Return of the B-Boys 

Atlanta's breakdancing scene attracts attention, but at what cost?

B-Boy Quic is dancing inside a rectangle of rope laid out on the floor. His body leans at precarious angles as his fast feet Spirograph wide arcs around a merely speculative center of gravity. To remixed funk of fast-flying samples and scratches over a lead-foot bassline, he leaps and lands on his spine. He six-steps and spins on his head. He freezes in impossible poses, propping his entire body onto the support of a single wrist. And all the while, he wears a floppy fishing hat that he knows how to work. Women are screaming. Somewhere in the crowd, a Southern belle falls in love.

Quic isn't dropping his moves on a gritty street corner or crowded dancefloor. He's performing at 7 Stages in a modern dance production by Duende Dance Theatre.

After the show, he's approached by a moneyed, fiftysomething matron with an expensive perm. She wears an understated outfit tailored just so and sports an aura of over-sweetened iced tea. She melts in the radiance of Quic's big, bright smile, blushing under her foundation in the warm reflection of his skin, the color of light cane syrup. She talks fast, her hands fluttering in the discovery of something new. The 22-year-old breakdancer charms her with his replies.

May the rapping saints of the Sugar Hill Gang protect us, Buckhead Betty has rediscovered breakdancing.

As I watch their exchange, I'm transported to 1985. I'm studying the giant instructional wall poster K-Tel thoughtfully supplied with Breakdance, a cassette compilation that includes Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five doing "Wheels of Steel." A country boy in a dairy town, I'm sending angular, palsied waves across my arms and shoulders, and my body poppin', such as it is, joins the equally adept Moonwalk I'd cribbed from Michael Jackson in '82.

Breakdancing surged into the mainstream the first time in 1983 when Jennifer Beals' artful exotic dancer (and welder) in Flashdance gave her Julliard audition some street cred. Her moves were ripped from the Rock Steady Crew, whose members appeared in the movie, breakdancing in alleyways and on sidewalks.

That same year saw an explosion of new crews around Atlanta. Hi-Fi Tribe was one of the city's first, started when Atlanta native Totem joined with two newly arrived Atlantans: Miami breakdancer Jinx and K.P. from L.A. Their union has a lot to do with the unorthodox style of Atlanta breakdancing, which combines the East Coast focus on dance and theatrics with the West Coast emphasis on power and gymnastics.

But by 1985, breakdancing had all but become a joke. Witness Don Ameche backspinning at a nightclub in the "Seniors Gone Wild" antics of 1985's Cocoon. By then, the pop music audience had decided that headbanging was more dignified, and I started stealing David Lee Roth moves from "Just a Gigolo."

Popular attention didn't create breakdancing. It also didn't kill it. But its exploitation and overexposure in the mid-'80s sent it underground. Those who loved it most continued dancing for each other, but in private places like friends' basements where no one would laugh at them. The rest of us mostly forgot about it.

But now breakdancing is back, and in a big way. Only this time I don't need to break out my K-Tel instructional dance poster, because the masters are providing instruction at dance studios and aerobics classes throughout the city.

At Dance 101, a new dance studio in Miami Circle -- the high-end home decor cul-de-sac in Buckhead -- Quic and his crewmate Rebirth teach classes in breakdancing and popping every Sunday as part of a full day of hip-hop movement classes.Most of the students are in their 20s and 30s, representing a wide diversity of ethnicities and an equal distribution of men and women. Except for 62-year-old Wayne, a recently divorced real estate developer. He wants to start going out to clubs again, but he realized, "all the dances I knew were 25 years old," so he sticks around for most of the day's hip-hop classes.

Rebirth's class in popping is first. Popping (the fusion of what once was popping and locking) used to be a fully integrated element of breakdancing, but this time around it has taken on a life of its own. Many of the best poppers don't breakdance at all. Think the robot, think moves that simulate a strobe light, think jerky slo-mo pantomime

Next up is Quic's class in breakdancing. His enthusiasm for breakdancing is extraordinary. He makes it easy for all of us to drop our inhibitions and throw ourselves into crazy combinations and impossible freezes. He teaches us six-stepping, that staple of breakdancing where fast-tapping feet travel around a squatting dancer, whose weight is balanced on the hands. To my surprise and pleasure, I pick up the basic move pretty quickly. We also learn toprocking -- footwork performed while standing -- which turns out to be more complicated than I'd imagined.

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