How a Break Dancer Finds Purpose Fighting Negative Stereotypes
This story is part of Heart at Work, a monthly series produced by Idealist.org and Echoing Green, in which we tilt the spotlight towards everyday people doing extraordinary work that makes the world a better place.
Ana “Rokafella” Garcia began her dancing career rockin’ the fellas on the streets of New York City. When she was young, she trained hard out of hatred for the way she watched men treat women. Proving that boys weren’t the only ones who could break dance felt like a way to right the gender injustice she saw all around her. Then one day she was approached by a young woman after a show, who told her “Rokafella, watching you do that makes me feel like I can do anything.” With one sentence, that young woman broke open the hatred and pain Rokafella had been holding. Suddenly, instead of fighting men, all she wanted to do was inspire girls and women to be their best selves for nobody but them.
Rokafella went on to become a speaker, a workshop leader and director of the B girl documentary All The Ladies Say. She also co-founded the nonprofit Hip-hop dance company Full Circle Prod Inc with her husband Kwikstep, which provides an environment for women to train and perform breaking repertoire comparable to their male counterparts in the company and in the street dance scene, and represents various races, genders and individuals ranging in age from their teens to their early fifties.
Rokafella: Break dance is aggressive. It has to be “I’m better than you,” but you can’t do that forever. All that outdoing and humiliating the other person makes people be like “Oh this guy” when you come around. Eventually you have to do something that shows love, even if it’s just love for the dance. Then when you come around people are like “Hey brother!”
When I was on the street, there was something in my spirit that felt like I had to live fast so I could die faster. Life wasn’t really producing anything fun or loving so the excitement was around “Who will start some shit with me?” so I can end this life and my next life can begin. But we have to turn that around. Life can be great, but you have to work hard to make it that way.
The education world, academia and the theater world, they look at me and us like ‘Oh, the female street dancers who do tricks to turn a buck; they’re not really educated.” Not true. There’s a science around what we do, how we do it, when we do it. But you have to show people you can do more than they think you can. People hire me to spin on my head and then I say, “What else can we do together? A monologue and two more dancers here and lights. So I’m not just brought on for a trick. I’ll do the trick, but have a lot more to give. My advice for women in particular is, “Don’t rely on your beauty. Try not to lean so much into it. It can be a good weapon, but you’ve also got to say "I’ve got skills."
I tell people “You’ve been taking a lot, taking people’s pride, their feeling of belonging. Redirect that energy. Instead of taking, ask yourself what you can give?” You can dance with someone‘s energy instead of fighting against it.
Want a career supporting dance as a tool for change? Check out these great opportunities and organizations on Idealist.org.
African-Dance Instructor, DreamYard Out of School Programs, Bronx, NY
Director of Development, The Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC
External Affairs Assistant, Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, New York, NY