I found a gym filled with funk music, young people twirling and tumbling, and a faint smell of fruit juice and chocolate cookies when I showed up to the East Madison Community Center on Tuesday. Sashe Mishur, a dancer who studied classical ballet, explained the basics of b-boying (aka breakdancing) to me during an open practice session. Mishur wore her curly grey hair half up – displaying the rhinestones on the sides of her cat-eye glasses – and spoke of the program and the dance style with enthusiasm.
B-boying began in New York as part of the hip-hop movement among African-American and Latino youth. Those who dance in that style reject the term breakdance, Mishur explained, as it refers to the commercialized version of the culture. B-boying is now a global phenomenon.
“The most dope dancers are Korean,” said Mishur.
The group at the EMCC displayed a wide demographic. Children as young as eight danced with teenagers and adults. Hmong, African-American, and white teens danced together. And Mishur boasted that five b-girls attend regularly.
“I’ve never worked with a group that had less sexism,” she said.
Two years ago she started inviting teens in the area to practice their dance and learn from each other. Since then they’ve added a second session each week, and junior dancers (aged 8-10) recently joined in. A few experienced adult dancers, including an Epic employee and a fifth-grade teacher, help instruct and oversee the students.
“I think some of them are born dancers. And what they’re learning is that dance is hard, darn work,” said Mishur.
The students learn from each other, with observation and diligent practice. Mishur estimates 40 attendees at each of the twice-weekly sessions. The program continues to grow, despite a $0 budget and strictly word-of-mouth promotions.
The EMCC provides the gym and Mishur’s time, as she serves as an outreach worker for the center. Mishur relies on volunteers to supervise and prepare food. Because of the lack of budget, she finds snacks for the group at local food pantries. Many of the students come straight from school and spend four hours (from 4-8 p.m.) dancing at the center. Mishur hopes to provide them dinner in the future
For the time being, cookies, orange wedges, and juice suffice for snacks, but Mishur believes the sessions can serve up “courage and fortitude.”
“Like any other discipline, as you master the dance you learn a lot of life skills,” she said.
She explained that she’s never enjoyed a job more than the time she spends with the dancers at EMCC who show up twice a week, greet her with hugs, and practice their art.