Breakdancing? Was it a crazy dance fad in the 80’s, street dance trends in urban cities, or connotations to rap and Hip-Hop music? For Bellan Contemporary Dance Theatre and School of the Arts (BCDTSA) in Durham, NC, it is a form of dance and artistic expressions. The Rokafella Intensive is a special program organized by Bellan International Arts Master program. For two days, Friday, December 5 through Saturday, December 6, Bellan will present events featuring female pioneer break-dancer, Ana “Rokafella” Garcia.
The comprehensive program and dance experience features two master classes and a choreography and performance workshop. The full emersion of breakdancing with Rokafella continues with photo-ops with the artist, a performance opportunity for a new project, and a guest artist discussion on “How to Break into the World of Hip-Hop”. There is also an overview of the documentary film, “All the Ladies Say,” about six women carving a niche for themselves in the male-dominated world of breakdancing. Rokafella received several grants to produce this film. She and her staff toured many cities to document breakdancers and find opportunities to share both her perspective and other breakdancers’ life experiences.
Breakdancing, also known as B-boying or breaking (dancers are called B-boy or B-girl), became a passion for Ana Garcia, who created a stage, “Rokafella.” Breakdancing has been part of her life since she was a little girl, and she has been developing this street dance form into art and performance theater for 30 years. Her journey continues as a B-girl dancer, singer, teacher, and history-maker as one of the small percentage of top female breakdancers.
Garcia was born born in East Harlem, New York and immersed in the emerging breakdance culture that gained mainstream popularity in the 80’s. Referring to her youth and teenage years in New York City, she said, “Living in Harlem, I witnessed a lot of rap and moves, and when the song “Rappers Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang first came out, (igniting more inspiration), I wanted to be part of it. I grew up with music and dance which was part of our family life and culture,” and a norm in her Puerto Rican culture.
Breakdancing traditionally has been a male-dominated dance form and Rokafella has rocked the barriers and earned her place in the breakdancing hall of fame, if there was one. The stories she shares give an insight into the underground culture in the breakdancing in the 80’s and how she adapted and maneuvered through the male dance circuits and survived in harsh environments. But with her perseverance and dancing grit, she made rank and reputation like the top male breakers. “It was difficult fitting in, (the men and boys) were cold and distant. Getting (into dance groups) is hard and there’s no loyalty in this community.” In this harsh reality, she really learned the ropes of breakdancing. “There were a lot of drugs involved in this culture,” said Rokafella. Regardless, she overcompensated her efforts base on being a female, which made her more determined to keep up with “boys’” physically demanding and complicated moves while adding her own style and choreography. And even being a minority among males and in combative style dancing, Rokafella naturally adds a feminine touch to her dance style. Her confidence, drawing on the sheer will and stealth of a ninja, along with other disciplines help build her talents and keep up with the advance level B-boys moves. She also maintains a gentle compassion, connection to humanity, and “love” because, with breakdancing, “everyone can join in,” she said.
Her inspiration also came from her family. Rokafella explained how her brother controlled the radio in the house and other family members controlled the knobs on their black and white TV. The exposure to different music and dance interests from various family members “created a duality in my music and dance,” she said. “The music influence (revolved) around my brother and listening to R&B and (other) radio stations.” She watched movies with dancers like Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers. In movies like “Sound of Music,” she found the music to be “full of life and vibrancy” and appreciated the messages of going through hardship and finding hope, rest and even salvation in the music and dance.
The breakdancing is very spontaneous and provides a free flow of emotions, energy and power, athletics, contortionist moves, and sometimes fluid and effortless motion as in ballet. The vibe of the crowds and surroundings are comparable to improvisational Jazz. Experiencing it live, raw, and in its authentic settings will define the meaning without words. Rokafella explains that the nature of breakdancing has no structure, so teaching it seems impossible, but she has created lesson structures and curriculum to teach the new generations and anyone interested in breaking, popping, swaging and the moves that have been influenced and inspired from many dancers and genres of music. Rokafella talks about the various styles in breakdancing. “There are African-American influences, martial arts, Capoeira (the Brazilian form of martial arts), tap dancing, and Latin-like dancing where you just feel that music.” The use of music genres range from Hip-Hop, R&B, Funk, Remix (compilations taken from different songs with new beats and tempo), Jazz, Electro and even Disco. It is also important for Rokafella to maintain respect and honor the roots of breakdancing and what she calls “natural rhythms and primitive beauty.”
As one experience led to another, Rokafella expanded her breakdancing to join the Ghetto Original Production (GOP), a dance theater group that performed and traveled throughout Europe. She said, “They were a dance theater group mixing vocabulary and choreography, and are original icons. They were pioneers to take break-dancing in an alternative path and preserve its original heritage with true and global efforts.” Being part of this group was like coming home for her: living, dancing, and immersing herself in the type of culture that she wanted to be part of for a long time. Rokafella felt that she was trapped in the superficial nature of breakdancing, but with GOP, she blossomed and transformed into the styles and choreography that define her in her own terms. Rokafella said breakdancing is still very popular, proven by the fact that recently the De Beers diamond company hired her to be part of their social media campaign with a montage of other dancers and characters.
In 1992, she and her partner Gabriel “Kwikstep” Dionisio (veteran breaker and husband of 20 years) established in New York City Full Circle Productions (FC), a Hip-hop dance company (see link for a performance) that mixes theater, arts, and education; they established it as a nonprofit in 1996. FC develops classes, programs, contests, events and affordable price structure for workshops for inner city students to promote and teach “Hip-hop history, the industry, and life lessons.” The continued vision is shared in their mission statement, “To produce cutting-edge Hip-Hop performances on local and international stages, streets, cyphas, and the industry. The repertoire of soulful resilience brings the universal sense of struggle to the surface as a common link that unites us all.”
FC has hosted international Hip-hop contemporary companies to interact, collaborate, and represent positive aspects of Hip-Hop. Music videos, tours, commercials and films have featured FC’s members and students. A short documentary “Visiones – Latino Culture in the U.S.” aired on PBS highlighting the Kwikstep and Rokafella’s break-dance journey. An interview with Rokafella is also highlighted on Makers.com, “a digital and video storytelling platform that aims to be the largest and most dynamic collection of women’s stories ever assembled.”
The core empowering nature of FC and what Rokafella wants to instill in students are, “One, (we want to teach a sense of) work ethics and understand the process of getting to where you want to be, and you have to work at it. You have to put your time in and it’s a discipline. Two, to build confidence, identity and self-esteem,” said Rokafella.
Watch the video of their performances and see the diversity of students, men, women, boys and girls from different cultural backgrounds and accompanied with singers and a live band that creates an explosion of energy and talent. And check out the moves as Rokafella is still dancing like there is no tomorrow. Breakdancing moves are physically demanding and the reality of sustaining a career with no guarantees and preventing injuries are part of the training and challenges. But, “I still have joy and am very grateful that I can dance and move,” said Ana “Rokafella” Garcia.
For information or to register for the “Rokafella Intensive”:
Bellan Performance Centre
6905 Fayetteville Rd
Durham, NC 27713
Bellan Contemporary Dance Theatre and School of the Arts (BCDTSA), founded by Anjanée N. Bell, is a contemporary dance company committed to the continued growth of dance as art. The company provides education and performances by emerging and master choreographers, dancers and artists.
Bellan’s mission is to influence, motivate and collaborate with individuals and organizations through arts education, performance and movement that will enhance their lives, health and productivity. Bellan International Arts Masters Bellan International Arts Masters offers students real world training, guidance and the opportunity to work with world renowned artists and industry professionals behind the scenes.