B-Boys Break Down Gender Binaries With Body Movement

Amy O’Neal and collaborator Mike O’Neal perform a duet dance during an event at Scripps College’s Richardson Dance Studio on Oct. 20. (Meghan Joyce • The Student Life)

When mentioning breakdancing, people mostly think of hard and masculine movements; a guy who dances “softly” or “smoothly” will be called out for being “sexy” or “sexual” in the dance battle. Amy O’Neal, a dancer from Seattle, and her dance partner Michael O’Neal (no relation) attempted to use their body movement to break down gender stereotypes and demonstrate the gender binaries in b-boys during a live performance called “There is No Other,” held at Scripps College’s Richardson Dance Studio on Oct. 20.

The show began with a documentary of Amy's work, “Opposing Forces,” which uses various kinds of contemporary performances to expose fears around feminine qualities in American culture through the hyper-masculine dance style of Breaking. In the documentary, the five world-class breakdancers uncovered binary perceptions of gender using a diverse range of dance contexts.

One of the performers, Alfred “Free” Vergara, shared his challenges with breakdancing: “Breaking is really a male-dominated dance, which [forces you] to limit yourself … At first, I just don’t feel right to move in that way, and we could be called out being ‘soft’ or ‘sexual’ during a battle,” Vergara said.

Their concerns motivated Amy to initiate more conversations with the five dancers about practicing dance. “The reputation is really an issue,” Amy said. “I am trying to be open-minded and ask them to share their opinions toward the meaning of masculinity and femininity.”

After the documentary, Amy and Michael began their performance. The first part of their dance was an exploration of new ideas: The pair improvised three out of four of their pieces and incorporated new concepts while performing.

“[The dance] is more about exploring fusion of jazz, hip-hop, breaking, and contemporary ballet,” Amy said. During Michael’s solo part, Amy claimed that he started to dance in a “sexy way” to show the opposing forces of gender stereotypes.

Followed by the sound of water, the performance came to its second part: mystery. The duo started to “pull” each other with an invisible string.

“I was very intrigued by the string part,” said Elena Lev SC '21. “I am wondering what the string signifies. [Amy and Michael] seemed to manipulate and follow each other’s movements at first, while later the strings seemed to be broken, and they started to both follow and lead at the same time.”

The adaptation of a partner’s emotion is an important theme of Amy's performance. The two dancers observed and tried to imitate each other’s movements, and absorbed each other’s emotions and integrated their own.

“[The dance] is like a back-and-forth conversation,” she said.

After the performance, the dancers took part in a Q&A session in which students and faculties had the chance to ask questions and talk to the dancers directly about their performances.

At the end of Amy’s documentary about “Opposing Forces,” Vergara shared his expectations about the work.

“I hope the work encourages people to move in different ways,” Vergara said. “B-boys can still move softly or smoothly, and at the same time, be masculine.”

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