It has been a few days since I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I am sitting in the back of a song tao choking on diesel exhaust as I wait impatiently for the light to change. Minutes later I am walking through the doors of Airport Plaza Mall where I have heard, through the grapevine, that local bboys go to practice on weekdays. Oldschool De La Soul is blasting in my ears and my heart accelerates noticeably as I ascend the escalator two steps at a time. I’m giddy. I can feel the adrenaline opening up through my veins. 4th floor, across from some Wild West themed restaurant with immaculately constructed Thai waitresses I find them. A group of young men, some sitting and stretching, others working their way through the beats blaring from a ghetto blaster on the lying nearby on the floor. I have to work hard to contain the elation exuding from the idiotic grin now stamped on my face. I approach, nod a stoic greeting to those interested enough acknowledge the presence approaching farang, throw down my bag, and begin to stretch.
It has been a little over 5 years since seriously began my love affair with Bboying (also known as break dancing to those of you who think the last person to spin on their head disintegrated in a cloud of smoke along with bright red ADIDAS track suits and the merciful end of Reagan’s last term of office). My education began at after school clubs, local YMCA’s, and the linoleum lined basements of my buddies back home in Montreal. In Montreal I had my crew. We battled. We won. We lost, and along the way I learned a great deal about self-confidence, creativity, and the art of crowd performance. In Montreal, I became a member of the Bboying community, a conglomeration of friends and acquaintances all united by their love of the dance. But what I didn’t fully realize at the time was that the community into which I had entered did not end at the shores of the St. Lawrence, its roots and influence extended far beyond, in fact, they extend across the entire world. I became aware of full implications of this fact when I started traveling. After a university exchange to England, romance (which came in the form of cute French girl named Elia) led me to the city of Paris for some months. Elia went to work, and I went to practice. I learned a lot from the bboys in Paris. I learned about French hip hop and French Bboying. But most importantly, I learned about the bboys. I learned about their lives, who they were, and where they had come from. In Paris, a city like so many, unofficially divided along lines of rich and poor, minority and majority, there existed a community that transcended any such distinctions. The bboys were all friends, black, white, Asian, Arabic, rich, poor, disabled, it didn’t matter, and it never has. Regardless of our histories, different or similar, we all gain the same solace and satisfaction from the dance.
To date, I have been bboying in Canada, the U.S., England, France, Germany, the Czech Republic , Malaysia, and Thailand, and everywhere it is the same. A movement that began some 30 years earlier in the boogey down Bronx of NYC, has spread across the entire world and given a purpose to countless youths all united by their love for the dance. Bboys are warm and welcoming, and they are open to accept anyone who is so similarly driven. As the wandering bboy / foreigner, I have been truly astonished. Complete strangers offer me free food, accommodation, and guidance based solely on the fact that we share a mutual passion and, consequently, we are not actually strangers at all.
Today I make my introductions to the Bboying scene of Chiang Mai. Stepping up to an open circle, or ?cipher’ as it is called in Bboying is always involves a degree of apprehension for me. Every eye in that room is on you, watching to see what you will throw down. Crash a power combo or butcher the beats in your top rock (standing dance) and the eyes stare stone-faced or at best roll away in polite aversion. But, throw down a sick run and you will watch every hand in the circle raise in appreciation. Hoots and hollers; awash in a collective of ?oohs and ?ahhhs. When I hit the circle nowadays, its hard to contain the smile that spreads across my face. I am free, and I am at ease. Bboying, is my release. If I nail my set, great, if not, then I know better what to do next time.
But today I feel confident as I step into the cipher. A familiar jam creeps into the boom box and the muscles in my limbs responds in rhythm almost involuntarily. My toprock flows on point, downrock is sharp and crisp. Time for the blow up. Bronco to 180 backflip, roll back, push up to 3 spin 1990, land right into bboy stance. Killed it! The faces around me light up and hands raise, index and middle finger snapping together lightly. I have made a good first impression and I try to hide my satisfaction behind tight lipped smile that only feigns shyness. I shake hands around the circle introducing myself exuberantly. ?Where you come from?” someone sitting down in a red and white trucker cap asks. ?I am from Canada, I say a little too loudly. ?Oh, velly cold he responds smiling broadly.
As of 2009, Bboying is endemic. As a largely self taught art form requiring little more than a smooth surface, Bboying is accessible to most everyone virtually anywhere in the world. I have found bboys in remote towns on the island of Borneo, and they are friends that I speak with to this day. But past all the showmanship and style, Bboying is about community, both local and global, and I have both witnessed and personally experienced the power this community has in instilling the values of purpose and self-worth in some of those who have needed it most. The trucker cap tilts up and looks into my face. ?What your name? he asks. ?Sebastian, I respond. He looks into the distance pensively, running the syllables silently across his lips. His head shoots up again, ?Ooohhh, Bboy Bastie!? he yells. ?Cool, I respond nodding my head In agreement.
It is no different today here in Chiang Mai than it has been anywhere else that I have been. I do not speak Thai, and the majority of my Thai bboy friends speak no English. But in truth, we need no language between us in order to communicate. All we need is the floor.