Breakdancing transformed my life
Bgirl Emma Houston on dance as a tool for empowerment.
The roar of the crowd. Eyes sparkling, senses overwhelmed. An out of body experience, a whirling panoramic view, zooming out, and then diving straight back down to earth to focus on my face. Looking at myself square in the eyes, then suddenly I'm back in my body again.
Hearing, seeing, feeling. I've always had a wild and vivid imagination. This moment is one I had imagined many times as a kid, walking out onto a football pitch ahead of a match in a sold out stadium. The thunderous feeling of a force so great and a moment so monumental that I imagined it being filmed from all angles. Perhaps I played too much FIFA. I always wished there was a soundtrack of epic music playing whenever I played a football match. Maybe I watched too much Match Of The Day. Or, maybe, I craved a connection with music that was also involved with movement. I was always into sport, always into music, but it had never crossed my mind that I would one day find the ultimate combination of music and movement.
I remember writing in primary school that my dream was to play for Glasgow Rangers: the men's team, obviously. In my head there were no barriers; anything was possible. I wanted to be good enough, and for my gender to not matter. My childhood friend Ewan said he would campaign for me to be on the team, because obviously by then he would be the manager of Hearts football club. We laugh about it now, of course, and I have absolutely no desire to run around a pitch avoiding the aggressive tackles of men, or women for that matter. The crossover was interesting: I played for Falkirk Ladies under 17s at the time, a striker, but my heart just wasn't in it in the same way as it used to be. I had discovered something that seemed to roll all of my interests into one: dance.
I still remember the feeling when I stepped into my first "Streetdance" class. I'm pretty sure I was smiling uncontrollably, and then swiftly internalising that feeling so I didn't look like a weirdo. The music moved me instantly and I felt this sense of belonging that I couldn't explain: that I didn't need to explain. It may sound crazy, but it was almost like in that moment I just knew what my path would be - something I’m glad I was quietly and confidently sure of because I'm pretty sure I was terrible!
I fell in love with Hip Hop culture. Dance, music, movement, community. Peace, love, unity and having fun. Of course, I had no idea what was going on, but I was given a taste; an insight into this world I wanted to be a part of. Similar to presence and peace cultivated through meditation, I find dance to be a moving meditation, a healer, a transformer, a connector.
Fast forward 10 years and I'm here in London, living through my art and feeling like it's just the beginning. Now, most people know me as a Bgirl, Bgirl being the term for Break-girl, a female breaker (Breakdancer). I compete nationally and internationally, and dance has taken me to some incredible places, for example only last year I spent time in New York, LA, Sweden, Slovakia, Abu Dhabi, Indonesia and the Philippines. Travelling is such an essential part of growing and understanding the world around us, and it has also helped shape and inform me as a mover and creator.
It's crazy to think I met a Bboy in 2011 in Sydney, who I then bumped into in 2014 in Holland at an event. Our connection was still strong and real, all through and because of dance.
Currently, I'm focusing on my own training – getting ready for some international events in the summer and autumn, creating my own work for theatre and teaching dance throughout south east London mainly with kids aged 6-12. I’m also embarking on creating an exciting youth engagement project for teenagers, supported and funded by East London Dance and One Dance UK, to research and develop my dance theatre piece The Purple Jisgaw into an educational resource for young people at risk from isolation, mental health and identity/sexuality issues. I believe art has the power to effect change, and that as artists we have a responsibility to not only reflect the times, but to be an active catalyst for change.
In Hip Hop culture that may also be similar to the phrase "each one teach one", meaning that once we acquire knowledge and understanding we pass it on and share it with the wider community. It's amazing to see how dance has transformed my life for the better and I hope that my work can also do the same for others, or at least through my work it can be a gateway to seeing life in a different way, even if dance is not the passion those I encounter want to follow.
My company, Houston Dance Collective, will be performing as a part of Breakin Convention's Hip Hop Theatre Festival at Sadlers Wells on 29 April. In this piece I have brought together two dynamic dance styles from New York – Breaking and Vogue – in an exciting quartet celebrating identity whilst also challenging preconceived ideas of gender norms. Again, being comfortable with who you are, especially if you are a minority, is so important to come to terms with and be unashamed of. So many people, young and old, feel isolated and unable to accept themselves, especially when met with such resistance from the world around us. A part of my mission is definitely to empower those around me with dance as the tool.
Follow me on Instagram _shortbread_9 if you are interested in my journey.
Book to see Emma dance at Breakin’ Convention, the international festival of Hip Hop dance at Sadler’s Wells 29 April via www.breakinconvention.com