Children in Takoma Park are getting down to a fresh new beat in Takoma Park.
The funk-filled sounds of James Brown, Bobby Byrd, and their soulful contemporaries welcomed more than 100 guests to the Lab DC Breakin’ School on Sunday for a Student Breakin’ Tournament in Takoma in Washington, D.C.
Break dancing has been has been around almost 40 years, but the competitive sport of breakin’ is new.
The Lab DC, just across the D.C. line from Takoma Park at 6925 Willow Ave. NW, is home to a school that teaches breakin’ both as a dance and a competitive sport.
Breakin’, breaking, break dancing, and b-boying all refer to the same style of dance that originated on New York streets nearly 40 years ago. Breakin’ is usually done to funk or hip-hop, and until lately, was widely thought of as a street art. it has become more popular recently through shows like MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew.”
“Our mission at The Lab DC is to inspire, motivate and create through the hip-hop arts,” said Antonio Castillo, who also goes by Tazk. Castillo, who lives in Takoma Park, founded the breakin’ school.
The Lab DC School offers classes five days a week to a variety of levels and an age range of 2½ to adult. The program also has started working at different after-school programs in the area.
“We have more kids breakin’ in the DMV area than any other city in the country, all thanks to the school,” Castillo said, referring to D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
On Sunday, the cozy studio was packed to the brim with competitors, friends, and families. Dessert and refreshments were provided by local tournament sponsors Capital City Cheesecake and Mark’s Kitchen.
The tournament, for breakers ages 5 to 12, had teams consisting of two young breakers. Some team names included “The Soft Tacos,” “B-Side” and “The Kid Krü.”
The teams took turns breaking on a 10-foot-by-10-foot taped-off area in the center of the studio, known as the “box.” Breakers took turns inside the box, before retreating back to their side and letting the other team respond.
Three Lab DC School instructors judged students on their top rock (steps done while standing up), footwork, freezes (holding an unbalanced position), power (speed or momentum of moves), transitions, and other skills (style, musicality, and overall performance).
Competitors from local programs were invited, such as Piney Branch Elementary and Takoma Park Elementary in Takoma Park and Diamond Elementary in Gaithersburg.
In a world full of folded arms, head spins, and elaborate handshakes, one foundation of the school is that breakin’ is built on respect.
“We’re all about community,” said Becki Luang, vice president of the school.
Every dance-off included clapping from all of the other teams, and a mandated handshake between opposing teams at the end of the round.
At the end, every participant got a certificate.
“It takes a lot of courage and I’m very proud of all [of] our breakers. Dancing in front of people is different,” Castillo said.
“It’s not all about winning,” said Valerie Holford of Gaithersburg, the mother of Tristan Grabow, a quarterfinalist in Sunday’s competition. “There’s no pressure, and they just have a blast.”
But as with any competition, somebody has to win, and on Sunday, it was the Kid Krü team of Isaac Witte and Evan Sletten. Isaac, who will turn 8 on Halloween, lives in Silver Spring and is in second grade at the Friends Community School in College Park. Evan, of Takoma Park, is an 8-year-old third-grader at Sligo Creek Elementary School in Silver Spring.
The dynamic duo, dressed in matching red track pants and stocking caps, and Kid Krü T-shirts, have a combined three years of breakin’ experience. Both have won individual championships at the school, but this was their first team title.
“I felt a little nervous,” Evan admitted after the event was over.
“Yeah, I messed up a lot,” Isaac agreed, “I was a little nervous, too, but it was fun.”
Although the boys claimed nerves, it didn’t show on the dance floor. They earned the most applause, and the judges whooped and hollered after multiple successful advanced moves.
“When there’s a crowd around, it really gives you more energy,” Evan said.
Isaac smiled and added, “Yeah, it helps with your musicality, and makes you a better person.”