Body Rockin’ Rites of Passage

I slipped my father’s aviator sunglasses onto my face under the red bandanna I had tightly strapped around my head. I sauntered through the cold storage doors to the full length mirror in his bedroom. I stared at the 12 year old facing me, complete with fishnet t-shirt and long-sleeved, red matching knit undershirt beneath, blue sweat pants with the corporate logo from my father’s company hidden beneath Bruce Jenner-style shorts. My socks were pure off-white, another product of my dad’s dresser, and the shoes: pink and purple Vans. I was a rainbow of fruit flavors. A costume designer for a John Hughes film could not have done better. It was perfect. I was perfect. I was a break dancer, and I was ready to break.

The rise of break dancing in Lexington, Kentucky hit in approximately June o f 1982, just six years after it became popular on the coast. I was 12, at the end of my sixth grade year, living in a predominantly caucasion suburban community not known for its cutting edge ways. The dance craze took my peers and me by storm. We were mesmerized by the musicas well as the sleek marketing of the albums that graced the shelves of the local record stores. Our mothers immediately signed us up for breakin’ lessons given by two high school students in the elementary school’s gymnasium who claimed they could do the head spin (they couldn’t). It was all so unbelievably fresh. On the last day of school, two of my friends and I did a break dance routine that we choreographed for the talent show. Several parents complained of deteriorating morals in the school, but we were undaunted.

By the beginning of seventh grade, break dancing was at its peak. Parachute pants were worn by everyone, and the halls began to look like walking licorice. I had become known for my breakdancing abilities over the summer. I was especially good at body rocking – which included the wave, the electric pop, bouncing the ball, the snake, the moonwalk- and some limited floor moves. I felt like the John Travolta of a new generation.

The movie Breakin’ was released, and I was one of the first in line to see Bugaloo Shrimp and Turbo take on the mean streets of New York’s dancing underground. When The Break Dancing Terminology Handbook was published, I was the first to have every term memorized. I bought the Footloose soundtrack and, much to my parent’s chagrin, fell in love with the song, “Dancin’ In The Sheets.”

At about this time, the Reaganesque suburb where I lived had finally realized that breakin’ was just another fad and had decided to get involved. A Break dancing contest was to be held at our public library. My mom brought the flier home to me. I recruited my good friend, himself an accomplished suburban breaker who lived down the street, and we went to work in my parent’s basement putting together a routine for the ages. I was the director. I set forth creating moves and combinations that had never before been seen or would be seen again. I was obsessed. We worked day and night to create the greatest show the front walk of the public library would ever see. Finally, two days before the big event, a Jerry Maguire sized-breakthrough in coreography: I realized that what the routine truly needed was spontaneity. The routine was fast becoming totally whack! We threw out the game plan and decided to just dance…

The aviator glasses were beginning to feel heavy on my face. It was getting difficult to focus. Thousands of eyes were transfixed upon me, waiting to see if I would live up to the billing (‘Best 13 year old Break Dancer in Upper Arlington’). The music started. I immediately noticed that something was amiss. “My God!” I thought, “They’re playing the wrong song!” My life flashed before my eyes. Everything I had painstakingly worked for was being ruined! (What I found out later was that my partner’s mom was vehemently opposed to her son body rockin’ to “Dancin’ In the Sheets.” She decided that a more appropriate number would be “Lets Hear It For The Boy”, another track on the aforementioned Footloose soundtrack). After the initial shock, I was forced to make a decision. Do I stop now and tell the judges to reset the music to the correct song? Or should I ride out what was sure to be a disastrous attempt to perform to this hideous little tune. I decided on the latter.

Four minutes and many stifled laughs later, my number was complete. I had made every attempt to remain fresh, despite being forced to dance to the lamest song in history. It was like if Barney opened for Metallica. Yet, I held my chin high for I felt a deep pride for what I had just accomplished. When the balloting came in, we came in fourth in the doubles category, ages 9-14. My partner and I shook hands firmly, happily noting that five teams had entered. The crowd dispersed quickly into their minivans and drove away to homemade dinners. Something inside me had changed. A rite of passage had been completed and somewhere in the distance, as I was getting into my mother’s K-car, I could swear I heard someone say “…Let’s hear it for the man.”

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