BreaKing barriers

As B-Boying continues its transformation of Arabia, one local dancer competing in the Red Bull BreaKing Regional Finals this weekend invites us to his playground in a revealing look at life behind the breaks

By Mohamad Kadry

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Published: Wed 20 Oct 2010, 11:14 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:12 PM

In the distance, construction labourers sitting atop high scaffolding pause their hammering for a moment to gaze down in fascination; a break-dancing battle is taking place.

In the middle of an empty parking lot in the sweltering heat, one local B-Boy – drenched in sweat – is practicing his downrocks, freezes and suicides in preparation for the biggest competition of his life.

Ashraf Al-Tamimi, better known as Raf-H in dancing circles, is something of a B-Boy hero in Dubai. The 24-year-old Moroccan will be representing the UAE at the Red Bull BreaKing Regional Finals this weekend alongside 14 other B-Boys from eight nations across the Middle East. They will be competing in head-to-head battles to clinch the championship’s title, all vying for the chance to compete in Tokyo at the Red Bull BC One, the world’s most sought after breaking competition.

Ashraf, surrounded by plasterboard walls tagged with graffiti, makes his way to a favourite corner of the lot. He is quiet, removed from the chaos of construction behind him, and begins bobbing his head in a manner most resembling a pendulum.

“It’s all about the beat,” he whispers to himself, flanked by his ‘B-Boying’ crew who has come to help with training. With no sound except that of hammers pounding away nearby, Ashraf begins murmuring a dance beat to develop his rhythmic timing.

He glides effortlessly on the burning black pavement. Balancing his hands on the cement during noontime feels more like sticking them on a hot griddle. But he manages, performing back flips with the ease of a seasoned acrobat. His facial expressions, stoic at times, light up when he’s managed to nail a new trick.

Ashraf is not alone in the world of local B-Boys, but he does symbolise the growing popularity of the art form across the Arab world, where a generation of young dancers have helped the movement explode in recent years.

“Break-dancing is still in its infancy in the Middle East,” Ashraf explains while taking refuge in the shade of a tunnel entrance. “The level of expertise around the world is understandably higher since the art was introduced and developed mostly in the Western world.”

“But I believe that in one or two years, the break-dancing scene here will be phenomenal,” he adds.

He says that in Dubai, there are about four or five dance crews – groups of B-Boys who train together and often develop close personal relationships. But one underlying factor that has gone missing, he claims, is the fact that few dancers understand or appreciate the history of the dance form that developed as part of the emerging hip-hop cultural movement of the 1970s in New York City.

“There needs to be a greater respect for the foundations of break-dancing before it can really grow in the region,” he says.

Another challenging disparity between the current breaking scene in the Arab world and an understanding of the roots of the movement are, as Ashraf puts it: A disconnect often caused by wealth and privilege.

“In other parts of the world, break-dancing is the only way for youth to escape the problems of the street and do something productive with their days rather than causing mischief and breaking the law,” he explains.

“This type of environment gives people a deeper passion for the art and helps push them to work harder, so if we could harness that energy I think it would really accelerate the growth of B-Boying here and across the region.”

Ashraf, who trains a cool eight hours each day, credits the efforts of Red Bull for helping to support the local B-Boy community through these international competitions. In recent years, the energy drink giant has gained a reputation for staging similar events in the arena of extreme sports and other popular contests.

As Ashraf’s crew begin chanting ‘Raf-H! Raf-H’ – his B-Boy nickname – he continues dancing in a trancelike method, oblivious to his surroundings. He is still murmuring to himself: “It’s all about the beat…it’s all about the beat.”

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