Breaking has long combined the art of dance with the streets, and has commanded so much admiration and respect that it will make its debut as an official Olympic sport in 2024.
One of the cities with a rich history in breaking is Los Angeles, so we hit the street to take a closer look at how this subculture is affecting the lives of its community and shaping LA's broader cultural scene. We spoke to Swap, a young OG to the LA breaking and Latinx communities who repps the Concrete All Stars and LA Breakers crews. He gave us an inside look at the scene and how it inspires the community.
We also laced him and his crew up in the all-new adidas Originals Forum, which is the inspiration behind our Forum series that deep dives into eight cities across the U.S. and examines various subcultures and the communities behind them.
In Conversation With Swap
How were you introduced to the breaking scene in Los Angeles?
My first memory of breaking was selling art on Hollywood Boulevard with my brothers while we were homeless. I saw the street performers and I was blown away by how much money they were making and how cool they looked. That was my first introduction. Once I started to go into jams, this community started to give me a place that I found home. I didn't even break at the jams – I was the water boy. We were still drawing pictures at the jams of all these great b-boys and poppers. Some people had church on Sunday, but every Saturday I had a practice spot and a jam every Friday. It was the best.
How did you find friends within the scene?
Finding friends in the breaking scene, you gravitate to who's first to accept you. And that was definitely kids in my community who were there, who fell in love with it like I did. And I could genuinely see they loved breaking as much as me. Or b-boying, we don't really call it breaking. To find love or find friends in the b-boy scene, you have to find people who fell in love with b-boy in the same way as you and can vibe with you at the same time.
Were there any local mentors/inspirations that really caught your eye?
The first man who really taught me breaking was a graffiti writer in my neighborhood named Space. He wasn't a big time b-boy, he wasn't the biggest, the baddest, but he gave me respect. He gave me lessons, he gave me something to push for. And it was big, big love.
And Fresh from LA Breakers was definitely a push for me. His voice still carries on. It's for me to push for everything that I want to achieve in life. And I look at my son and I think of Fresh's voice telling me, "You could do it all. You could push harder." Mentors, definitely, is what kept me close and kept me going in this breaking scene.
How does the adidas Originals Forum connect with your community and how you express yourself?
adidas Originals Forum stands out, like any bboy should, and keeps it close to the culture, just like our community. That’s why the shoe will live on as long as our scene is around.
What keeps you going in this subculture? Who is pushing the scene to new heights right now?
At first it was getting respect from my OGs and my peers, but now it's to prove to myself that I could be better than where I came from. I could be a better dad. I could push harder to be a better person. I could push harder for anything I want to achieve. It's the physical representation of pushing for what you love.
If we're talking about who's pushing the scene to new heights in LA, it's definitely my crew Concrete All Stars. They're holding it down, hardcore. They're keeping the culture alive as the Olympic step in, which, that's going its own route. But Concrete All Stars are keeping a genuine culture, genuine party vibe, genuine hip-hop. And that's changing the game. People definitely recognize it.
How does LA's breaking scene contribute to the city's culture? On the flip side, how does the city inspire what you do creatively?
Breaking has definitely contributed to the LA culture. Just as an example is me. There wasn't a place for me and my homies to go and dance and have fun. What the heck? Our homies thought we were stupid for that. They're like, "Why are you breaking?" And we get stopped by gangsters. They'd be like, "What you doing?" And they'll be, "I'm a b-boy." Be like, "Oh, you cool then. You cool." But it gave us that doorway. It gave us something that can make us feel different. As you can see, like Joel, he's Mexican and he breaks. That's unheard of and it created these opportunities for us as of now, as of later, and as of in the past. It's definitely something I'd get my son into and get anyone else into. That's what breaking has done for the community.
The city inspires me creatively through and through, not just with my breaking, but with my art, with how I go about my way of life. The city has shaped me as a person to know my truth and where I stand either when I walk on a set or when I walk into an art show or when I walk into a jam.
Any tips for curious newcomers?
I would definitely recommend learning tradition before just learning the moves. Learn the culture before you try and speak on how things should be. So if you're trying, if you're curious and getting in, learn the culture, learn the traditions, and understand why it has lasted so long.
If you learn the origin of breaking, you will learn to respect the streets and understand why it came from there and why it's for the people and not just for the crazy moves. And if you learn that, you will thoroughly understand and enjoy every aspect of the dance.