Back in 2014, Deepa Singh followed a set routine. Every evening, the Bhayandar resident would sneak out of her home and wait for her sister to throw a pair of clothes and shoes from the window. She’d walk to a school, change into a loose T-shirt, boxy pants and practise breaking – a street dance style that’s part of the four traditional elements of hip-hop including writing (graffiti), MCing and DJing.
This routine lasted for a year until she participated in competitions and showed videos to her parents. “They believed that hip-hop is only meant for boys. Seeing my skills, they realised that I was serious about my career choice,” says Singh, 23, whose stage name is B-Girl FlowRaw. Last year, she represented India at Queen 16, a breaking festival in Germany with participants from Spain, Russia and Korea. “I was among the youngest,” she says.
Singh is part of a small but growing tribe of B-Girls in India who are breaking stereotypes associated with the style, adapting it with an Indian context and turning trailblazers in their own right.
The rising tribe
The origin of breaking goes back to the USA of 1970s, but India’s first generation of breakers was born in the early and mid-2000s, says Singh. The current scene in India is populated by about 30 B-Girls, mainly from the metros. “On the contrary, there are at least 600 B-Boys in India. Our count, however, has increased from the time I started,” says Bengaluru-based Johanna Rodrigues aka B-Girl Jo, 23. When she began breaking five years ago, “there weren’t more than three girls in a competition”.
She attributes the rise in the numbers to the representation of hip-hop in popular culture (films like Step Up and recently, Gully Boy), the growth in underground jams by local B-Boying crews and global platforms like Red Bull BC One, currently in its fifth edition in India. It’s a one-on-one breaking competition where B-Boys and B-Girls battle it out for the title of India champion, who then participates in the world final.
This year, for the first time, two India champions will be selected at the national stage – a B-Boy and a B-Girl. They will be chosen from among the finalists emerging out of cyphers in North (Delhi and Jalandhar), East (Guwahati and Kolkata), South (Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai) and West (Mumbai and Pune) zones. The Mumbai cypher took place on April 10. The India final will be held on April 13. The world final – coming to India for the first time – is slated in November.
B-Girl Narumi from Japan, visiting India for the first time as one of the judges in the competition, takes stock of the global scenario, “I’ve been on the scene for 19 years. In my opinion, some people are still not used to seeing girls breaking and maybe don’t accept it. But things are changing and B-Girls are being recognised a lot more.”
Breaking the stereotypes
In India, many women shy away from breaking due to its gruelling nature, says Singh. Every move – from a simple freeze where you halt your movements to backflips – is physically demanding. “It takes a year to perfect the basics,” adds Rodrigues. “Initially, both boys and girls look awkward dancing but it’s usually the girls who feel more out of place. This builds up the pressure and they quit.”
For the B-Girls, breaking is not just about competing but a journey of self-expression and self-exploration. “Breaking has boosted my confidence, helping me stand out in my professional career,” says Navi Mumbai resident Amita Vighe, 27, an IT engineer who has been moonlighting as B-Girl Amy since 2009.
Rodrigues adds Bharatanatyam mudras and Kalaripayattu movements to her performances. “The best part about breaking is that you can develop your own style with Indian context,” she says. There’s less rivalry and more bonding among the artistes as they foster the B-Girl community through WhatsApp groups and jams. Early this year, when Rodrigues won a competition against a B-Boy from Mumbai, she received messages from female breakers from across India. “It was a victory for all of us,” she concludes.
The Red Bull BC One Cypher India will take place on April 13, 5.30 p.m. onwards at Bandra Amphitheatre. To block your seat, log on to redbull.in/bcone