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Tiny Toones' hip-hop breaks

TINY Toones Youth Drop-in Centre is the only house in Phnom Penh's Tuol Tumpong district pumping out hip-hop music on sleepy weekday afternoons, and the only place where children flock to slam their young bodies on a lightly padded concrete floor.

The centre, Cambodia's first break dancing and hip hop school, was established in 2005 by Khmer-born US immigrant Sobil Tuy, or 'KK',  who was born in a Thai Refugee camp in 1977 and emigrated to the United States with his family when he was still an infant.

His parents failed to complete the appropriate citizenship procedures, and when KK was eighteen he discovered he was an illegal immigrant, after being arrested for armed robbery.

Photo by: ELEANOR AINGE ROY

Tiny Toones students practice some of their moves at the centre.

Against his will, KK was deported to his homeland of Cambodia, a country where he had never been to live amongst people whose language he didn't speak.

KK found a job counselling drug addicts and HIV sufferers in Phnom Penh, but with his distinctive American street dress and numerous tattoos he soon drew the attention of the neighbours, and curious street kids asked him about his life back in the United States. 

In Long Beach, California, KK had been involved in the infamous Crips gang, and was also once a successful break-dancer. When the children in his neighbourhood discovered this, they began bugging him for lessons, even though it had been ten years since he had seriously danced. 

Photo by:

ELEANOR AINGE ROY

KK’s photo on the wall of Tiny Toones.

KK opened up his home to teach the children some moves; and when the group began to grow in popularity, he rented a house in Tuol Tumpong and opened the drop in center, extending Tiny Toones activities to include rapping, DJing, graffiti, English, Khmer and painting lessons. 

Today KK and the other instructors teach up to 400 kids, mostly from poor and disadvantaged families, as well as street children. 

KK believes break dancing is a positive way to keep kids away from drug and alcohol abuse, and the center gives them a safe place to come whenever things at home get too much.

Most of the kids who attend the break-dancing classes are boys, and they mimic the instructors dress with baggy jeans, oversized shirts and brightly coloured woollen beanies.

Pov Chanra, 15, has been coming to classes at Tiny Toones for two years, and spends an average of three hours a day at the centre.

He says if the center wasn't open he would have to spend his time outside of school selling vegetables at the market with his family.

"The Centre is much more fun than home, and its great to come here to dance. When I grow up, I would like to be a professional break-dancer and earn enough money to support my family," he said.

Above the central dance ring a large collage of photographs of the children has been put on prominent display, and in marker pen the children have written their hopes and dreams on the surrounding walls. 

Above a smiling picture of KK is written in a neat, straight hand: "I want to be the best role model ever." And beside that, in a messy, childish hand: "I want to be break-dancing teacher."

 

Photo by: ELEANOR AINGE ROY

Collage at Tiny Toones displays photographs of the children who hang out at the center.

Photo by: ELEANOR AINGE ROY

Children learn to dance at Tiny Toones.

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