Kerala Hip-Hop: The Dance Nation You Didn’t Know Of

Recently, we were greeted to the news that Breaking (aka Breakdancing) will make its Olympic debut at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The idea was first proposed by the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF) in 2016; pointing out how Breaking fit neatly into the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). Following this, the Olympic Games Committee (IOC) drafted Breaking into YOG 2018 which was conducted in Buenos Aires and the very first “Battle” was held there. This event was a huge success and there was a lot of support for the sport from across the board and has led to the IOC’s decision to take the sport to the next level; giving dancers the much-deserved status as athletes. 

But what led to the writing of this discourse is an article that was published on Malayalam Manorama that was titled “2024 മുതൽ ബ്രേക്ക് ഡാൻസും മത്സരയിനം; പ്രഭുദേവയ്ക്കും ഒളിംപിക്സിൽ പങ്കെടുക്കാം!” The article makes a fundamental mistake of mixing “breaking” with “breakdance”. ‘Breakdance’ here, especially Prabhdeva’s style, is more of cinematic dance with elements of Breaking. Actual Breaking (or Breakdancing) is quite different.

This is when I realised that there was a lack of knowledge about Western dance culture and its influence in Kerala’s Dance scene. In fact, I believe that much of Kerala’s population happily classify all dance that is not ‘classical’ as “cinematic dance” (a cliche that exists in schools and colleges). And so, I write this piece to delve into the history of Breaking and the dance culture that it kicked off in Kerala.

B.F.AB : Born from a Boom-Box

Breakdancing came to be a dance form in New York City in the late 1960s and 1970s. It drew inspiration from martial arts and gymnastics and laid emphasis on energy, movement, creativity, humour, and an element of danger. It is one of the more widely known tributaries of the Hip Hop movement, and its rise was fueled by urban African-American and Latino youth, whom the public and political discourse had written off as marginalised, taking it up as a form of expression.

Before we move ahead, there are 2 terms that I’d like to introduce you to: Battles and Cyphers

You might be familiar with the glitzy dance battle scenes from movies like Step Up. In real life, it is equal parts raw, intense, and thrilling. With a live DJ for music and emcees to host the show, the participants are encouraged to perform their skills in the battle arena. The judgement is based not only on the steps but creativity in performing the perfect chain of moves (imagine Mortal Kombat combo hits!) in sync with the music, and on the spot improvisation. Battles are held as one on ones, two on twos, and team-wise. A much casual affair is a cypher where a circle of dancers keep performing to the music taking turns in the centre. It has deep, long-standing cultural roots in hip-hop culture, African tradition, and even religious beliefs.

But how did it come to the shores of Kerala? Aboard VCRs that Middle-East expatriates brought home, of course!

Breaking and hip-hop takes root in Kerala

Influenced by these cool moves from the West, independent groups in Kerala started coming up with their own setups. Footloosers, a breakdancing school in Trivandrum founded by students of Government Arts College in 1987, was one of the first such setups. 

“Those who showed interest in breakdancing were mostly from low-income groups and many of them attended classes without the knowledge of their parents. There was some sort of an ill perception about breakdance in the society,” K Santhosh Kumar aka Babu master, founder and chief trainer of Footloosers told The New Indian Express in an interview, highlighting the taboo associated with accepting Dancing/Choreography as a full-time job and drawing out a parallel with the origins of the Hip-Hop movement in the West. 

Adoption of breakdancing in Malayalakkara was further fueled by mimics parade troupes like Cochin Kalabhavan showcasing their own breakdance sub-troupes in their mega-shows. One can see these early influences seep into movie songs in the 90s like in Mookilla Rajyathu and Idanaazhiyil Oru Kaalocha.

But while the breaking wave lasted a while, the ‘cinematic dance’ wave gained more popularity thanks to the sensational Prabhudeva and eclipsed it. 

Breaking into the Millennium

While many fads from the 90s came and went, the hip-hop culture has had a systematic inhalation and growth in Kerala, thanks to the Internet and trained instructors who conduct workshops and competitions for skill honing. This has led to the creation of a group of culture-aware dancers. But if you ask me who was the first hip-hop crew in Kerala, I don’t really have an answer. Some sources mention a crew called No Joints Crew that existed in Kochi in 2005. (Please tell us in comments if you know more)

The hip-hop culture has percolated both the dance and music scene in Kerala and it is heartening to see musicians and dancers embracing the culture with authenticity while adapting it to the preferences of their audience in Kerala.

You might also like: Rap Cyphers That Dropped Straight Outta Kerala

Let me now introduce you to some popular dance crews/studios from Kerala. 

DR Crew 

De Rockyoumerz (DR Crew) is a crew from Thiruvananthapuram. They went on to perform b-boying at an international event titled Battle of the Year (BOTY) and was one of the first crews from Kerala to do so. They were also featured in the first season of D4 Dance, a reality show on Mazhavil Manorama.

Polestar Dance Crew

Winners of the Breezer Vivid Shuffle, India’s largest hip-hop festival. They were featured in a music video featuring actor Varun Dhawan and rapper Raftaar. Also, they qualified for two international hip-hop competitions in the US –  Hip Hop International and World of Dance.

B-Boiz

B-Boiz dance crew was founded in 2010 and will be completing its 10th year of formation this month. They were silver medalists in Hip Hop International 2019 MegaCrew Division and were selected to represent India. They are also the winners at Ragam, the annual inter-college fest conducted by the National Institute of Technology, Calicut.

