop Congress before it recently dissolved. Hip-Hop Congress is an international organization aiming to unify hip-hop communities across college and high school campuses.
According to Duch, there are four elements of hip-hop: DJing, MCing, graffiti and breaking. His goal in creating SLO Breakers is to bring the breakdancing element of hip-hop to Cal Poly.
Breaking it down
Breakdancing, commonly known as breaking or b-boying within the community, emerged in the United States in the 1970s.
SLO Breakers member Kevin Sun said the intense energy from a break battle stems from its history.
“Breakdancing was used to settle things in the ghetto without violence, so that’s where the energy of a battle comes from,” Sun, an industrial technologies sophomore, said. “You’re essentially fighting without fighting.”
Breaking can be traced back to the Bronx-based DJ Kool Herc. During one of his house parties, Kool Herc noticed that b-boys, or break boys, would specifically dance during the instrumental breaks in songs. So, he began to repeat these breaks and make them longer. These strings of instrumentals are called “breakbeats” or “breaks.”
Breakers usually follow a formula of different types of moves that make up a combo. A combo typically starts with a top rock, which is a standing dance move. Next, there’s the get-down, which is the transition from your feet to the ground.
Then, the breaker moves to the floor in moves called footwork. After footwork come power moves, which are acrobatic moves often involving spinning. Typically, a breaker will end by holding a pose, which is called a “freeze.”
While hip-hop dancing is mostly choreographed, breakdancing differs in structure. Breakers practice specific moves, but they do not choreograph dances for battles.
“B-boying is made up of a lot of moves, but it’s not necessarily choreographing,” Duch said. “If I were to go in a dance battle, I’m not doing any moves I’ve memorized. I’m just freestyling what I know. I’m picking and choosing each thing and putting it together.”
SLO Breakers member Emma Hanna said she appreciates the spontaneity of breaking. While she enjoys other forms of dance, breaking allows her to let go of the structure in choreographed dance and simply experience the moment.
“Being right then and there is the most raw thing you can give to the entire experience,” business administration freshman Hanna said.
SLO Breakers plans to continue practicing moves during their Wednesday night sessions for the remainder of the quarter. In Fall 2017, they plan on performing at CultureFest on campus.
The club also plans to compete against other California State University and University of California schools in battles as a part of the Unified Collegiate Breaking League.
Though b-boys are not well established in San Luis Obispo, Sun sees potential in the growth of Cal Poly’s hip-hop scene.
“SLO is cool because a lot of people from different places come here and leave their mark in terms of culture,” Sun said. “Say I’m from the [San Francisco] Bay Area, I’m going to bring a little bit of Oakland to San Luis Obispo. That’s essentially what we’re doing.”