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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”