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Breakin' Ball

Verve Studio's B-Boy Depree talks about breakdancing in the Queen City

Let’s face it, says Shane Fry, better known as B-boy Depree: Over the last 15 years or so, something happened to hip-hop. It wasn’t a good something. Hip-hop lost touch with its roots.

“I’d say that 99.9 percdent of the music and dancing in hip-hop today isn’t true hip-hop,” Depree says. “It looks more like cheerleading to me.”

What used to be a musical movement enriched by culture and heritage and energized by struggle and oppression has become all too lollipop and gumdrops. That’s where Depree comes in. Inspired by the founders of the Differential Flavor Crew, Tony Estevez and Infinite, as well as other gurus of the game like Storm and Ken Swift, he began breaking in late 1999 and hasn’t missed a beat since. His dedication to the art—and it is an art—of breakdancing has made him the current leader of the Differential Flavor Crew as well as a much-respected b-boy in the community and the like.

In 2005 Depree founded Verve Dance Studio, which has become the home of the Battle @ Buffalo, a monthly event where b-boys and b-girls show up to display their skills. The Buffalo native has become a driving force behind Buffalo’s own breakdance and hip-hop dance scene.

AV had a few words with Depree as he prepared for Saturday’s edition of the Battle @ Buffalo.

AV: What caused you to open Verve?

Depree: What I really wanted to do was spread the culture and educate people on breaking. I wanted to create a scene in Buffalo…there was no place in Buffalo that were dedicated to just teaching breaking. I just wanted to make the scene grow.

AV: Since you started Verve, have you seen the community change?

Depree: It’s been a huge growth…now there’s a bunch of b-boys and b-girls that practice on a regular basis. Now that we have the event Battle @ Buffalo, we see anywhere from 150 to 250 people a month. I’d consider that to be a strong scene. The school has really contributed to making the scene pop in Buffalo.

AV: What advantages does dance have in terms of creating bonds and unity?

Depree: I don’t think there’s anything like going to a b-boy jam and walking up and standing in a circle and feeling the energy that exists within that circle. It’s something really special and something you just have to experience to understand what it is. The cipher of dancing and b-boying really brings a lot of people together. It holds energy that you really can’t find anywhere else. I’ve never met anyone who has experienced a b-boy cipher or came to a jam and didn’t like it.

AV: In another interview you said that there are some lines—racial, cultural, generational—that divide Buffalo. Do you ever see those lines disappearing?

Depree: I think it’s just human nature. People feel comfortable with what they’re used to. If you come to Battle @ Buffalo, you will see those lines completely erased. You’ve got every race of people where everybody shows each other respect. That’s really all we’re about, that good energy and expressing yourself positively. Events like Battle @ Buffalo help break those lines down. Anyone that comes to the event will really see that. It’s not about race, age, or nothing like that. It’s about coming together and having a good time.

AV: Do you believe b-boys who dance in competitions for cash prizes is wrong?

Depree: You have to have a high skill level to win a jam of that caliber—that’s giving away a huge cash prize. I don’t think it’s wrong for b-boys to go out and do that, it’s great. If people out there are able to go and get sponsorships, win cash prizes, and get more people together, then it’s great for the scene.

What I have a problem with is these huge corporations that come along who have nothing to do with the community of b-boying and hip-hop culture. They’re just there to make money. When those people exploit the dance to gain from it, that’s a problem.

AV: Some believe that breaking, scratching, MCing, and graffiti are art forms only a select group of people can practice. What’s your take on that?

Depree: I don’t think there should be limitations on what people can do as far as art. If you want to pick up a spray can and be a graffiti artist, I say go out and practice. Learn the history of what graffiti is. If people who try things out who just want to try something, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re going to represent it and say that you are a b-boy, I think you should know the history, be involved in the culture, and try to spread that culture. You should be in it.

But who’s to say that somebody can’t go to a dance class and learn a windmill? Art is for everybody; take part in it if you want to.

AV: As breaking enters the mainstream, people of all ages are getting interested. Is it ever too late to learn?

Depree: I don’t think it’s ever too late. There’s a woman, I think her name is Granny or something? [He laughs.] She’s like 65 years old. She breaks, she hits the floor, she does all kinds of top rocking and footwork. She may even be able to do a windmill—kinda.

I think the longer human beings live, the bigger and stronger we get. As time goes on, you’ll see people breaking a lot older. I’m 32, for instance, turning 33 this year, and I’m going strong and still learning everyday. It’s not ever too late to learn. Ever.

AV: Any final words for the people of Buffalo?

Depree: I think this city is underrated. I think it’s one of the top places for arts. We have so many talented and artistic people in this city. We should do everything we can to come together and display that to the rest of the world.

Photo (top right) by Clark Dever Photography:

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