The acrobats of the ground, the mix-masters of moves, the poets of percussion; they are the ones that challenge the laws of physics. Moving in ways you’d hardly believe, their bodies twist into contorted shapes and then pause, fixing the impossible pose for a moment, just to prove that it can be done. But who are “they”? The breakers of Imobilare.
Founded in 1998, Imobilare is a MIT club dedicated to breakdancing, holding MIT-only practices in Lobby 13 on Mondays and Wednesdays and open practices for members of the Boston breakdancing community on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the crew of less than twenty, there are only two women. Many of the MIT “breakers” had no previous experience in breakdancing but decided to join the club because it seemed interesting. Said club member Kawin Surakitbovorn ’14, “Imobilare was one of the reasons I chose to come to MIT … I feel like if I went to another school, there’d be so many good people that already do that stuff so I wouldn’t be able to join them.”
Breakdancing moves can be divided into four elements. Beginners start out with “toprock,” or standing moves like the Indian Step, which consists of crossing over your feet and stepping in rhythm to the beat. “Downrock” consists of movements on the ground with the hands supporting the body. Many of the downrock moves are variations on the basic 6-step, which is when you place your hands on the floor and step around a point on the ground. “Power” moves are showy and energetic, like the Windmill, when you lie on the ground and rotate your legs in the air, propelling the rest of your body to roll over. Finally, “freezes” are when you hold your body still for a moment, emphasizing the impressiveness of the move. All the elements are combined together with the rhythm of the music to create a dance.
What’s commonly known as breakdancing is divided into different styles. “Breaking is the style that everyone is doing right now, what people do with floorwork, like the toprock and the power moves and the windmills, but popping is more of an isolation hitting style [when you alternate fluid movements with sudden stops],” said Lakshman R. Sankar ’11, the leader of the club. “Traditionally, we’ve been more a freestyle pop group. Recently we’ve been more on the breaking side, but we try during performances to bring out some of the popping.”
Each breakdancer develops his or her own style over time. There’s no set curriculum of moves to follow. If you see someone perform a move that looks cool, then you ask that person to teach you how he or she did it. By adding your own flair, you make the moves your own. Because of this process, there are fewer injuries than you might expect, because you only learn moves that you feel comfortable with. “A lot of it is less about learning the hardest moves and more about learning moves that you like,” said Nicholas A. Pellegrino ’12.
Once dancers have learned a couple of moves, they show them off. Imobilare performs at various MIT events, such as Kappa Alpha Theta’s KATWalk. “We did choreography to Mulan. … We each had our own reflections [for the song “Reflection”] and there was a scene for “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” where there was [combat] training, and then a Hun versus Chinese battle scene at the end,” Pellegrino said.
On the other side of the spectrum from choreographed dances are the freestyle “battles” done against other b-boy crews. Each crew tries to “roast” the opponent in a manner inspired by street battles. The MIT crew has battled the Harvard crew with predictable results. “We’re certainly better than them. We’ve roasted them before. It’s on the internet,” Pellegrino said.
In April, Imobilare hosts its own jam session called “Breakonomics,” competing with crews from different states and even other countries. How does the MIT team stack up? “We put in a good effort,” Pellegrino said.
You never know who might be a breakdancer. Surakitbovorn had his principle investigator, Pablo Jarillo-Herrero in the physics department, walk in on him breakdancing and challenge him to a battle. “I actually didn’t do it because I would feel so awkward having to battle my 50-year-old professor,” Surakitbovorn said.