Breakdancing cypher gives northeast youth creative space and lessons in leadership

A circle of kids and older youth form a circle around a large square of linoleum on the floor while hip hop booms from a speaker, filling the plaza outside the Genesis Centre in northeast Calgary.

The open hip-hop jam gives local kids something they can call their own

A group of youth take turns at breakdancing and freestyle rapping outside the Genesis Centre in northeast Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A circle of kids and older youth form a circle around a large square of linoleum on the floor while hip hop booms from a speaker, filling the plaza outside the Genesis Centre in northeast Calgary.

Some jump into the middle of the circle and show off some jaw-dropping breakdancing moves while others follow by grabbing a mic and rapping. It's called a cypher.

"A cypher is sort of an open jam and people are expected to contribute their energy whether that's through rhyming or dancing, it's an interesting place," said Bryan Francisco, a community arts facilitator with Antyx Community Arts.

A group and bystanders gather around a square of lino as people take turns breakdancing and rapping at what’s known as a cypher. The weekly event is part of a program teaching kids about hip-hop culture and leadership. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"People on the outside can't see, so you're free from judgment from outsiders. There are no spectators in a cypher, just participants," said Francisco.

The idea for the weekly event came from a breakdancer who wanted a place for northeast dancers to learn and showcase skills rather than travel to other parts of the city.

That led to an annual breakdancing competition called Culture Shock and the grant money needed to create the weekly hip-hop program at the Genesis Centre, supported by the centre and the community organization 1000 Voices.

The program incorporates dance classes and youth leadership, as well as helps kids find their own style of expression through taking part in the cypher.

Bryan Francisco with Antyx Community Arts says he’s from the northeast himself and loves to see an event for local youth that lets them create their own story and challenge stereotypes. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"They learn leadership in the sense that they plan the entire event themselves, a lot of them got the materials for it, like the dance floor and the music, and they helped us write the grant for it as well," said Francisco.

"It brings community love, people just join and they watch," said Emily Ramcharran taking a break from dancing.

"When you're in the cypher it makes you feel like you can just be yourself, you don't have to impress anybody. You're in that circle and everyone's looking at you and cheering for you and you can do whatever you want — breaking, krumping, ballet even," said Ramcharran.

Emily Ramcharran says the event brings the community together as well as creates an artistic space for local youth. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Francisco said the event is also empowering local kids.

"I feel like people have some misconceptions around the kind of youth that come out here and the kind of things that go on. I'm really proud to be from the northeast and proud of the kids that are doing something to take control of that narrative and put it back in their hands," said Francisco.

The next Culture Shock breakdancing competition will be held in September.

The cypher takes place from 7 p.m. every Thursday.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist at CBC Calgary, filing stories for web, radio, TV and social media using only an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca