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No Plan B-Boyz

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A few members of the Soul Style Crew, Guatemala’s reigning national b-boying champions, step front and center. The young boys in dark clothes move their bones to an imaginary beat accompanied by the sounds of the street. Their audience watches on as they dance. They perform a few whirls and twirls in the air to make sure they grab the attention of the people in the back. Once their 25-second long routine is done, they walk between the rows of cars to collect money from those willing to pay for the show. They get as much as they can before the traffic light turns green and forces them to head back to the sidewalk to wait for the next show.

B-boys warm up for a crew battle in Jocotenango, Guatemala. Crew battles are usually a 4v4 dance competition. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

“At the moment, I live off of dancing like this,” says Pika, a prominent 22-year old member of the crew. “Every now and then I teach some classes or do a few shows with my crew. But, regularly, this is it.” His most constant dance partner at the traffic lights is 27-year-old Pira (short for “Piranha”), a member of a different crew whose nickname stems from his looks. Much like Pika, Pira has also decided to make a living through b-boying.

An audience member records a b-boy crew battle in Jocotenango, Guatemala. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

The two break-boys dance for about six hours every day. “We spend two hours a day on the traffic light,” explains Pika. “Each one of us makes between Q.90 and Q.125 ($12USD-$16.64USD).” On slow days, their earnings can be as low as Q.20 to Q.30 ($2.66USD to $3.99USD) according to Pira. “Just enough for food,” the b-boys add. After dancing at traffic stops, they go have lunch together and take a short break from dancing.

A crew battle in Guatemala City’s main square during the Youth Festival in which crews from Central America competed against each other. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

“Practice goes on from when we finish chilling up until 8PM or 9PM,” continues Pira. Both dancers don’t have a particular spot where they practice; they often do it at public parks along with other crews. If it rains, practice is cancelled unless someone finds a safe spot to do it. “Sometimes we go to the National Palace if it’s raining, but they kick us out after about an hour,” he continues.

A grafitti artist sells custom t-shirts during the Youth Festival in Guatemala City. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

“At the moment, there’s very little support for our culture,” Pika points out. “There are no spaces for us, so everyone has to figure out how and where to practice and to perform”. The b-boy believes that the lack of support comes from the fact that hip-hop culture, much like gang culture, originated on the streets and the public perceives them as one and the same. “They see us and compare us to gang bangers and assume bad things about us,” he continues.

The social stigma and the lack of support don’t discourage the young dancers, however.

A break-boy dances in a cypher at La Bodega in Guatemala City. A cypher occurs when dancers form a circle and take turns to perform in the middle. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

“I dance because I like it,” explains Pira. “I could be working as a clerk somewhere like a store, but I decided to do what I like.” Before diving head first into his passion, Pira had a job as a cashier at a supermarket in order to support his wife and child. However, he claims that he was never a great employee because he would often miss work to go to shows or dance practice. “That caused some problems with my lady because she didn’t approve. It didn’t work out between us in the end, so now I just see my daughter whenever I get the chance.”

B-Boys try different dance moves at La Bodega in Guatemala City. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

“My ex-girlfriend also left me because of that,” Pika remarks. “I told her I wanted to dance and she just wanted me to get a job… but I really just wanted to dance. She was all like ‘I do not see a good future with you’, so I said ‘cool, that’s your problem!’ and that was that.” He, however, sees situations such as that one as a bad but necessary part of the road to success. “Truth be told, you’ve gotta drop everything,” he concludes. “Compromises with your family, education… sometimes you have to drop a lot of things to practice consistently. If you’re consistent, then you become good. If you become good, you’re gonna stand out. And if you stand out, you finally get noticed.”

A b-boy displays his “downrock” skills during a cypher in Guatemala City. “Downrock” means that the hands support the dancer as much as the feet. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

 

Soul Style Crew member displays his tattoos in Guatemala City. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

Soul Style Crew members look at a fresh tattoo during a house party in Guatemala City. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

Soul Style Crew members hold an after-party following a performance in Guatemala City. Photo: Hyungsup Kim/Comvite

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