Elements of Hip Hop promotes culture on campus
They whirl and twirl, jump and jive and pirouette with balletic grace on the tops of their heads and the crooks of their arms.
They call themselves b-boys and b-girls, and here at UCF, their home is the Elements of Hip Hop, a registered student organization dedicated to promoting the many faces of hip-hop culture — dance, freestyling, graffiti art and more — in the Orlando community.
"A b-boy is someone who is a child of hip-hop culture," said Tuyen Le, a senior marketing major and the club's former vice president. "If you're in love with the culture, if you're supporting the culture, then you're a b-boy. We break the hip-hop culture down into these elements: We have the dancing portion of it, the graffiti art portion of it, the DJ portion of it and the MC writer of it — the rappers and stuff."
The name "b-boy" derives from the term "break boy," a dancer who performs a style of highly acrobatic ground-based movement, known as breaking or break dancing.
The "break" component of the name refers to a moment in a musical composition that is sampled or looped multiple times.
Breaking is an art in which a dancer performs a series of four major maneuvers — toprock, downrock, power moves and freezes — while their hands or backs are rooted to the ground.
Onten See, a Toronto-based breaker, performs with the international dance crew Supernaturalz.
He performs in competitions, known as jams, which pit members of different dance groups, called crews, against one another.
"I think of myself as an artist or an athlete," See said. "I practice like it's a 9-to-5 job, eight hours every day.
"Doing [breaking] for a living is really hard. You have to invest in your reputation, to put your name on the line and show what you've got. You meet these people [at jams] from all over the world, which is really inspiring."
The stress on flexibility and groundwork means that breaking takes a toll on the body.
See said he currently has four repetitive stress injuries and that many breakers he knows are currently nursing injuries of their own.
"One of the limiting factors for b-boys is flexibility or joint problems," said Tu Le, a UCF alumnus and member of the club. "There are classes and stuff now, but people who got started when they were really young don't know proper stretching or warm-up techniques. We try to teach that here at the beginning of each practice. We spend 30 minutes dancing around and stretching before we start."
Hae-Yuan Chang, a junior biotechnology major and the club's current president, emphasized the communal aspects of the art.
"My really good friends are through this club, at school and in life," Chang said. "You see these people at events all throughout Orlando. You see them all the time.
"It's definitely made me a better dancer, and it's made me a more positive person overall. The whole mission of hip-hop is about positivity, which is something that everyone should know."
Bernard Wilchusky is Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @facilesweater or email him at BernardW@CentralFloridaFuture.com.