Thursday, October 22, 2009

Classic Dancer: Ken Swift

We're taking a different turn for our classic dancer feature today by focusing on Ken Swift. He's one of the original members of Rock Steady Crew and currently President of the VII Gems Hip Hop Movement in New York. There are few other original bboys who have had a greater influence on our present day generation than him. And his past legacy and present work continues to be relevant to our hip hop and street dance culture. (Photo above is from his myspace site

You can see a clip of Ken Swift from Style Wars here:

Ken Swift has been seen in several theatrical shows including the legendary Graffiti Rock, that propelled the early hip hop culture to a larger audience, and the Broadway hip hop musical Jam on the Groove. He has also graced the film screen with appearances in Flashdance, Beat Street, Wild Style, and the documentary Style Wars. Some aficionados have him called the true essence of bboying. Exposed to bboys while he was a young teenager on the Upper West Side, Swift went on to establish and reinvent foundation moves for breaking that have become synonymous with his persona. His flavor, style, footwork, freezes, and power stand above the rest. One of the most memorable moments was watching him ride the beat in small cyphers at Freestyle Session 2004 on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. He was effortless as he connected with the live music.

Along with his accomplishments, Ken Swift is dedicated to educating a younger generation, which sets a precedent for us in the future. He represents a street dancer who has grown in maturity and continues to maintain relevance regardless of age and circumstance. We can learn from his example and look forward to continuing to embrace dance as we age. Whether it is educating 8 year olds on the history of hip hop in New York through dance or spreading the wisdom of our culture through the VII Gems movement, Ken Swift has contributed to giving relevance and historical importance to hip hop culture. He has become a statesman of our first generation of hip hop and street dancers. The steps that he takes now will help younger dancers forge their own paths as they have a foundation to build on.

Finally, as seen in Style Wars, Ken Swift has gone on record articulating the rawness of bboying that can't easily be translated onto the stage or film. That's a relevant concern in our present day with the wave of hip hop dance TV shows and films. Have we lost the rawness that Ken Swift is talking about? Will the new generation of young dancers have to turn away from Youtube to reclaim the essence of street dance from its raw beginnings? His words are well-heeded. Perhaps we do need to take a step back from our media fascination with hip hop and street dance. Turn off the TV. Shut off the computer. And just go outside and practice.

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