When you say the word ‘breakdancing’ to someone, they generally conjure up images of kids in baggy clothes pulling off incredibly intricate and athletic moves on the dance floor, with lots of others around cheering them on.
Originating from the streets of New York in the 1970s, for a long time breaking (as it is known among practitioners) was one of those phenomena which remained on the periphery, an underground scene, and anything but mainstream.
But in recent decades it has moved away from the backstreets of big cities, spreading all over the world, becoming more and more coordinated, resulting in organised competition. Such is its popularity, it will feature in the Paris 2024 Olympics for the first time.
The journey to this started amongst DJs and poor kids living in the Bronx. It spread to other parts of New York, then the rest of the United States. With US culture often being the main barometer of ‘what’s cool’ elsewhere, particularly in other English-speaking countries, it soon spread to the UK, before moving on to Europe and the rest of the world.
In Romania, one 14-year-old saw a clip of breaking on the TV in his home. It would literally change the course of his life. He would eventually come to Coventry to study, before pursuing a career in breaking – it would see him teach thousands of children, and eventually perform to millions of people on TV.
Andrei Roman was spellbound the first time he saw breakdancing on his television as a teenager in Romania. He went straight into his garden to try and recreate what he saw. He then set about finding others who felt the same.
He watched internet videos, attended events and generally soaked up the culture, teaching himself the art, step by step, learning from what he saw from those around him.
Andrei, now aged32, said: “Breaking is very self-taught once you learn the basics. It is a bit like speaking a language, you learn the vocabulary from the dictionary, then when you have that it’s up to you how you use those words, you can arrange them in different ways, rearrange phrases, create metaphors – it is the same with breaking, the possibilities are endless.”
In 2011, Andrei came to Coventry to study civil engineering. He excelled at his course, eventually graduating from Coventry University. But his passions really lay with breaking.
During his time studying he took over the newly started breakdancing society, and danced the art in his spare time. Due to being around more people with a greater understanding, moving to the UK elevated Andrei’s skill.
He explained: “The level of knowledge in Romania wasn’t too high, so when I came to the UK I learned some of the basics, moves I had jumped when I started. Because I was older that made it way easier and I was able to improve a lot because of that.”
Getting better all the time, Andrei was soon competing at the highest level, largely to his talent, hard work, and making some huge sacrifices, including giving up spare time, spending all his money travelling and eating just for sustenance.
“While I was studying me and my friend were travelling every weekend all over the country to competitions, occasionally to Europe,” Andrei explained. “Because I needed the money for travelling to competitions, I was eating just enough so I had energy to perform but then prioritising the money for getting to events.
“I was practicing all of the time wherever I could, a few times I got chased by security guards for dancing in lobbies at the university. A breaker’s life is not easy, especially when you are competing, but you make those sacrifices.”
By 2016, a degree under his belt, Andrei had a big decision to make – did he want the safe career in civil engineering he had studied at uni for, or did he want to roll the dice and fulfil his dreams of making a living through breaking?
Andrei threw himself into the world of breakdancing. He sat his parents down, asked for their support, and explained he would be more fulfilled in a world made up of freezes, power moves and toprocks, than one filled with blueprints, bricks and mortar.
“I had to have a big, big conversation with my parents,” Andrei laughed. “They wanted me to be happy, but they thought my best chance at that was to do the civil engineering, but I said to them ‘just give me a year, and you’ll see what’s coming’.
“Straight away I got a job with CV Life, as a dance teacher. They saw a lot of potential in me and offered me lots of sports qualifications and I said ‘yes’ to everything, becoming the most qualified coach in the company, which I got an award for.
“The next year I became a senior, then in 2018 I left to become self-employed.
“I applied for funding and each year it’s been granted by the Arts Council England. I’ve had City of Culture grants; I’ve been able to send children from Coventry to places like China to compete.”
And this is where the job satisfaction element really starts to kick in for Andrei.
He said: “I love guiding and mentoring the kids and giving them the opportunities I never had.
“My company, The Breaking League, is the only one in the UK sending kids to other countries to compete. It’s something a bit different, and they are representing the UK and get treated like guests. The trip is an experience and makes it feel more professional.”
Seven years after graduating, Andrei is one of the top names in the UK breaking and Hip Hop Theatre scenes. He gets awarded tens of thousands of pounds each year to teach his art to all ages, races, genders and abilities. His choice to pursue his passions appears to have paid off, and that ‘big, big conversation’ with his now parents seems like a turning point in his life.
Andrei said: “Now my parents are blown away by what I’ve achieved, they were a bit stressed when I went self-employed in 2018 but it worked. Last year I was the co-choreographer of the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Birmingham, I was also in the performance itself, with 35,000 people watching live and 1.4 billion watching on TV.”
But despite the huge successes in his field, Andrei still finds time to come back to where his teaching journey began – here at CV Life, with weekly classes at Centre AT7.
He said: “CV Life’s role in my journey has been very, very, very huge. A lot of my experience in teaching I only got because of CV Life.
“I was so nervous to begin with, my first class I was sweating. I was that nervous. But I got so much feedback and advice, and really, I only felt confident enough to go self-employed and eventually start my own business because of CV Life.”