New York City Hosts Break Dancing Competition

Aug 26, 2017
Originally published on August 26, 2017 1:17 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you're in New York today, lucky you. Watch out for the Fraggle Rock Felons, knucklehead Zoo and the Retro Gnomes. Let me explain. The city's biggest breakdancing competition is tonight. Those are just some of the groups who'll try to pop and lockdown a trophy.

On hand to judge the dance off will be Richard Colon, best known as Crazy Legs - the legendary break dancer who at the age of 51 will be watching a lineup of rising stars in the sport that he helped elevate to the mainstream. Crazy Legs joins us now from our studios in New York. I've been waiting to say this - Mr. Legs, thanks so much for being with us.

RICHARD COLON: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

SIMON: Breakdancing has come a long way since the '70s when you started. It's even going to be an Olympic event in 2018.

COLON: Yes.

SIMON: Take us back to when the sport was invented. You were there.

COLON: Well...

SIMON: The sport, the art - what do we call it?

COLON: The art form dance, you know? It was definitely before I started dancing when this started in the Bronx. And a lot of people were imitating people like James Brown. And, you Know, for the Latin community, we had our own flavor, where we were implementing moves that were kind of derivative of Southside, mambo and things like that. I guess born out of not having many options when it came to activities in the community centers or afterschool programs, things like that, in the '70s that were really missing and needed. So if it was fun and athletic and competitive, and we didn't need a budget for it, we did it.

SIMON: What'd your mother think?

COLON: My mother was always supportive. And that's cool because, you know, a lot of people who are B-Boys and B-Girls didn't really get much respect from their parents because it's like, oh, why are you throwing yourself on the floor with that hippity (ph) hop stuff? And so I was pretty fortunate to have a mother that was completely behind me.

SIMON: Forgive me for not knowing this. But what do B-Boy and B-Girl - where do those terms come from?

COLON: OK, so we - within the B-Boy community, anyone who knows the history, we really don't call it break dancing. It's a term that was started by my manager.

SIMON: So I gave myself away, like, in the first line, didn't I?

COLON: It's all right, though. I mean, you know, it takes a little reconditioning. But we'll fix you up (laughter).

SIMON: (Laughter) Thank you very much.

COLON: But, yes, so the word B-Boy, when I got into the scene, meant break boy or Bronx boy. And yeah, that's basically it.

SIMON: What makes a great break dancer?

COLON: B-Boy (laughter). For me, when I'm watching, I want to make sure that the musicality is there - paying attention to the rhythms that are happening. Also making sure that from move to move, you're fluid. And you have a respectable amount of foundation that can, I guess, complement your explosive moves. And, you know, the intangible thing of flavor has to be there.

SIMON: You know, I've seen kids break dancing in India and in refugee camps in the Middle East. What's it like for you to look around the world and see all this?

COLON: Well, I've been seeing it all around the world since the early '80s when it first hit the silver screen in "Flashdance." So I think it's a great thing, especially coming from us, I guess, being creators of it in the Bronx and being black and Puerto Rican and contributing to the world an art form that can legitimately be considered an American folk dance.

SIMON: Yeah. B-Boy Richard Crazy Legs Colon...

COLON: Hey.

SIMON: (Laughter) That was my line - hey, from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

COLON: Thank you, sir.

(SOUNDBITE OF INCREDIBLE BONGO BAND'S "BONGO ROCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.