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Culture, Jiva

Mutant Dance Moves

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / Images by Tyrone Bradley / 21.05.2012

The photo studio in Zonnebloem is white-washed and pristine. Old issues of Dazed and Confused are arranged neatly on the white tressle tables. In the front, two men are entangled in a dangerous balance of tensions. The shorter one is doing some kind of vertical handstand off the side of the bigger, dreadlocked one’s thighs. He spins and lands gently on his feet. Another man fiddles with the sound on the radio-lining up a playlist of Kriss-Kross, KRS-1 and Tupac.

The Ninja Turtles are a relatively new crew. New, except T-time Terry, B-boy Roots and B-boy The-Curse collectively have over 25 years of dance experience between them.

“This is the music that taught us hip hop. These guys Prophets of da City, Brasse Vannie Kaap… Back then, hip hop was very appealing, but not too accessible. We had VHS tapes. We’d record all the music videos. All the dance, and make copies from everyone else. But sometimes we’d want to be stingy.” Laughs B-boy The-Curse. “Y’know, you wanna learn and perfect the moves before everyone else.”

Curse, also know as Brandon from the famous Handbrake Turn crew looks young, fresh-faced with pretty boy features. At the age of 24, he’s already been dancing for over eleven years. A third generation hip hopper. A veteran. He reckons the kids have it easier these days. Between MTV and YouTube, they’re pretty much sorted for content and inspiration. But the game is different now. Less hard, more poppy. With the globalisation of hip hop came mass consumerism, this means that it’s more watered down. A little more palatable. “It’s crazy right? The new kids are way talented, but they’re arrogant. I can’t blame them though, they had no-one to learn from. There was a gap.”

According B-boy Roots, there’s a lack of education in Cape Town hip hop. “The older guys, the first generation, well they made it. Touring oversees, they got endorsements. They got the whole package, but no-one stayed behind to teach the kids. So the kids are learning hip hop from TV. There are no parents in this game.”

And that’s where they want to make a difference on the local b-boying scene. The Ninja Turtlers want to shift the status quo of crews unwilling to teach and kids unwilling to learn. They want to combat the old South African syndrome that any success breeds jealousy. They’re all about building the breaking scene, not killing it.

The Ninja’s Turtles are a new crew, but between them they have over 25 years of experience. They came together while putting on a production for the British Council and Heal the Hood NGO. This new collaboration of experienced b-boy heads is what they believe gives them the winning edge.

Away from the studio, in a living room in Eerste Rivier, where they have been practising for the past few months, the dancers come alive. The furniture has been moved to the side. Taped together cardboard and a framed mirror placed on the floor, this is where they rehearsed the routine that propelled them into the top 8 for Red Bull Beat Battle 2012.

“We had to learn a lot of different dance styles in a short amount of time.” Says Roots. “Traditional Zulu dance, Khoi-San, pantsula. We had to use all of these influences, and incorporate them into our hip hop. We’ve been dancing together and touring for the past few months, so it just made sense that we enter the competition as a crew. We called ourselves the Ninja Turtles. Underground, y’know, subterranean stuff.”

“A few months back, a director from a dance academy came to one of our practices,” Roots continues. The director could not wrap his mind around the fact that a handful of street dancers has been dominating the local hip hop scene for so long. “He didn’t get why the international guys are flying us overseas to perform and give workshops, and not his studio trained hip hop dancers.”

“What the hell is hip hop dance?” Brandon aka The-Curse interjects. “The stuff that they teach… those kids don’t even know what the five elements of hip hop are! They can’t break, can’t do any floorwork. They’re all about tricks. There’s no passion. No rhythm.”

“The thing is,” says T-time Terry, who has been sitting quietly all this time, but now he’s pounding on his chest. “ This is where we dance from. We practised on the tarmac out there on the street. We don’t dance for fancy lights and multiple mirrors. We dance from the heart.”

*The Red Bull Beat Battle goes down 26 May at the Baseline in Jozi. Get your tickets here.

**Images © Tyrone Bradley/Red Bull.

Learn more about Red Bull Beat Battle here.

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