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Diamond's hip-hop dreams pay off big

Diamond's hip-hop dreams pay off big

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Diamond at Tiny Toones.

 Break dancing



HIP-HOP dancing first appeared in the South Bronx of New York City in the early 1970s in the black and Hispanic communities.

The style is primarily of an improvisational nature and quickly drew many fans with its unpredictable, spontaneous movements. In the 1980s, it began to go mainstream with the growing popularity of hip-hop music, and the style evolved to include more upright, light footed dancing.

Break-dancing is a form of old-school hip-hop that reigned from the late 1960s to early 1970s and is distinct from the new school (1980s onwards) which is classified by its upright and more aggressive nature.

Break-dancing is usually ground based, and danced to hip-hop, funk or pop music (or a combination of all three) with the "breaks" lengthened and the melody dropped.

Break-dancing is still very much male-dominated, though female b-girl support groups (b-girl is a break-dancing girl) are starting to emerge to encourage more female involvement in the art. Hip-hop and break-dancing classes are now widely on offer throughout the Western world, and the form is an instantly recognisable symbol of American popular street culture.

BY the age of eight, Keo Sreyleak, or Diamond as she is better known, knew that all she wanted to be in life was a professional hip-hop dancer. Her dream has come true, and today she is the only woman among 30 or 40 hip-hop dancers in Phnom Penh.

To learn the art she used to watch the hip-hop and pop dancers on television and mimic the moves of her heroes, and to practice she would go to the Royal Palace and join the groups dancing on the streets.  Diamond says dancing with others was the best way to improve her dancing skills.

Today, the 23-year-old is dressed in baggy three quarter trousers, flat sneakers and a large T-shirt and cap, and has a strong air of self-reliance. It has taken time, but she has now accepted that her life and dreams are very different from most Cambodian women.

"It is not difficult to dance like this; even though I am a woman, I can do the same as a man. However, there are many people that said I should not dance in this style because among 30-40 hip-hop dancers in Phnom Penh, I am the only woman. However, if I listened to them I would not be where I am today."

But as an adolescent dancing hip-hop full time in Cambodia did not seem to be on the cards for Diamond, and after leaving school at grade four, she worked long hours as a waitress and a security guard at a garage.

However, she quickly grew dissatisfied with this life, and when she was 19 began venturing out to clubs where her dream of dancing hip-hop for a living once again came to the fore.  After training for two years with Tiny Toones Director KK, she was offered a job with the charity that teaches poor and disadvantaged children in Phnom Penh to break-dance as a way to get them off the streets.

At the centre Diamond teaches hip-hop, pop and break-dancing to between 300 and 400 students - only 10 of whom are female.

"I don't care what people say. I think both men and women have the right to do what they want," she said.

Diamond does not have any plans for the future. All she knows for sure is that she has no doubts about her chosen profession.

Next month, Diamond will be leading a group of Tiny Toones dancers to the United States to perform for three weeks.

"There are lots of people that still look down on me, but I don't listen to them anymore. I think everyone has different minds, so I will do what I want despite their opinions."


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