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Break Dancing Bounces Back

April 04, 1999|CHRISTOPHER NOXON

One day while warming up for football practice at Baldwin Park Community Center, coach Sid Segovia decided to dust off a few break-dancing moves he learned as a teenager, all those eons ago at the downtown L.A. club Radiotron.

Segovia got down on the turf and flipped, flopped and twirled, trying to duplicate maneuvers he had picked up while part of a crew called Rock and Ready. When he was done, one of the kids on the team stepped forward to offer a few pointers.

"Here I was, 31 years old, mixing it up with kids from elementary school," Segovia says. "I thought everybody had forgotten about break dancing."

Not quite. It's been more than 25 years since a group of Brooklyn street kids with nicknames like Crazy Legs and Shorty Rock developed a style that combined the athleticism of gymnastic floor exercises with the energy of kung fu.

It's been 15 years since the peak of its popularity, with a feature film, "Breakin'," its sequel ("Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo") and even a breaking routine by a group that included a young Cuba Gooding Jr. during opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Los Angeles.

It's been 10 years since break dancing fell into the cultural trash heap, along with so many leg warmers, pet rocks and Dungeons and Dragons dice.

Sounds like the perfect time for a revival.

In music videos, magazine spreads and nightclub dance floors, so-called b-boys are trading head spins and windmills like it was 1984. The floor is routinely cleared for breaking at such hip-hop clubs as Elements and Gabah and during dance nights at the Silver Lake club Spaceland.

"I'm not surprised at all by the revival," says Spaceland owner Mitchell Frank. "It coincides with the tremendous surge in hip-hop music."

Break dancing appeals mainly to young men, most of whom were barely out of diapers during the early '80s. "I remember when I was in kindergarten, watching guys in my neighborhood spinning on their heads," says Danny Martinez, 20, who designs posters and fliers for b-boy events and videos. "I thought it looked so cool. I never forgot that."

Younger b-boys have put a distinctly '90s spin on the old routines. Dancers once mixed up acrobatics with comic, expressionistic moves like the Smurf Walk and the King Tut. Today, it's all about power. In a move called an "air track," a dancer launches from a push-up position, spins in midair and lands with hands on the floor. Dancers doing a "flair" mimic the motion of a gymnast on a pommel horse, without the benefit of handles or mat.

"It's way more advanced now," says Carlos Menendez, manager of Fat Beats Records, which sells instructional videos as well as break beat vinyl favored by dancers. "There's a lot more strength and power moves. They do stuff that looks just impossible."

To tackle the riskier moves, many b-boys gear up with accessories to avoid the scrapes and scalp rashes that plagued older dancers. "Back in my day, you wouldn't be caught dead in a helmet," says Segovia. "But kids are smarter today."

Now Segovia leads a weekly break-dancing class that frequently draws more than 60 teenagers from as far away as Long Beach, Orange County and San Bernardino. The class has spawned a group called the Omega Break Dancers, made up of six kids and led by Segovia.

"I don't have all the moves I used to," he says. "But I can't tell you how thrilling it is seeing kids get so excited about something like dance. It's a brand-new thing--all over again."

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