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This studio is training Colorado’s next generation of breakdancers

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Bboy Factory, Denver’s original breaking studio, has been teaching children in Colorado the art of breakdancing for more than 10 years.
Photo: Peter Vo, Rocky Mountain PBS

DENVER — Ian Flaws paced along the studio’s wall-to-wall mirror, shouting encouragement over the thumping beat pouring out of the boombox. His Saturday morning dance class — made up of half a dozen elementary school-aged students — spun, slid, froze and rocked their way across the floor. 

Flaws has spent more than a decade teaching children in Colorado the art and culture of breakdancing, also called breaking.  

“It really gave me a sense of identity,” Flaws said of his start as a break dancer.  

“I think that's just really important for kids to have that outlet for creative expression and to express themselves without it feeling too artsy or sensitive. This is still art. It's still that expression, but it's got this raw grittiness to it, which is really attractive to a certain demographic of kids.”

Colorado Voices

This factory is producing the next generation of dancers

Flaws started breaking 26 years ago as a junior in high school. He founded Bboy Factory, Denver’s first breaking studio, in 2012. The term b-boy or b-girl refers to someone who practices breaking. 

Breaking originated in the Bronx in the 1970s, alongside the emerging hip-hop culture. Young Black and Latino dancers created and popularized the style, which is characterized by acrobatic movements, stylized footwork and dynamic power moves. 

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, hip-hop culture became increasingly prominent in mainstream media, spreading from the streets of New York City to Boulder, Colorado, where a teenage Flaws was obsessed with Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and Tupac. 

His introduction to breaking came when a girl invited him to a dance class on a date.  

Flaws grew up playing sports, and he became hooked on breaking as another athletic outlet. Breaking also gave him a space to express his creative side. 

Breaking is highly improvisational. The b-boys at Flaws’ studio learn the terminology and technique of basic moves, which they use to build their own unique combinations and routines.  

The creativity of the dance is b-boy Mac Jones’ favorite part about breaking. He has danced at the studio for two and a half years. His signature move is putting his leg behind his head. 

“I like how it's not super choreographed,” Jones said. “You can do basically whatever you want and it's super creative and it's really fun. You have to be super creative to make moves pop.”

Mac Jones and his classmates practice “freezing,” a technique in breaking where dancers stop moving and hold their balance in interesting positions.
Photo: Peter Vo, Rocky Mountain PBS

Before opening his studio, Flaws spent several years teaching English and dance in Korea, Costa Rica and Cambodia. He saw how breaking empowered his students abroad and decided to open Bboy Factory to give children in Colorado that same experience.  

Flaws said Colorado has traditionally been isolated from large breaking communities in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The connections Flaws had made outside of Colorado allowed him to connect the studio, and Denver, with the global scene. 

“I felt like to elevate the level of breaking in Colorado, we needed to have better education,” Flaws said. “Bringing in workshops, bringing master teachers from around the country and around the world and [having] a consistent space for people to practice and for people to train.” 

Youth dance lessons are the core of the studio’s business, but for 12 hours a week, the studio is open as a free practice space for anyone to use. Flaws has spent years curating a collection of hip-hop memorabilia to decorate the studio.  

A vibrant graffiti mural, painted by New York-based artist Charlie Doves, is the centerpiece of the studio’s decor, dominating the largest wall in the studio. The walls without graffiti are covered in photos of past b-boy classes and posters from breaking competitions and events. Flaws’ office boasts an impressive collection of thrifted boomboxes.  

“I really want this place to be a cultural center as much as a dance studio business,” Flaws said. “It's a community center, but it's a cultural landmark.”

Ian Flaws grew up in Boulder and taught dance abroad. He came back to Denver to start Bboy Factory and build up the city’s breaking community.
Photo: Peter Vo, Rocky Mountain PBS

Flaws has witnessed incredible growth within the sport, especially among young dancers. A few years ago, if children wanted to participate in breaking competitions, they would have to compete against adults, Flaws said. Now, he said, every event has a youth category, and it’s often the largest demographic there. 

Breaking will be making its first appearance in the Olympics in the 2024 Summer games, but it won’t be breaking’s first time on the world stage. Breaking debuted at the Youth Olympics in 2018, and the global breaking competition Red Bull BC One hosted its first final in 2004. But the Olympic Games will help introduce the sport to an even wider audience. 

“The growth trend is just going to continue which is obviously exciting as a business owner,” Flaws said. “But as an artist, when kids come in and they say they saw this sport on TV, then I get to actually educate them on the culture and the art as well.” 

Fourth-grader Jones is excited to watch his sport in the Olympics. He said he’s not very competitive, but he enjoys dancing in breaking competitions. He has big goals for his future as a b-boy. 

“I'm hoping to win more battles and do more competition and get more powerful moves,” Jones said. “I really want to pop. I really want to make a name for myself.” 

Flaws started the studio to bring elite breaking training to young people in Colorado, like Jones. Some of Flaws’ oldest students have been dancing at the studio for eight years.  

Former students have begun to make a name for themselves in the breaking scene, including Run, who started dancing at the studio and recently competed in the Red Bull BC One Nationals Cypher. 

“It's bigger than me or the Bboy Factory or any one student,” Flaws said. “We have a whole huge community out there, and it's just incredible to see kids blossom and grow up.”

Carly Rose is the journalism intern at Rocky Mountain PBS.

Peter Vo is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS.

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