Breakdancer shows it's all in the stance

By Scott Kara

Ivan Manriquez will strike you down with his B-Boy stance. The American breakdancer can do all the fancy moves, too. You know, the ones that defy gravity, laugh in the face of injury, and make you go wow.

But it's his B-Boy stance - that authoritative, staunch posture - that matters most.

"It says, 'This is who I am'. Like when you're on the spot, and in the moment, you always fold your arms to let them know you mean business," he says in his husky voice.

"It all starts with accent. The B-Boy stance always expresses your accent and that stance becomes your trademark. It grows and becomes like a good habit.

"And," he continues with eloquent bravado, "unlike other [breakdancing] moves the B-Boy stance is not about what you do, it's how you do it. And thinking blocks your flow, so don't think about it too much, just do it. Don't act, react to how you're feeling in the moment."

Manriquez, whose stage name is Urban Action Figure, is here to perform in the New York breakdancing show Break! at Manukau's Telstra Pacific Stadium next week. The show combines breakdancing, beatboxing, music and percussion in a tribute to hip-hop dancing from its birth in the Bronx to the present day. Between them, the 11 performers in Break! have worked with everyone from Eminem to Linkin Park and even Britney Spears.

"Break!, the urban funk spectacular," says Manriquez, in his best public relations spiel, "is about music, rhythm, culture, flavour, character, and evolution.

"The foundation of the show is based on what people already know about the four elements of hip-hop [rapping, DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing] and the evolution of it and how we live it today comes through in the skills on display."

Breakdancing came to prominence in the mid 80s when hip-hop culture was on the rise thanks to acts like Run DMC, Boogie Down Productions, and Eric B. and Rakim. But its roots can be traced back to 1969 when New York kids started dancing to James Brown's Get On the Good Foot.

The culture spread and crews of B-Boys gathered to vent their aggression and "battle" with breakdancing moves instead of using weapons.

Manriquez, the youngest of seven brothers, started in the early 80s when he was 8 "popping" - where a dancer contracts and relaxes muscles to create a jerking effect in their body.

He began breakdancing regularly in 1984 and then went professional in 1987.

"We were a very musical family and that meant I was exposed to other elements of hip-hop like MCing and spraycan art," he says.

"My brothers would DJ in the neighbourhood - at block parties, and the community centres - and everything they did just became a way of life. They would come home with different influences and they'd teach me and show me. It just made sense as a culture, and it grew on me, and it registered in my spirit. I haven't stopped since."

He remembers when breakdancing went mainstream and "into Hollywood mode" thanks to MTV, Michael Jackson videos and movies like Flashdance and Beat Street. (In New Zealand it had a major part in the Poi E video by the Patea Maori Club in 1984.)

Manriquez says that was when it became "a craze and a trend". Today it is still a big part of street culture.

And now, Manriquez is taking breakdancing to another level when he features as a character in PlayStation's new game, B-Boy, to be released in September.

He may be one of the world's first B-Boy gaming figures, and makes a good living out of dancing, but he is still a purist at heart. For him, breakdancing is many things: "It's a physical instrument. You can tell a story. It's self-expression. It's about communication. And it's an outlet when you're going through aggression.

"It's also about representing your style and who you are. It's a way of doing that as well as being able to challenge yourself physically and apply yourself in a competition sense by battling.

"It is the most outcast of all the dance styles on earth, yet the most entertaining to me and it's a tool to express myself as well as survive."

LOWDOWN

Who: Urban Action Figure (real name Ivan Manriquez)

What: Breakdancer from New York show Break!

Where & when: TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre, Manukau; July 4, 7.30pm, and July 5 at 2pm

TIckets: Adults $39, children $25 from TicketDirect on 0800 224 224 or www.ticketdirect.co.nz

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