on the studio floor

Popping, krumping, waacking and breaking

Old-school dance workshops kick off the grand opening of Kinetic Energy Alive's new dance studio in Camden
Sun, 09/09/2012 - 1:00pm

If you’re old enough to remember MTV videos with the kind of breakdancing moves like the Rubber Band and head spins on top of an old flattened out cardboard box on the street, then yes, you can consider yourself old-school.

Those sweet dance moves may have disappeared from the over-produced slick music videos of today, but they’re very much alive and taught to younger generations, thanks to the men and women who have dedicated themselves to the art form.

In late August, Kea Tesseyman, owner of Kinetic Energy Alive, one of the hippest dance studios in the Midcoast, brought a crew of up from Boston — legends and pros in the art of popping, krumping, waacking and breaking (so tempted to throw in an arthritic old person joke here, but won’t) to teach a half-day series of dance workshops at her brand new studio in the Knox Mill, behind 40 Paper in Camden.

For four hours, guest instructors, who prefer to go by their dance names, included Shallow, who taught the popping class; Stackz, who taught krumping; Yo-Yo, who taught waacking; and Chickey, who taught breaking. To see a mini video of how each of these styles are performed, as well as a bit of their historical origins, check out each video.

The studio floor scorched with breakdancing moves as students learned the six-step move, the back one-handed walk over and various freezes.

For Tesseyman, the studio's opening took her full-circle. It all started 2003, when her son was a year old and Tesseyman was working three jobs. She knew she needed at least one night a week off to do what she loved. So, with her mother’s help, she’d get in her car at 9 p.m. and drive to Portland to train with dance instructor Bruce Tracey, a.k.a. “Peeter Parkker," for an 11 p.m. breaking session. “The first lesson was tough and no one made it easy,” she said.  “I needed something different, though I hadn't quite found my niche.”

The following year, Tracey introduced her to dance legends named Megatron and Shallow in Boston.  

“I walked through the doors of this run-down but still vibrant studio in Cambridge, Mass.,” she said. “And this enormous and loud, but wonderful, kind man [named Megatron] says: ‘Yo — what's up girl!? Welcome to the family.’ ”

With her new dance “family,” she said she learned to train, warm up, work on foundation, freestyle and compete in house “battles” [a term for a dance-off between two dancers exhibiting their skills]. The dedication and the long commute eventually paid off, enhancing her skill set, focus, range of technique and stamina. The support and encouragement she got from the Boston dance crew immeasurably helped her.

“The more I learned the truth of this dance world that embraced me — a single mom, white girl from Maine with ‘too much energy’ and a dream others called silly, the more I understood what we are all fighting for, and how what we battle for on the dance floor is no different than what we battle for in our lives,” she said.

As Tesseyman’s passion for street dance took hold, she became aware of how completely foreign it was to most of Maine’s dance studios.

“I became so miserable with how I was supposed to conform and not grow — or grow, but only a certain way,” she said. “Though I had great experiences at the different studios I’d worked with, I needed to move on and grow a different way."

Megatron taught her to embrace the fear.

“Instead of letting it own me, I made the decision to start Kinetic Energy Alive knowing very well I could fail, but also that I could succeed,” she said.

For the dance studio’s opening workshop, she said she was proud to “bring up the very people who have inspired me, taught, trained, and danced alongside me, pushed, helped and loved me — just for me.”

Her aim is to be the conduit for street dance and funk styles more common to urban settings and expose the skills and culture to Maine kids and adults.

More than 20 students of all ages crammed into the studio for Kinetic Energy Alive’s August 18 Dance Workshop. From the instructors' perspective, the overall vibe was: “whatever is going on in the music is what you display in your movement.” None of the instructors were looking for precise copying of their moves; they wanted the kids and adults to learn the basics and make each of the styles their own.

Shallow, a student of hip hop styles for 30 years, taught the finer points of popping for the first workshop, which required precise hand, arms, neck and hip movements, something the majority of the class picked up on right away. Next, Stackz relayed the art of krumping in his workshop, which draws from an internal energy. Dancers almost seemed to inhabit a character as they stomped and carved the air with their arms. Yo-Yo, the workshop’s only female instructor, inhabited her waacking workshop with more of a flowing, feminine energy, stemming from the dance’s androgynous roots from the disco era. Finally, Chickey, who runs his own dance workshops in Lowell, Mass., kicked off the breaking workshop with the classic toprock move, asking everyone to create their own variation.  The studio floor scorched with breaking moves as students learned the six-step move, the back one-handed walk over and various freezes.

Vicki Wellner, a current Kinetic Energy Alive student who participated in three of the four workshops, said she liked the technical aspects of the popping class the most.

“I learned some of the mechanics of it, then put some style to it,” she said. “All of the instructors obviously had talent, experience and skill. I love to dance, but that doesn’t mean I’m automatically a skilled dancer. I wanted to be able to enjoy it and learn without judgment and embarrassment. I was a little worried about feeling ridiculous, but they never made us feel that way. They were warm and sharing. I appreciated that they taught us a few things and added some foundation to the dance before asking us to add style on top.”

“It’s all about humility and respect,” Tesseyman told her students. “You treat the dance and the dancers with respect, you’ll get it back in return.”

The workshop ended up with a cypher in which students and instructors formed a circle and each person got a chance to perform in the center for a few moments.  [See our “Cypher” short video to see how it all turned out.]

Kinetic Energy Alive starts a new season of dance classes, including lyrical/contemporary, exercise and interpretive fusions on Sept. 10 and will run a 25-week season to end with a Company Show, in March 2013. For more details about classes visit kineticenergyalive.com