Rap Ruddys

This crew, with its curious old school name, was initially formed in the 90s as a breaking crew and is currently one of the oldest and only crews in Kerala that focuses majorly on Popping Freestyle. Two of their members Deepak DLockz & Abhijith competed in Hip Hop International and won all style gold medals with an opportunity to go to the US in 2019. They have also won TARANTISM Vol.1 organised by Polestar Dance Crew in the all style crew category.

Killa clowns

Killa clowns are a breaking crew from Kerala. Crew members Bboywin and Bboymad are the winner and runner up, respectively, of Hip Hop International breaking solo category.

Aliyans

Team Aliyans gained popularity during their stint in D4Dance on Mazhavil Manorama and went on to win the group category in the third season. Their signature power-packed moves and over the top flying stunt sequences for peppy numbers has excited viewers and ensured their venture into North Indian reality shows including India’s Got Talent, India Banega Manch (IBM), and an invitation to Dance+. 

Street Villains 

Street Villains is a crew that is relatively new in the scene but is spitting fire in the battle scene. With a 9-member team, they have managed to get multiple wins under their kitty.

Choreo Grooves

Groomed under Myself and My Moves, led by dancers Sumesh and Jishnu, this all-style dance crew outshines every time with their killer dance moves and innovative choreography.

As part of Myself & My Moves dance studio, events and workshops are conducted throughout the year and attended by thousands of dancers every year. 

BigFoot Dance Arena

This dance company from Trivandrum was founded by Kevin Poulose who is also one of the members of Watch the Freaks dance team from CET and one of the organisers of D Streets (one of the first-ever dances battle in Kerala). BigFoot Dance Arena has been bringing Hip Hop education to Kerala through multiple workshops and dance camps. Their “Hype-Up Vol. 1 & 2” elevated the battle scene in Kerala with the Vol.2  drawing participants from across the country and big names from the dance industry as judges.

DsoulsDanceCompany

DsoulsDanceCompany started as a crew in 2013 and expanded to be a dance company with a studio in 2017. They received their big break with a performance on Flowers TV and have associated with multiple channels since. They were featured in the Jimikki Kammal Dance version alongside Lalettan and have a popular Lalettan Tribute Dance in their kitty. They were also invited for the Youtube Fanfest 2019 where they went on to perform and prove their popularity.

Rock Paper Scissors

Hailing from Kochi, Rock Paper Scissors crew were instrumental in spreading hip-hop dance culture as they were the first crew to organise a large scale dance camp back in 2017, called ‘Vibe Dance Camp’ inviting faculties and experts dancers from the well known Famous Crew. They are said to be the first all-style crew from Kerala and are also responsible for initiating “Let’s Chill” Hip-Hop party series in Kochi in 2019. Their members are now part of multiple Indie music videos as well as films.

College Events/Crews

Colleges have always been a platform for aspiring dancers to discover themselves and come forward as dancers, interacting with like-minded people and gaining confidence by performing in front of a favourable large crowd! And students across Kerala’s institutions have been keen on having their own dance crews, with students coming together, bringing in professional choreographers, to practice whenever they can and compete in dance competition circuits across the state and outside.

With college crews like the above mentioned BBois or Watch the Freaks from CET Trivandrum (@watchthefreakz), D’Addiction Dance Crew from Vidya Academy of Science and Technology Thrissur (@daddictiondance), Die Hard Dancers (DHD) from Government Engineering College Thrissur (@dieharddancers), RESONANZ Dance Crew from NSSCE Palakkad (@resonanzdancecrew), etc. backed by Kerala’s hottest dance crews and choreographers, colleges are the breeding ground for upcoming Olympians.

And through these avenues, we are in awe of the rising girl power with many of them ready to come out to the spotlight and breaking the shackles of the conventional expectations and taking the hip-hop scene in Kerala by storm.

The bright future of Hip-hop in Kerala

With the spread of authentic hip-hop culture powered by dancers and choreographers, the dance scene in Kerala is rich with talent and variety that is slowly propelling it to the top shelf in the country, and competent enough to reach the World stage.

Kerala is slowly acknowledging this potential with Breaking getting featured in our pop culture. 

The song ‘Pambaram’ by Street Academics had an all-star feature from multiple crews including Rock Paper Scissors, Street Villains, South Side Bboys, Polestar, and more. 

Also, we were recently greeted with a movie teaser called ‘MoonWalk’ directed by A.K Vinod, exploring the early days of Breaking in Kerala.

Kappa TV with its initiative called ‘FootLoose’ also focuses on bringing a 3 -5 MinTV Spots for dancers and crews 

And a special shout-out to independent Youtube Channels like Soul TV (@soultv_in) for focusing on Kerala hip-hop culture, and covering battles and updates on the national hip-hop scene.

But what can you do to help the hip-hop scene in Kerala? 

Let’s keep supporting and cheering for them when they perform on-stage and encourage them on their artist’s journey wherever we can. Also, do watch out for these dance crews anywhere in the print and social media, and spread the word. Don’t forget to demand the credits for any dancers in the future music videos or shows they are featured in! Cos Malayali Pwoli alleda?! Malayaalikk kooott Malayaali alleda?!

You might also like: 9 Malayalam Hip-Hop Tracks You Just Can’t Miss

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