Growing up in Brooklyn, I was a tomboy without any contact with actual boys. I was the youngest of two girls raised by a single mother. My sister and I both went to an all-girls, ultra-Orthodox Jewish day school and neither of us had any male friends. During summer breaks, I went to an all-girls camp in the Catskills where we played volleyball and basketball in long skirts, though dribbling a basketball ball between your legs with a swath of denim in the way was no easy task. My extracurricular activity of choice was gymnastics, a sport that doesn’t exactly runneth over with boys. Yet everyone called me a tomboy, which simply meant that I liked to climb, jump and use a patio mattress to surf down the main staircase at home. I suppose these are things that only boys were supposed to enjoy. I thought I was content with my cadre of female friends even if they weren’t as physically aggressive I was and didn’t understand my enthusiasm for gym class. They sat on the sidelines doing their nails while I picked at mine out of nervousness during exams.
It wasn’t until I started college in Philadelphia, two hours away from home, that I first discovered the camaraderie of men. From running with a male friend to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (and triumphantly up the stairs like “Rocky”) to playing touch football on Saturday nights in the quad to watching stoner comedies late at night in the dorms, I discovered the simple joys of friendship with men. I could joke without worrying that a guy had been secretly offended by my comment but wouldn’t say anything until two years later. I don’t do passive-aggressive and neither, as it turned out, did my male friends. I thought I had found a comfortable balance between male-female friendships.
In 2006, I was a student in grad school, which meant I spent several hours a day sedentary—reading, writing and playing endless games of Spider Solitaire. I decided I needed an active hobby and went to a local dance studio in search of a hip-hop class. The receptionist suggested a beginner breaking class instead. Sure, why not? I thought. Who wouldn’t want to try break dancing? When polling my friends, I later learned that this was not actually a rhetorical question.
I fell hard and fast for the dance in the same way I fell for gymnastics, and in a way I’ve never fallen for a man. From break dance classes, I progressed to free practice sessions that are announced mostly by word of mouth and are held in community centers throughout New York City. This is when my total boy immersion began.
Though there aren’t precise numbers, the global ratio of b-boys to b-girls is about 6:1. I am often one of the few women at a practice, surrounded by 20 or more b-boys. (FYI: B-boy translates to “break boy.” B-girl is obviously the female version.) Occasionally, I’m the only woman. When this happens, I don’t feel awkward or shy. We’re all there for the same reason—to practice the dance that we love. Outside of practices and battles, I’ve had to deal with flirting and sexual advances, though none too aggressive or troubling. But when we are dancing, our goals (if not always our abilities) are the same. The mechanics of breaking can be more difficult for a woman since ladies tend to have wider hips and heavier bottoms. This makes it trickier for us to keep them off the ground. Though no self-respecting b-girl would openly gripe about anatomical differences.
At the end of one of my twice-weekly uptown sessions, the Dominican b-boys who reserve the space free of charge and bring the music and speakers, put on a track that begins with the proclamation: “Big titties!” In my “regular” life, Feminist Me would find that song offensive but at a session with my “brothers,” I laugh or shrug it off. There are no big breasts in this room, I think, smiling. Certainly not on the b-boys, whose abs are rock hard and do not possess even the slightest traces of moobs. And not on the girls who tend to be of a sportier, less curvy persuasion.
But not only do I turn a deaf ear to the occasional misogynistic track that plays (though most of the music we dance to is surprising clean pre-hip hop funk and soul)—I will even argue that my dancing buddies are actually feminists though they would never brand themselves with that particular F-word. How did I come to this conclusion even if I’ve never had any discussions about the glass ceiling or pro-choice politics with my fellow dancers? By asking them to teach me how to do windmills. That’s the move where a dancer’s legs whip like the blades of a windmill, propelled by the twin engine of whipping one’s legs while rolling from the front of the torso to the back of shoulders.
When I first approached the guys about this “power” move, none suggested a simpler, less physically strenuous element. They did not imply there are limitations to what I could do based on my gender. They simply broke it down for me as they would have done for any other novice, warning me that I was in for months of upper body pain. This was hardly news to me. I had seen bone spurs on their shoulders, the result of months of slamming the joint into the floor. Nor have I seen them go soft on any of the girls at practice. If a dancer asks to learn a head spin (which I have no desire to perform since it is the leading cause of b-boy pattern baldness) they do the same thing they did for me—teach it.
After a few weeks of working on the windmill, I noticed a protrusion on my shoulder. My body was calcifying at the point of impact with the ground. I probably should’ve been horrified—this would certainly be noticeable and perhaps unattractive in tank tops and dresses—but I was actually proud of it. At the next session, I showed it off to the other b-boys, and we compared the size of our bumps. In breaking it’s your bumps, not your lady lumps, that matter.
The “Love Your Body” section and all articles within it are sponsored by Crystal Light; however, the articles are all independently produced by The Frisky and the opinions and views expressed by the writers and experts are their own.