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Bodily Funktions keeps the art of street dance alive

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2004-05-31


I suppose it’s a sign that you’re growing old when trends you had assumed passed with your youth become not just popular again, but respectable.

When “break dancing” came to mainstream attention in the early 80s, it was generally regarded as some curiosity the kids were up to these days. But look around: street dancing, and the multitude of styles associated with it, is just as big as it ever was, and has evolved into a “legitimate” area of study for dancers.

It’s something that’s both a blessing and curse for the five members of Bodily Funktions, a Fort Wayne dance group dedicated to the art of street dancing in all its forms. A blessing because street dance — popping, locking, breaking, etc — is recognized as a serious pursuit for dancers. A curse because…

“The style of dance that we do is becoming a major fad,” says Bodily Funktions’ Amber Rowlett, who goes by the alias “Pringles.” “We’d rather people who want to learn how to dance like this, learn it the correct way.”

Bodily Funktions (Amber and Josh Roulett, Jocelyn Eckhout, Ted Sudaphong, and Kee Kim) performs and teaches street dance at the Fort Wayne Dance Collective. Each member specializes in a different style. Amber Rowlett is the group’s “popper,” a form of dance consisting of floating, ticking, wave movements. Jocelyn Eckhout “locks,” which is where your body seems to move out of control, then snap back into position (if you’re over 30, think Rerun’s dance from What’s Happening).

The five members of the group sort of fell together through a mutual love of street dance. Some of the members had studied dance formally, some hadn’t, but all learned their particular style of street dance on their own. Eckhout, who has been dancing for nearly 20 years, seems to speak for the entire group when she says: “I’m one of those people who can just pick up something. If I see someone do something, I can pick I up like that. I’ve had lessons, but for what I wanted to do, you couldn’t learn it in class.”

With street dance, the emphasis is on originality. The members of Bodily Funktions constantly stress how essential it is that dancers do their own thing. So, if the mantra of street dance is “be yourself” then what lead the members of Bodily Funktions to want to teach it, rather than just concentrating on performance?

“There are a lot of dance studios that offer street dance, but what they’re doing is taking what they do, and adapting it to hip-hop music,” says Ted Sudaphong a free-style dancer who goes by the alias “MSG.” “Hip-hop dance at other studios is a craft. They teach the moves. We teach how to create with those moves. That’s the art.”

“What other studios do is jazz dance, and add a little funk to it,” says Eckhout. “That’s just choreography.”

As Bodily Funktions see it, if you went to someone who taught ballet, or someone who taught modern dance, you’d expect that person to know a little bit more about ballet, or modern dance, than just the choreography. So why shouldn’t the same standards apply to the different styles that fall under the umbrella of street dance?

Josh Rowlett, (“Glide”) who is Amber’s husband and the group’s breaker, says another reason he likes teaching is that not too long ago, if you wanted to learn this kind of dance, it was pretty tough. “I see it as me giving to people what I never had when I wanted to study these styles,” says Josh. He adds that one of the best things about teaching is seeing people come out of their shells. “Dancing like this builds your self-confidence. When I first started, I was really quiet, really shy. I’ve seen the same thing happen in what we do here. A the end of the class, we have open circles, where weply music and everon goes out and dances. I’ve seen people come in here who wouldn’t talk, and after a few classes they just go out there and do their thing.”

Whatever their methods of teaching street dance, it’s had a great response. Bodily Functions’ students include everyone from novices to trained dancers in other fields looking to explore a different style.

But I have to ask: what’s with the nicknames? “Ted is a guy who sells stereos,” says Sudaphong. “But everyone knows MSG is a freestyle dancer.” And aliases take on a life of their own. Ted points to Josh and Amber sitting on the couch across from him. “Even their parents call them ‘Pringles’ and ‘Glide’ now.”

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