LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Russia and Korea confirmed themselves as some of the most stylish break-dancers in the world by coming first and second in the coveted B-Boy world championships in London this month.
The East, led by Russia and Korea, has taken break-dance from the West, where it was developed in New York in the late 1970s, and made it their own by adding a distinctly creative Eastern style of spinning and contorting hip-hop dance routines.
At one point in the final, the Russian dancers formed a human ramp to somersault one of their crew high into the air before landing straight into a dance routine, where he grooved on his hands and feet to the sounds of funk music.
“It’s part of Asia, part of Europe. It’s Russian style,” said Maxime Shakhov, known as B-Boy Simpson, who, along with his crew, Top 9, defeated the Taekwondo enhanced dance skills of the Koreans to become the world champions.
But the loudest and most ecstatic shouts of appreciation went to 10-year-old Briton Karam Singh, known as Kid Karam, who spent several minutes concealed in a rucksack on the back of a team mate who went through an entire dance routine before Karam jumped out and went straight into a dance set.
The “Kid” strode up and taunted his Korean opponents, all with toned muscular bodies and towering in front of him, while the 5,000-strong crowd roared with delight and surprise.
But the night belonged to the Russians, who faced down crews from Korea, Japan, Britain, the United States and Europe in what are known as “battles,” to win the championships.
Crews stand across the stage from each other and take turns to try and dance better than their opponents, either individually or in synchronized routines, using taunting gestures and mock violence against their rivals.
At one point during the competition, the host, Richard Colon, known as Crazy Legs, one of the original break-dancers from the Bronx based Rock Steady dance crew, stopped the music and told the B-Boys to calm down after a Russian B-Boy narrowly missed kicking another contestant in the head.
This aggressive and cheeky creative style is what distinguishes Russia from crews such as Korea, which, along with Japan and China have transferred the discipline and power of martial arts training into jaw dropping break-dance moves.
The Russians, for their part, have invented their own routines which are recognized as distinctly Russian, including a hip-hop variation on the traditional cross-armed cross-legged Cossack dance, taken from Russian folk dance.
This is referred to by B-Boys as “the Russian.”
“I don’t how they do it but when Top 9 dance, it comes out Russian,” said B-Boy Hooch, the organizer of the event, who declined to give his real name.
Russia has been developing its style since the early 1980s when break-dancers were arrested for anti-Soviet propaganda and encouraging American culture.
In isolation from the West, they first developed a carbon copy of the hammed-up style they saw in 1980s break-dance movies that they managed to swap with tourists for Soviet souvenirs.
They no longer need to copy anyone.
Koreans have also developed their own distinct variations. They have, for example, changed a traditional “windmill,” which involves using straight legged momentum to do a continuous back-spin ,into “Lotus Mills,” which involve pulling off the same move but in the Buddhist cross legged position, making it much more difficult.
“Every single culture, no matter where they go, they bring a little bit of their heritage to the dance,” said Loga Howard from the U.S., known as DJ Element, who was the disc jockey for the event.
Political and economic difficulties still pose problems for Russian break-dancers and it is only in the past few years that they have begun to make their name on the international scene.
The sharp contrast in the standard of living and disposable income means that Russians can often only travel abroad to compete if they’re invited and their expenses are paid.
Break-dancing has been surging in popularity in Eastern countries since the late 1990s and the appearance of break-dance on entertainment channels.
In Russia, break-dancing has a small but very dedicated following, whereas in Korea, B-Boying is a cultural phenomenon. Korea has a much greater volume of world competition standard B-Boys than Russia and has won the UK B-Boy world championships more than any other nation since its first victory in 2002.
“It’s almost a national obsession out there,” said B-Boy Hooch, the organizer of the UK B-Boy world championships, who spends six months a year traveling across the world organizing qualifiers, including in Korea.
Charles Glenn , known as Afrika Islam, who hosted the event and is one of the original “old-school” B-Boys who invented the dance 30 years ago, said he still saw the same raw aggressive dance he pioneered, just with a few extra moves.
“Once you step into the ring, I mean it’s the same thing; it’s skill. Bring the heat. It doesn’t change,” he said.
“Long live hip-hop.”
Editing by Paul Casciato