B-Boys 4 Life

Before Beat Street and Breakin', street gangs were b-boying to the Sugar Hill Gang. Before that, there was the Rock Steady Crew, doing fly moves to the sounds of Afrika Bambaataa. Earlier still, there was James Brown's "Get on the Good Foot," which sparked a trend of competitive street dancing. The roots of break dancing go deep. Just ask Richard "Speedy Legs" Fernandez, Miami's most famous b-boy. Break dancing took Speedy Legs far, from practicing on the concrete in front of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School all the way to Broadway and to live performances alongside hip-hop heroes like Kool Herc, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Run-D.M.C.

Now retired, Speedy Legs has made it his mission to make sure authentic break dancing never dies. "The dance is still very much alive; they've got competitions all over the place," he asserts. "But it's a watered-down, commercial version of break dancing. What we call the b-boy, the whole essence, is hardly shown. People concentrate on the acrobatics more than anything else," he explains. Tonight b-boys and girls can win prizes, trophies, and big bragging rights at a free all-ages break dance competition.

The throwdown aims to teach the neighborhood youth there's more to hip-hop than gold teeth and a gangsta attitude, and there's more to break dancing than doing a bunch of backflips. "We want to teach people the foundations of the dance. People think break dancing is just spinning on your head and stuff. That's gymnastics. They're not dancing to the music. They don't know that there's up-rock and top-rock, footwork and freezes, and power moves," explains Jonathan Fields, better known as DJ Trails. Together with Speedy Legs, DJ Trails will MC this event. The two men are members of Hip-Hop Elements, a grassroots group whose mission is to pay respect to the origins of urban culture. Dancers shouldn't come expecting to hear the latest hits by 50 Cent, Mike Jones, and the Ying Yang Twins. "We're going to be playing a lot of the original music that people used to dance to in the Seventies and early Eighties. We're going to play the old James Brown records, the Rare Earth records," DJ Trails says.

A real b-boy isn't afraid to incorporate new elements into his break dancing. "I even took ballet for a little bit," Speedy Legs says. "Don't get me wrong. I try to incorporate whatever's useful." Besides all the breaking, new schoolers can learn from the hip-hop history display and workshop presented by James Peterson, media coordinator for the Harvard University hip-hop archive. Chris Norwood, chair of the Miami Lakes Youth Activities Task Force, is particularly excited about the education offered by the competition and the exhibit. "This is not a P. Diddy, shiny-suit event," says Norwood. "A lot of kids have never even seen real break dancing before. It's becoming like an artifact. And we're at fault if the young people don't know. We're at fault if the culture doesn't evolve."

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Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik