Female Fierceness and Prowess of Verve Dance Studio

Stacy VanBlarcom and Brooklynn “Moxie” Jay are both dance educators at Verve Dance Studio in Buffalo, which was opened in 2005 by Shane “Depree” Fry and Heather Russell. After Fry saw the spark and passion they each had whenever they were dancing, he thought it would be best for them to teach and spread their love of hip-hop and breakdancing with the youth of Buffalo.

VanBlarcom, also known as “B-Girl Resolve,” 33, started learning how to break at 24. Her first introduction to breakdancing was when she saw a picture of a girl she knew doing a freeze, which is any time when you stop your motion in breakdancing.

“I was like, ‘where did you learn how to do that? Will you teach me?’ and she said she wouldn’t,” VanBlarcom said with a laugh.

Basically, the girl said she wasn’t qualified to teach VanBlarcom, but instead referred her to the B-Girl class that was taking place at Verve Dance Studio at the time.

“I came up and I tried it and the first time I did a six-step I smiled for like five days afterward,” VanBlarcom said.

Growing up, VanBlarcom trained in several classic studio styles of dance, such as ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary. There was a point though when she had stopped dancing and, she admits, it felt like a big part of her life was missing. She had kept active going to the gym, but she knew something was off.

“I wasn’t getting the self-expression part of it,” VanBlarcom said. “I wasn’t getting that creative outlet.”

After joining the B-Girl class she became more confident and then started attending open practice, which is where all dancers in the community are welcome to use the space to practice their moves for two hours.

“I was nervous the first time I went to open practice,” VanBlarcom said. “My friend was supposed to meet me and then she bailed, so I was like ‘I don’t want to!’ but I was already there.”

After awhile she started to go to more and more practices each week and eventually gained enough courage to enter a battle after a year and a half of practicing her breakdancing skills.

“It was awesome and I was so nervous,” VanBlarcom said. “I actually won my first two rounds and then I battled someone who was really good, and I just got smoked. It was a really awesome experience.”

L to R: Rachel, Stacy, Alexis, Brooklynn, Vanessa

One thing VanBlarcom says she appreciates about Verve Dance Studio is its level of inclusivity and acceptance of all different walks of life to come into the space and express themselves freely through dance.

“The first time I battled, it would have been different if I battled anywhere else. People were like, ‘Yes! You’re battling tonight!’ People were excited for me. It’s like that whenever it’s the first time anyone battles here. People are always so supportive and they go crazy. It’s such a beautiful thing.”

For VanBlarcom, finding hip-hop and breakdancing changed her life for the better in countless ways. She says one of the highlights has been traveling and meeting people she wouldn’t have otherwise known. But also, even though she’s been dancing all her life, she feels breakdancing is the one style that truly fits her and allows her to express her full personality.

“Dance has been something that’s always been there for me, so whatever style it was, it’s always been there,” VanBlarcom said. “But I think breaking is nice because the goal is to be yourself. The goal is not to have a specific form and to look like anyone else. The goal is to look like you. I think that was really beneficial to me.”

While breakdancing is VanBlarcom’s main style of choice, she likes to dabble in other hip-hop dance sub-genres as well, especially house dancing, a style that was created in the Chicago and New York City club scenes in the 1980s. One of the classes she teaches as a six-week session for adult beginners at the studio is “Foundations of House Dancing.” The other six-week session she teaches is “B-Girl Bootcamp,” which is for women looking to learn how to breakdance.

“I always wondered what it would be like if you’re not only all women learning together, but you’re learning from a woman,” VanBlarcom said. “So we talk about different significant women in hip-hop. I like to play all female emcees for the music or all breaks with female vocals and just have it be a nice comfortable environment because not all women feel that comfortable going into a place where it’s pretty male-dominated, which breaking has been always.”

Jay, 20, who is also Fry’s stepdaughter, agrees breakdancing has always been a more welcome dance style for men than women. At the same time, she believes if women want to try breakdancing, they shouldn’t feel intimidated when entering the battle circle and should hold themselves to the same standard as men.

The goal is to look like you.

“I feel like a lot of times we’re either immediately dismissed because we’re women or we’re given too much credit because we’re women,” Jay said. “Most of the time what happens is men will like cheer extra loud for the only girl that’s dancing even if she didn’t do that well. Which it does take a lot of courage to be the only girl entering a battle, so I understand that, but at the same time it’s hard to make sure you keep your integrity and you’re not just like ‘Oh, I’m doing it because I’m the only girl in here.’ And it’s like, well, you have to be good too.”

For Jay, hip-hop and breakdancing have always been prevalent in her life. She basically grew up in the dance studio and got into dancing after seeing her stepdad breakdancing around her all the time.

“I was probably 7 or 8 for my first battle, although I don’t remember it,” Jay said. “It was pretty soon after the battles started, so I was pretty young. I was incredibly nervous. I’m naturally shy, so I’m sure I was blushing a lot, my face was burning, I was sweating.”

It wasn’t until she was nine years old that she started taking hip-hop dance more seriously. Then at age 13 she added breakdancing to her dance class repertoire.

When describing her dance style, Jay says she tends to incorporate several different hip-hop sub-genres, including popping, locking, waving, tutting, and breaking, into her freestyle. When it comes to breakdancing though, her favorite moves are top rock and footwork steps.

“For footwork I’d have to say the three-step is my favorite just because it’s very fluid and easy for me to put it to any kind of beat, so it’s fun,” Jay said. “Top rock I get to express myself a lot by using my entire body.”

Jay has a long list when it comes to the many ways learning hip-hop and breakdancing has benefitted her in life.

“It’s helped me discover my actual personality, it’s given me a lot of courage, it’s helped me take responsibility for things when it comes to group performances, choreographing, teaching, all of that,” Jay said. “It’s also helped me learn an exponential amount of information about my own culture.”

Her biggest joy, however, is having the chance to teach young children how to breakdance, especially young girls. She recognizes the importance of letting them know that they don’t always have to show how they are feeling through words, but can do so through dance.

“I think dance in general really gives you a sense of purpose and confidence and helps you express yourself if you’re not that good with words,” Jay said. “I’m usually not that good with words, so I use dance to express myself. I enjoy teaching that to the kids.”

Aside from teaching, VanBlarcom and Jay are members of the Differential Flava Crew (DFC), which is the breakdancing crew co-founded by Fry in 1999 (along with Dune Ricci, Tony Toast, Ish Ness, Infinite, Yui Rocks, and Sean Classic). In order for a dancer to become part of the crew, they have to be battled into it and prove they have the talent and skills to be considered a valuable addition to the team.

Together they perform at schools and festivals, educating youth on the rich history of hip-hop and breakdancing and its positive influence on society.

“It’s just fun to perform with the crew, and to me that’s the most fun thing you can do,” VanBlarcom said. “But then I also get to be in front of all these young women and to me that’s really important because I can literally stand in front of them and say, ‘this is something that you can do. You’re just as capable as any guy to break and to learn.’”

Being a breakdancer has been exciting for VanBlarcom over the years, as she’s traveled far and wide to places like Toronto, San Juan, Philly, Chicago, Boston, and New York City to enter battles. However, now her focus has shifted to teaching the art of hip-hop and breakdancing and being involved in the community, which is the ultimate joy for her.

Come check out one of VanBlarcom’s classes at Verve Dance Studio over the holiday season. She’s teaching an “Intro to House” workshop class on Thursday, December 29 from 7 to 8:15 p.m. James Levy Jr. is also teaching an “Advanced Hip-Hop” class from 8:15 to 9:30 p.m. as well. Both workshops are $10. For more information on the workshops, go to the Facebook event page.

Those interested in finding out more about Verve Dance Studio, go to their official website. Also, if you haven’t checked out Battle at Buffalo yet, Verve’s signature monthly event, it happens every last Saturday of the month from 7 to 11 p.m. It’s $5 to get in and $6 to enter the battle. The event was created to encourage the development of young dancers in a supportive environment and to provide a place for the community to learn, share and support the dance community.

B-Girl Breakdown

Olive, 9 

How long have you been dancing?
“I’ve been dancing since I was 2.”

When did you start learning how to breakdance?
“It was not long ago actually. I just came here to expand my knowledge of dancing.”

What kind of dance did you do before breakdancing?

“Well I started off with ballet and then I got too old for the ballet class I was doing. So then I moved to Future Dance Center and I started doing hip-hop, tap, ballet, jazz, and acro. Then I went to one of the battles. A lot of the Future Dance dancers have been going to a lot of them and this was my first time battling. And then I found them and decided to be on the team.”

What was your first time battling like?
“It was super scary. I never battled before and I just wanted to try my best. I had seen it before, but I had never done it, so I was really excited and nervous.”

What are your favorite breakdancing moves to learn?
“I like doing the knee rock and I like footwork.”

Who are your teachers?
“James and Shane.”

Why do you like them as teachers?
“Yes, because they’re so interactive and they have fun with you and they’re more than just teachers.”

Alexis, 10

How long have you been dancing?
“2 years.”

When did you start learning how to breakdance?
“It happened at the dance battle. I liked the people’s moves and they inspired me.”

Stacy said, “Alexis did the kids battle at Under the Lights and she was in the finals. It was extremely hard decision because she killed it.”

Was breakdancing the first kind of dance you’ve done?
“At this other dance studio I did tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, and contemporary.”

What are your favorite breakdancing moves?
“Probably the spins and the coffee grinder.”

Who are your teachers?
“James and Shane.”

Why do you like them as teachers?
“They’re really inspiring and they teach me to do more and try hard.”

When was your first battle?
“A few months ago.”

Were you nervous battling your first time?
“A little bit.”

What’s it like being in the Young DFC crew?
“It’s nice. I learn more in the crew.”

Rachel, 11

How long have you been dancing?
“Three years.”

When did you start learning how to breakdance?
“2 years ago.”

What kind of dance did you do before breakdancing?
“I took ballet and hip-hop before.”

What are your favorite breakdancing moves?
“My favorite move is the windmill and I’m trying to get it.”

Why do you like breakdancing over all the other kinds of dance?
“I think it’s really fun and the moves are cool.”

Who are your teachers?
“Shane and James.”

Why do you like them as teachers?
“They make it fun.”

What’s it like being in the Young DFC crew?
“I really like it because you can learn more than just taking classes.”

How would you say breakdancing has benefited you?
“It’s helped me open up.”

Vanessa, 10

How long have you been dancing?
“2 years.”

When did you start learning how to breakdance?
“2 years ago.”

What are your favorite moves to learn in class?
“I like headstands and windmills.”

Why do you like breakdancing so much?
“Because it’s cool working on the moves because they’re hard and they challenge me.”

Who are your teachers?
“Shane and James.”

Why do you like them as teachers?
“When we need to work on something they slow down and we keep doing it over and over again until we get it.”

What’s it like being in the Young DFC crew?
“We do different routines and it’s fun to learn them.”

Lead image of Stacy VanBlarcom (left) by Hayley Ellen Day Photography; Brooklynn Jay (right) by Flyywalker. Stage shot (header) by Susie K.