Beat Street Bengaluru: How the city’s dance enthusiasts are cultivating an exciting hip-hop culture

Bengaluru’s cosmopolitan culture has made the city India’s largest hub for street dance and b-boying.
Beat Street Bengaluru: How the city’s dance enthusiasts are cultivating an exciting hip-hop culture
Beat Street Bengaluru: How the city’s dance enthusiasts are cultivating an exciting hip-hop culture
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"My mom was afraid that I will come back home one day with one side of my head shaved off," laughs Eshita Srinivas, one of Bengaluru’s many hip-hop enthusiasts.

In the last few years, Bengaluru’s cosmopolitan culture has made the city India’s largest hub for street dance and b-boying (one of the dance forms within the hip-hop culture).

Rarely does a college fest go by without street dance or beatboxing battles.

Eshita, who is a student of Mount Carmel College, has been training in breakdance for seven months and insists that hip-hop is NOT just a dance form.

"It is a way of life in the sense that people dress a certain way, speak a certain way and live a certain way," says Eshita.

"The four main elements of hip-hop are peace, love, community and having fun," she Eshita.

Hip-hop has a universe of its own, which is negoiated with dance, graffiti art, and its own vocabulary.

Here’s a taste of one aspect of it.

In the world of breaking, dancers are no longer themselves. Performers shed all inhibitions and preconceptions just like they shed their official names- they usually take up stage names. They have a different persona. A Sugandha is called Sugar, Sanjay becomes Spark, Ambreen is called Amb, Avilash changes to Smokey.

They need not really have a reason behind the name but some dancer names reflect their styles. Bboy Ninja is called that because he would never stand on the ground. He always jumped onto pillars and posts with his dance moves.

Founder of city-based Black Ice dance crew, Naser calls himself Nas.

"Honestly, if you speak to my family, they would tell you that they never expected that I would be a dancer because I really had two left feet," he says.

Breakers, poppers and beatboxers with Black Ice have won several titles since they got together in 2009, including Battle of the Year in 2011 and 2012 consecutively.

Naser (left) and Storm; Naser Al Azzeh/Facebook

"Hip-hop has changed my life in a big way and I really don’t know where I would be without the culture. Honestly, I was a totally different person and hip-hop has made me a much better person. I hope a lot of people can find the same in this culture as well," Nas says.

Black Ice is one of the driving forces behind the hip-hop movement in Bengaluru. The annual fest Freeze, organised by Black Ice, sees dancers and beatboxers from all over the country. The judge for the battle is usually from another country to avoid accusations of bias.

Black Ice dance crew; Naser Al Azzeh/Facebook

Fests like Freeze and Got Creamed, organised by different crews are taking hip-hop in India to a new level. Members of the hiphop community find their way there from all walks of life.

In a way, it was watching a circus as a kid that got Siddharth interested in dance.

"I saw them do cartwheels and headstands and I thought how is this possible? I wanted to do it too, mujhe karna hi tha," says Siddharth, who calls himself b-boy fiend.

Image source: Siddharth

He dropped out of school after Class 7. Today, he is a member of Freak n Stylz crew.

The 22-year-old started going to breaking classes only four years ago and has already started begun teaching others for a living. Even though this year was his first at Freeze, he managed to enter the finals.

Velu Kumar belongs to one of the first major dance companies of India, the Hiphop India Dance Company which is a decade old.

Bengaluru’s hiphop circuit knows him as one of the best dancers the city’s ever seen. At Freeze 2015, he delighted the crowd with an impromptu swing he made by grasping on to stray banyan roots.

Velu Kumar won in the all styles category at Freeze 2015

Storm, the judge of the event, was so impressed that he walked up to the stage himself to congratulate the man.

As with all other public spaces, hiphop too is dominated by men but a small group of women are showing the way for others.

One of the first b-girls of Bengaluru, Ritu VS says breaking is interesting because it does not have any rules so it really helps express oneself.

"I guess the dance looks physically challenging so many girls think that they can't do it. But I think now that a few of us have proved that it's not impossible, a lot more girls have started doing it and I think they would all agree when I say that it's extremely empowering," she says.

Image source: Bgirl Ritz/Facebook

With all the unconventional styles they sport, how does their family take it?

"My mom doesn’t understand why I dance like a boy, but she sees that it makes me happy and now she is okay with it. Initially she wasn’t happy but now she got me a large mirror and put it in my room so I can practice whenever I want,” says Eshita happily.

She also draws inspiration from the black communities of New York, whose youth evolved dance battles from street fights.

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