We tend to associate hip hop with contemporary artist such as Drake, Young Thug, and Kanye West. By this point, hip hop has undoubtedly engrained itself in every facet of society, including everything from clothes to slang, so much so, that it can become difficult to identify its origin. It's even harder to celebrate the true meaning of hip hop and what it meant to the culture's pioneers.
But those from The Bronx know.
Hip hop emerged out of the South Bronx in the late 70’s. It gained popularity with its diverse lyrics, dance moves, and attitude. It was a creative way to see through its practitioners' often heavy adversities. At its root, hip hop was — and still is today — a way to tell stories. Many of these narratives were told through dance. Breakdancing was one of the most notable. The term breakdancing describes the style of dance where performers would dance to the break of a song's beat.
The dance style, which became less popular in mainstream media, is being celebrated by women in The Bronx today and being used take back ownership of hip hop.
Earlier this month, I attended the First Fridays! All the Ladies Say Underground Hip Hop Anniversary event at the Bronx Museum. The event was hosted by world famous “B-Girl," Ana “Rokafella" Garcia, to celebrate the anniversary of her film All the Ladies Say. The film follows the lives of six veteran b-girls from all over the country. It highlights the contributions of female break dancers to hip hop while challenging the one dimensional "video vixen" notion.
Garcia was crowned the nickname Rokafella because she would literally “rock the fellas” on the dance floor, showing them up just as much as she did her fellow ladies. Garcia eventually took a trip to Europe with fellow dancer Kwikstep and it is there she realized her passion for breakdancing. Through her newfound passion, she was able to travel the world and perform with artists such as Fabolous, Janet Jackson, KRS One, LL Cool J and Will Smith.
As a woman a part of a male dominated industry, Garcia knew the influence she had and it was this influence she used to empower other young women. I had the opportunity to chat with her a bit further and through our conversation I realized dancing was the outlet that changed her life.
Today, Garcia teaches breakdancing classes to inner city youth at community centers and dance studios, all across New York.
I asked Garcia how she feels Bronxites can use hip hop to empower and uplift themselves. She said "they have to hold on to it, hold on to their roots." She explained that in The Bronx, she sees a special type of comradery. Though this is a borough of immigrants, where the differences outweigh the similarities, everyone seems to have an “we are all in this together” approach. Learning about how much hip hop has contributed to the borough’s history is a way she thinks residents can unite, and thrive together, even more.
On this night, she was right. The event brought people from all cultures and age groups. All in the name of hip hop. Even though the city was in the midst of a hurricane Joaquin, that did not stop attendees from enjoying the event. Attendees even came from Japan and Croatia, as well as boroughs across the city including Brooklyn and Staten Island. There were over a hundred people in attendance who wanted to celebrate the culture’s origins. Both children and senior citizens alike, enjoying good music, good vibes, and good company. It was truly a beautiful sight. The event featured live music, painting, and a ceremonial B-girl dance-off.
Bilal, a Brooklyn native, said he was a fan of Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen and tries to attend all of their events. Throughout our conversation, he kept mentioning that hip hop is a dominant culture, and he’s glad that it is being celebrated in The Bronx. The only thing that keeps him away from the borough is the distance (sometimes the cross-city trip can seem, to some, as far away as Japan).
Lisa, a resident of Bedford Park, mentioned she was completely inspired by the events premise. The all-female show made her feel empowered. She always wanted to be a B-girl and she admired Garcia’s career.
The event united the borough, shed light on The Bronx being an originator in today’s hip hop society, and empowered other women. Lisa wasn’t surprised that an event like this was happening, but she stressed a point that seemed to be the general consensus amongst those in attendance. “We need to keep events like this happening (in The Bronx). It will inspire the people who live here.”