His four children think he’s embarrassing. His wife worries he’ll get hurt. But 60-year-old Ben Hart is addicted to breakdancing.
Mr. Hart may not win any competitions, but he’s a fan favorite, garnering 27,000-plus Instagram views in hours.
“The first time I watched a competition I was in awe of the athleticism,” he says of breaking, which he first saw up close in 2011. “I was intimidated to try it.” Although he could barely do a basic move—one veteran told him he looked like he was in the Ice Capades—he says breaking was more fun than the treadmill.
Mr. Hart, an advertising copywriter who works from his homes in Chicago and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., used to run and lift weights. He wasn’t seeing results. So he hired well-known Chicago breakdancer Shorty Brick to give him lessons. After one year of breaking he lost 30 pounds. “It’s like nonstop sprinting,” he says. “It’s more dance than sport, but with an athletic component that is very dynamic and explosive.”
B-boying or b-girling, as breaking is also known, consists of three main elements. Top rock moves are performed standing up. Down rock moves like drops and spins take place on the floor. And a freeze is a pose where the dancer stops moving mid-set, often while balancing.
“Top rock is just dancing on your feet, but there are certain moves basic to b-boying that give it a certain look,” Mr. Hart says.
Mr. Hart competes under the b-boy name Benihana, a riff on his name that a friend came up with. Competitions are known as battles and dancers don’t get to choose their music. The beats constantly change throughout the performance. “Musicality is the hardest part for me,” he says. “I didn’t grow up with this music culture, and trying to flow on-beat is a struggle.”
He says breaking has also allowed him the opportunity to interact with communities he probably would not have found otherwise. “I’ve met so many creative people,” he says. Most are decades younger.
He recently competed in the 2018 Silverback Open Championships in Philadelphia, which included some of the world’s top breakers. Mr. Hart didn’t advance beyond the preliminaries. “At my age, I may not break well, but it’s amazing I break at all,” he says.
Mr. Hart calls himself fanatical about practicing 90 minutes to two hours a day in his basement. He runs through foundational footwork sequences. He warms up with moves like the six-step, where he uses his hands to support his upper body as he takes six steps to move his legs in a circle. “It’s like trying to do the gymnastics pommel horse but on the floor,” he says.
He can now do 100 push-ups while holding various breaking poses. He throws push-ups between his six-step moves in workouts and can push up into a handstand. He practices windmills, a move where he rolls across his upper chest, shoulders and back while twirling his legs in a V-shape in the air, and spins on his head. He stretches throughout the day.
On Wednesday nights he practices for up to three hours at a community outreach space in a Chicago suburb. “I lose about 4 pounds of water weight from breaking so hard,” he says. He competes locally almost every weekend.
“I don’t pay that much attention to my diet,” Mr. Hart confesses. “Frankly, I like McDonald’s and pizza.” He has been trying to eat a more balanced diet, adding vegetables, fish and lean protein to his meals. Breakfast is fruit and eggs. A McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese is still often lunch. His wife prepares healthy dinners of chicken and salad. His splurge is a steak from Morton’s the Steakhouse. Trail mix, bananas and water fuel him through breakdancing competitions.
The Gear & Cost
“One of the appeals is that there is basically no cost,” he says. “You just need to find some floor space.” He put a 12-foot-by-12-foot sheet of vinyl on top of carpet padding on his basement floor.
His Wednesday night sessions are free to the public. Most breakers wear track suits. “Polyester or acrylic fabrics are slippery and make it easier to spin on the floor,” he says.
Mr. Hart goes for a “man off the street” look. He often wears a Hawaiian shirt. He says you want shoes that shuffle but don’t slide, and you want to avoid a big heel. Converse and Puma work well, he says. He says it isn’t cool to wear a cap, but he wears a padded headspin beanie ($27). “I’m bald and the floor hurts,” he explains. He also wears wrist guards.
He likes listening to “Now We Are Free,” the instrumental theme song from “Gladiator,” while working out at home. “Personally, I don’t like breaking music,” he says. “I prefer club music. It’s easier for me to follow.”
The Evolution of Breaking
Breakdancing is an urban dance style that originated in the mid-1970s on the streets and clubs of New York City. The earliest innovators were young African-American and Puerto Rican dancers. By the mid-1980s, breaking had become a global phenomenon.
The first large-scale, formally judged breakdancing competition, now known as the Battle of the Year, took place in 1990. It attracted breaking crews, or teams, from around the world.
Today, there is an active competitive scene with professional tours. Events in competitions consist of battles between two breakers or two teams. Dancers are judged on technique and variety, musicality and performance, and creativity and personality. The International Olympic Committee added breaking to the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, which took place in Buenos Aires in October.
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