How did South Korea come to rule the b-boy world? What role did Asian Americans play? When I visited the 2008 R16 competition in Suwon, heads dropped a history of breaking and hip-hop in South Korea and Korean America on me…
This summer, the United States is reaching new heights of dance fever as TV shows like Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and MTV’s “Randy Jackson Presents: America’s Best Dance Crew” have returned to the airwaves.
MTV’s runaway hit is considered especially cutting edge, showcasing hip-hop dance groups from across America. But if MTV really wants the best dance crew, it should be looking in South Korea.
“Of the top six or seven crews in the world, I’d say half of them are from Korea,” says Christopher “Cros One” Wright, 33, an American dance promoter and b-boy who was recently in Suwon, South Korea, to judge the second annual global invitational hip-hop dance competition, called R16, that was held at the end of May.
The development of South Koreans’ hip-hop dancing could be seen as a cultural parallel to their sharp global ascendance in electronics and automaking. A decade ago, Koreans were struggling to imitate the Bronx-style b-boy and West Coast funk styles that are the backbone of the genre. Now, a handful of these crews are the safest bets to win any competition anywhere.
Certainly no country takes its hip-hop dance more seriously. The Korean government — through its tourism board and the city of Suwon — invested nearly $2 million in this year’s competition. Two of the most successful teams, Gamblers and Rivers, have been designated official ambassadors of Korean culture. Once considered outcasts, the b-boys now seem to embody precisely the kind of dynamic, dexterous and youthful excellence that the government wants to project.