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Outside the Lines With Rap Genius

"OTL 45: Michael Holman Excerpt #5 - Breakdancing Rules"

SameOldShawn: I was looking at your book Breaking and the New York City Breakers, and there was this idea in it that I thought was really incredible and fascinating. It was this idea that, in a breaking battle, the losers need to be able to admit that they lost or the whole thing breaks down

Michael Holman: That's interesting. That's fascinating. It reminds me of a battle I witnessed not that long ago, maybe about four years ago in the Bronx, between two crews. I remember that one of the judges was Crazy Legs of the Rocksteady Crew. One crew was from Boston, and another crew might have been from New York. They were battling, and the crew from Boston had their turn. They were dancing to James Brown's "Give It Up or Turn It Loose," live version -- which, as we all know, is a classic b-boy song to dance to, and represents b-boying in so many ways. I'll never forget. There's a moment in the song in which James Brown says -- and he has no idea that in the future, this is going to mean so much to dancers -- "Clap your hands (clap clap clap)/Stomp your feet (stomp stomp stomp)/Clap your hands (clap clap clap)/Stomp your feet (stomp stomp stomp)."

The crew from Boston, in the excitement of the battle, dancing in front of Crazy Legs, and maybe just because they didn't know -- while one of them was dancing, and he was doing that, clapping his hands when James Brown said so, stomping his feet when James Brown said so. He didn't stomp his feet in the right beat that James Brown says to stomp your feet in. He missed a beat or he went too long or he didn't go long enough. And Crazy Legs jumps up and says, "Ah, that's not what you're supposed to do! That's not the rhythm that that goes to. You missed the stomp part."

And the Boston crew, instantly you could see that they were crestfallen, that they had lost face. They didn't take it too seriously, they kind of laughed and smiled about it. But instantly, they knew they lost the battle, because they hadn't decoded that song in a way that you should have known that. Any b-boy worth their salt should have known

So what comes up, to address the issue that you brought up specifically, is that there's so much pride in breakdancing and in b-boying. That pride demands that you pay great respect and homage to the culture, and that you respect the dancers that came before, that you respect the customs and the religion that this is based on, if you want to call it that -- it certainly is a religion

So when this crew recognized that they missed something that they should have known, this one little piece in the James Brown song when they should have stomped their feet at the right cadence, they recognized that they blew it, and they had to come back and try again. And to not say that would have been a reneging of or denial of all these different customs, and there would have been chaos. You need to have rules to avoid chaos

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