It almost sounds like an impossible story from the off-kilter mind of director Spike Jonze.
Using only Facebook, one man must organize a world-class b-boy event in a remote northern community involving over 30 youth from across Canada and some of the top performers and judges from the US.
But it’s no story, it’s a reality that Benjamin Robinson is working to bring to the Yukon from July 20 to 25th.
Robinson is an event co-ordinator for the the Breakdance Yukon Society (BYS) and a member of the local b-boy troupe Groundwork Sessions,
The “Walmart Cypher For Change Youth Forum and National Bboy Battle” is part workshop, part festival, part competition, and all social extravaganza. It’s unique not only in Canada, but in the world.
“Yeah, it’s pretty unique. There are invitational competitions. But that’s just the competition aspect. We throw in the Yukon experience and the community building aspect.”
What BYS also throws in during Cypher for Change is a series of workshops that build skills, confidence, and a sense of national b-boy and b-girl community.
But hold on, I should pause to clear up a terminology issue.
That word you know so well: breakdancing? Lose it. Replace it with b-boying.
Robinson set me straight on this point: “Breakdancing is like a media-coined term.”
That goes for the noun, as well. There are no breakdancers. There are only b-boys and b-girls in this world.
The “b” stands for break, and dates back to the 70s when DJ’s looped the “break” or “breakdown” in songs.
A “break-boy” would dance to those breaks which were originally only a few epic seconds, but became increasingly longer as DJ’s began to figure out how to keep them dancing.
Now, of course, b-boying is an art unto itself and, in some cases, a sport.
Cypher for Change will mix some of the biggest names in b-boying with under-recognized, but highly talented youth from every corner of Canada in a series of workshops, performances, and competitions.
To bring it all together, Robinson has been relying on Facebook.
“Facebook is probably my main thing right now. I spend maybe 8 to 10 hours a day on Facebook.”
“I’m in contact with probably 50 b-boys and b-girls from around Canada,” says Robinson.
“I can get ahold of all of them on Facebook.”
“If I never need to ask them a question, like, ‘Does this flight date work for you?’ I just go on Facebook.”
He then either chats with his contacts online to coordinate details, or he digs up their contact info and texts or emails them them to get in touch.
“I’ve made little to no phone calls,” he says.
But even though Robinson says “the 15 and 16 years olds are almost always on Facebook,” even that platform has provided some communication challenges in reaching the younger visitors.
It’s a problem that many of us have faced: text-based communication can easily be misinterpreted.
“That’s definitely one of the setbacks of Facebook, and even email too.” Robinson says.
But he says instant messaging on Facebook has generally worked well for him.
“Messaging on Facebook is better than emailing…I’d rank that between a phone call and emailing.”
In the end, he laughingly concludes: “When it comes to details, like: ‘you need to get your payment in,’ it takes a phone call.”
As a result of Robinson’s time on Facebook, about a dozen communities from Vancouver to PEI to Nunavut will be sending 2 to 3 young b-boys and b-girls to Whitehorse in a couple of weeks. An older, mentoring b-boy or b-girl monitor will accompany each group.
These youth will come to Whitehorse to learn new skills, make new contacts, and experience a level of b-boy performance and competition they probably haven’t has access to before.
Then there are the big names.
Kid David and Luigi from LXD (the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, a stunning video web series that presents the classic struggle of good vs evil as a series of narrative dance battles).
Flea Rock from Skill Methodz.
Vancouver’s Project Soul.
And Boston-based Lean Rock, a young, internationally-acclaimed DJ who also happens to be a velvet-cheeked model for Braun razors (check out the ads: it’s a toss up whether he’s batting off more mosquitoes or girls during his visit north).
These names might not mean much to most of us, but to the b-boy community, they are some of the hottest performers in hip hop.
Robinson reports, though, that when it’s come to communicating with the stars, Facebook hasn’t really cut it. He’s had to fall back on that other internet stalwart: Skype.
“I do Skype quite a bit, because it’s free. And that’s mainly with the big guys who are coming up,” he says.
“The Americans … and the older guys like to talk.”
And that’s generally where he finds the divide between the people online: kids are comfortable making plans on Facebook, while older folks (older as in 20+) want to sort out the details on the phone.
That said, there’s no doubt that Facebook was key in organizing Cypher for Change, and that Robinson’s used it strategically and effectively to co-ordinate 3 dozen of the hardest-to-reach people on earth: teenagers.
Most of Cypher for Change will take place behind closed studio doors at Leaping Feats (or on the climbing wall at Takhini Hot Springs).
Fortunately, though, there will be two evenings of performances and competitions that anyone can attend.
The Yukon Arts Centre will host 4 CypherFest events on Friday, July 22, and Saturday, July 23.
Each event costs $15, or you can buy a weekend pass for $30.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, July 8, 2011.