Experimenting is a risky business and can often lead to a life-long addiction.
For Simon Mendoza, however, experimenting has proven to be not at all risky or dangerous – but, rather, life-altering.
A freshman majoring in mass communications, Mendoza has grown to love a dance that grew from the streets, a style known to the masses as break dancing.
But according to Mendoza, there are two different types of dance associated with break dancing.
First, there’s break dance.
“To me, that’s more of a commercialized type of, like, flashy dance movement. You know, one that people see (in) You Got Served and say, ‘Oh, that’s break dancing,'” Mendoza said.
But the way he dances is different.
He’s a “b-boy,” an abbreviation for the term “break boy.”
Mendoza said the second style of dancing is b-boying, describing it as an underground movement of feeling the rhythm and maintaining constant movement.
“(It) doesn’t have to be flashy, doesn’t have to be a crowd pleaser. (You’re) just basically trying to aim your moves toward your opponent, or (you’re) even just expressing yourself and not impressing people,” he said.
B-boying started in New York in the 1970s, with rival groups competing against each other in “battles.”
Mendoza said rival gangs in New York were tired of getting arrested by the police for fighting each other, and decided to switch things up a bit.
“They wanted to find a way to fight each other – hence ‘battle each other’ – without getting caught or without actually expressing physical violence,” he said.
According to Mendoza, when two gangs would see each other in a club, they would taunt the other gang instead of engaging in physical fights.
“Each opponent from each crew was trying to cancel each other’s movement out, and whichever gang the crowd cheered for the most, that’s who technically won,” he said.
Thus, b-boying was born.
Since its development, b-boying has become increasingly nuanced through a seemingly endless series of influences. African tribal dances, a bit of James Brown and the Brazilian martial art Capoeira are just a few of the components that have helped the dance form evolve.
After 30 years, b-boying has grown up, incorporating more gymnastics into the mix.
“I’m glad it’s evolved,” Mendoza said. “It’s not good to stay at one certain level the whole time.”
Mendoza was first introduced to break dancing at the age of 13. His brother was experimenting with the dance form, and Mendoza followed suit, trying it on his own.
“I really didn’t think he was serious about it, but I started messing around, doing whatever he does, because he’s my older brother,” he said.
Mendoza’s fascination with break dance grew over the years and led to the formation of his break-dancing crew, which he helped found with a friend.
The group, called Breakjunkys, has competed in many competitions, including Soul Cypher 2006 at the University of Florida, Battle of the Elements and the Evolution 2 International Breakdance competition, both in Orlando.
However, not everything started smoothly.
When he first began battling in competitions, Mendoza recalls being nervous and preparing a mental list of his moves before competing.
“Your mouth gets super dry, it’s easy to lose endurance, it’s easy to lose concentration; but just as long as you stay on point, you’re fine,” he said.
Mendoza says most people know him from his footwork, which includes two-steps and three-steps.
“Basically it’s just kicking your legs around your body in a fashionable style to the beat,” he said.
As his skills progressed, Mendoza began to redirect his focus toward his overall attitude while onstage.
“Now I feel that I don’t have to write down any of my moves or any of my rounds; I just go out there and do my thing, and I can do it flawlessly,” Mendoza said. “Now I can say I feel the movement coming out of me instead of me trying to acquire it.”
Break dancing has changed Mendoza’s life.
“It’s given me something to work for. I’ll be practicing a move or something, and then that’ll be my goal for the month, or for the year, even,” he said.
Mendoza said b-boying has helped him branch off on his own, away from his old friends, who often brought unnecessary drama.
“That’s not the kind of life I want to live, being with all these drama kings and queens,” he said.
Breaking has also complemented his personal needs.
“I just want to be myself, and I find that this is the perfect way for me personally to be myself, not just through the way I talk, or my personality, but through my movement on the dance floor.”