... and if the teachers don’t know you, then get off the ark. Despite rain, Tiny Toones kids show what they’ve learned
Pint-sized breakdancers from all districts of Phnom Penh faced off in Hun Sen Park on a stormy Sunday afternoon, battling for b-boy supremacy.
Featherweight budding rappers represented their neighborhoods October 18 as part of a Tiny Toones’ initiative to bring children together. The dance event was aimed at educating them by nurturing mutual respect and harmonious living.
Tiny Toones runs multiple educational programmes in some of the poorest parts of Phnom Penh, offering children instruction in the elements of hip-hop, including breaking, DJ’ing and rapping – alongside English language and health education classes.
The park battle drew dancers together from all over the city. It offered the chance to compete, to see the fresh footwork and breakneck rhythms of other young dancers, and to cheer for their home team.
Inevitably, only one team will emerge victorious, but all dancers end up as winners, according to the organiser of Tiny Toones.
“The prize is the prestige, the performance, because this is the only opportunity to show off what they’ve learned,” says communications manager Konrad Plechowski. These kids relish the chance to compete.
A heavy shower greeted the crowds as the dancers assembled for the battle. Undeterred, students showed off their moves on the makeshift stage, balancing upside down and hopping about on one arm.
Kids and teachers somersaulted on the wet lawn. Police arrived to urge the crowd off the grass, but after money exchanged hands and the rain subsided, the battle gained fervour.
Nine teams of dancers faced off. Groups, or crews, represented parts of the city such as the train station, the Russian Market and the airport. The contestants glided to the rhythms with their flashiest and fiercest steps. Students tried to break the other team’s nerves with intense intimidation.
Despite the discouraging weather and damp audio equipment that abruptly cut off midway the event, the battle continued.
How did judges choose between these alternately fierce and adorable child crews? They looked for “who was more dynamic, who presented the moves that were more difficult, and who simply was better onstage”, Plechowski explains.
The showdown for first prize took place between groups from Chak Angre and Svay Pak. Students pulled out all the stops with well-choreographed group routines.
These boys hail from rough areas and are attuned to hardship. The sense of pride derived from refining and showing their hip-hop moves helps to counteract the local appeal of gangs and drugs. Tiny Toones artistic mentors also serve as role models and emotional support.
As the battle intensified and unfolded, Chak Angre stole the stage with great showmanship and commanding presence. Svay Pak countered with freezes and group acrobatic tricks that defied gravity. When the jury declared Svay Pak the ultimate winners, both sides cheered.
Chak Angre dancers Monkey and Pitou said they felt happy about their second-place prize. Both b-boys agreed that the Svay Pak crew took home top honours due to its superior choreography. Monkey and Pitou’s crew spent a week creating its own group routines, and the two said they looked forward to working more on these in the future.
Hopefully this display of playful camaraderie will continue often in the future, although plans for the next battle remain tentative.
The crews who strutted their stuff worked together to prepare tight and complicated choreography.
Tiny Toones is raising a generation of formidable performers, with the skills to push each other to greater upside-down heights.