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The Bounce: A Look at Flexing and the Bruk Up

Yoshi Sodeoka

We’ve already taken a look at housing and voguing — two dance styles that got their starts in the 1980s — for our dance column, The Bounce, now we turn our attention to a more recent but no less impactful dance phenomena of the bruk up and flexing.

The bruk up is named for the legendary contorting Jamaican dancer and personality who developed it in dance halls and on stages in his home country in the ’90s. His influence and technique would go overseas from the Caribbean to the United States via performance videos and would eventually evolve into the battle-oriented culture of flexing in Brooklyn, NY.

According to Sam I Am, a street dancer who has mastered both styles, flexing became a pivotal and positive activity for Brooklyn youth in the 2000s who would’ve otherwise succumb to the streets. “There was a big gang culture in Brooklyn, so it kind of became the dance of the gang culture,” he explains. But instead of settling differences with  violence the same kids battled for bragging rights with movement and style. “It [flexing] stopped people from doing the gang thing and [got them] more focused on dancing.” Brooklyn teens from Caribbean-American neighborhoods like Flatbush, East New York and Crown Heights took the Jamaican bruk up style and incorporated elements from their own experiences  and developed the competitive dance style of flexing to do what any teenaged boy wants: the respect of his peers and the attention of young ladies: “You dance [and] whether you’re being aggressive or not it still gets you girls. It still gets you a name. So it kind of saved a lot peoples lives in that aspect.”

A Haitian-American and Brooklyn native, Sam I Am’s approach to the bruk up and flexing incorporate elements of hip-hop dance and popping with the same competitive edge as his predecessor except with more elegant refined movement. You’ll get a chance to see him in action as he’ll be one of the featured dancers at Red Bull Music Festival’s Bounce Ballroom event this week (May 1) demonstrating the styles.

And what’s the soundtrack to all of this intense dance? If you guessed dancehall reggae you’re right as songs like Bounty Killer’s ‘Fed Up’ and ‘Bun A Fire’ are anthems but you might be surprised to know that for flexing some hip-hop ends up in the mix and unlikely songs like Evanescence’s ‘Bring Me To Life‘ or Michael Jackson’s ‘Dirty Diana.’ Can’t imagine kids from Brooklyn getting loose to the sounds of Amy Lee? You’ve gotta see Sam I Am, Bones the Machine, Drew Dollaz do it while legendary DJ Bobby spins.

Buy Bounce Ballroom Tickets Here

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