by Susan Cunningham
Phew! Now that the Edinburgh Festival is over for another year, it is time to reflect on what was new and exciting this year. There was a lot of buzz around a show called ‘Fuertabruza’ which was not so much a dance show but an “extravaganza of music, dance, acrobatics and theatre” (a circus then!?)
There was also a lot of comment and even criticism on how much street dance featured in the programme this summer (Zoo Nation, Ballerina Who Loves a B-boy and Hiphopscotch for example). Some of the opinions say it is not “proper dance”, not worthy of the theatre.
However, I feel that “breaking” is as worthy an art form as any other movement style. Look back 100 years when contemporary dance came on to the scene; “who are these mad people, prancing bare footed in wispy costumes?”, when ballet was the only accepted form of dance performance on the stage.
My eyes were really opened by going to see ‘Hiphopscotch’, and talking to Peter Maniam of Moving in Circles. He then encouraged me to come along to the breakdancing championships. I was struck not only by the skill but the passion and commitment of the dancers.
He had this to say about how breaking is a valid art form and how it can be an excellent way of encouraging young people in to the world of dance.
How did you come to this point?
I started dancing at about 17 or 18, around the time of Run DMC (the second coming!). Their video came on and a resurgence of breakdancing came about. I made a phone call to a dance company and said “do you know anyone that teaches breaking?” and they said Dance Base is the one and only place. It was Allan Irvine (of Freshmess) who took the classes and taught me for a good few years in Edinburgh.
Then I went traveling in 2000 to Australia and California and stepped up my commitment and training with some really good dancers, especially in California. When I came back there was a very small scene in Edinburgh, only about ten people, who really took it seriously and that was in the whole of Scotland.
We were from all over the place - Orkney, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. We decided to form a crew, to try to make things better and make opportunities for ourselves. So we formed Random Aspekts. We started off quite small (originally 8 members) going to competitions in London.
Because there wasn’t much happening up here, we could capitalise on any club work, charity work or fashion shows and promotional work. We were able to make a little bit of money and get more professional as a company and myself as a dancer to the point where we were performing in theatres.
Describe Random Aspekts dance style!
It’s straight up B-Boying. B-Boying is the true word for breakdance. Breakdance was the name of a movie based on the dance B-Boying or B-Girling. The dance element is B-Boying, the show as a whole is pretty hip-hop.
The references to Scottish Culture in the show are obviously old traditions - the ceilidh, the bagpipes, how does it represent modern Scottish culture?
I think everyone in the cast represents modern Scotland. I’m not going to kid anyone these guys are off climbing mountains (climbing mountains? Ed!) or singing Scottish songs but the point is, I think there is a lot of pride in young Scots people about their culture. Sometimes it is difficult for them to display that in any way, without seeming old-fashioned.
The concept was for us to be able to show our pride but also what we love doing as well. For example the ceilidh section, we didn’t want to take it too seriously because ceilidhs are fun. There is lots of raw energy and breaking has that too, so there was [a] parallel.
Who is your target audience?It’s targeted at young people. I think it is important for them to learn about their culture and see it in a different light - that it doesn’t have to be in a stuffy history room. But it’s also for anyone who is a theatre-goer, open-minded about Scotland.
Do you worry that the Edinburgh audience might be a bit staid for a breakdance show?
That’s Edinburgh through and through! Random Aspekts performed last year in the fringe - ‘Rock-a-bye B-boy’ and that was the same sort of thing, the audience were very quiet. We did the same show in London and it was like being at a pop concert! But as long as people are enjoying it and walking out with smiles, it doesn’t affect me much because I’ll be the in the audience cheering like a maniac anyway!
Where did you find your new dancers?
I taught some of them at Dance Base and at the various high schools that they go to. They are now making a lot of noise in the scene, winning competitions at a senior level, so it felt like the right time for me to give them a new challenge. The theatre context is completely different and foreign to them. They’d danced in clubs and competitions. This is a different ball game, but it seemed like a natural progression.
What’s more important to you, the competitions or the performances?
It’s hard to say- they are very different. I love them both. If you walk into a competition, the atmosphere is pure testosterone, like people getting ready to fight or battle. There is something very exciting about that. But putting hip-hop into a theatre context is a fairly new concept, but I think it deserves to be there. In my opinion it is an art.
It’s still developing as an art form so maybe its not as clean or crisp as contemporary or ballet, but it’s been around for nearly 30 years so it needs steps like this to be accepted in the arts world on a wider scale.
If you had a big bag of money to inject in to the dance world, how would you spend it to make a difference?
My focus has been getting males in to dance. There are very few ways of getting males in to dance - that’s no surprise to anyone. One of the ways is through breaking because it appeals - its quite masculine and cool to do. One of the problems in Scotland is you’ll get a pot of money to go and work in say Stirling or Orkney for 5 weeks.
You’ll get a group of boys who are really in to it, then you leave and there’s no one else there. That’s partly to do with the number of breakers in Scotland but there are ways to keep it going.
So many times I see kids who say “so where can I keep doing it?” and if you’re not in Edinburgh or Glasgow, you are going to struggle. So I would inject the money in to that side of things. I have friends and 2 of the boys from Random Aspekts that have gone on to do contemporary dance.
There are a lot of people that got in to contemporary dance, who would never have dreamed of it, if they hadn’t found breaking. So if people want to see more males on stage dancing then I think breaking is a very good way of doing it.