The Impact of Kung Fu Movies on BreakdancingBy Eric Pellerin(Part2/4)

While serious filmgoers denounced kung fu films, the B-Boys took to the films as their own. Ken Swift explains, “42nd St. was like ‘wow!’, these are subtitled, they’re putting these English voices over, these movies aren’t even made in the States, that’s even more like ’wow!,’ you feel like you’re really a part of something.”

The DJ’s, MC’s, B-Boy’s, and graffiti artists would go to see these films together, and it was a participatory experience. They would get so hyped up during the film that they would argue and fight with each other during the film.

After watching the movie, the B-Boys would leave the theater hyped off the energy they saw on the screen from movies like Mad Monkey Kung Fu, Mystery of Chess Boxing, Crippled Masters and many more. Trac 2 and his brother Danny said that kung fu movies are a fever you catch. After seeing martial arts on the screen, they wanted to try it themselves.

Some early B-Boys studied martial arts. Trac 2 took Shotokan Karate for two years. He said that a lot of the early B-Boys studied karate.

Bust most of them just imitated the movements they saw without any formal training. As Ken Swift states,

“Realistically, [we] leave the theater and just want to kick the shit out of people. I mean we would walk uptown and sometimes just kick somebody… You know, we would do a demo on somebody, and start doing exactly what we saw in the movie, not knowing what we were doing, but just imitating it to the max.”

Besides just imitating the kung fu by fighting each other with a Mantis Fist, Monkey style, or Crane style, the kung fu started to find its way into the dance. B-boy KWON of Swift Kids said, “As far as the martial arts goes, that gave a lot of b-boys ideas as far as doing things on the floor and expanding their ideas for movement and bringing out their character.” B-Boys appropriated visually dynamic movements they saw on the screen, and made them their own. The fight scenes in kung fu films were choreographed following a specific rhythm between the performers. The kung fu actors had to follow each other’s movements like dancers. You can see fight scenes being choreographed like this in Jackie Chan: My Stunts.

It was only natural that B-Boys would be attracted to these movements that were close to what they were doing already. Lil’ Lep explained how the kung fu movies directly effected the dance and his crew, the New York City Breakers. “Kung fu movies were important, because we learned from them. You know Flip (Flip Rock AKA Bobby Potts), he does a lot of flips, and they do a lot of flips in kung fu movies. You know my man Chino (AKA Action), he does a lot of flips too. My thing is my swipes, headspins.”

B-Boys would take certain movements they saw in the kung fu films and work them into the dance. Lep brought his own innovation to the headspin. Instead of doing it from a standstill position, he went into the headspin from footwork. He calls this the pencil headspin. In the movies Drunken Master, Killer Army, and Shaolin Temple there are moves when an actor will spin on his head ½ or a whole rotation. Ras, AKA Ray from Floormaster Dancers ( Brooklyn ) said, “Kung fu played a part in my life. You see the styles they had, they spin on their heads, like b-boying, they had windmills, they were doing the helicopter, which is the swipe. We looked at these things, we used it as dance.

Ray learned Aikido in the marines, and loved the way he could manipulate an opponent’s body weight with the Japanese art. It is hard to say if the influence was always direct, or if it happened because of repeated viewing of similar movements and was appropriated subconsciously..

One thing that Ken, Trac, and Lep all brought up when asked how the films influenced them was routines. The elaborate choreography of Hong Kong martial arts movies inspired the B-Boys to choreograph their own routines with two or more dancers. In kung fu movies and B-Boy routines, creativity and constant practice is what makes the choreography. I asked Lep about the choreography he was involved with in the New York City Breakers. “If we didn’t’t do it right, we would have to do it over and over until we got it right, you know, that’s part of being a professional dancer.”

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