23 December 2014, 21:13
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Breaking it Down With A Breakdancer in Yerevan

What you’re about to read is… not your average interview. While this may be because we don’t consider ourselves your average media outlet, it might also have something to do with the fact that Serouj Aprahamian is not your average dude. In this interview, Aprahamian breaks it down for ImYerevan, about the ups and downs and the ins and outs of the breakdancing scene in Armenia, and his personal story about getting involved.

He’s a hip-hop-loving, Armenian, breakdancing political activist. The low-down in one sentence? He was born in Lebanon in the 80s, grew up breaking in LA in the 90s, has a university degree in political science, and now lives in Armenia as a PR strategist by day and a breaker slash dance pedagogue by night. 

No newbie to interviews, the list of publications and blogs that feature Aprahamian's dancing (and his dialogue) is already pretty long. Usually, generic questions like, “What’s your favorite jam and why?” and “How would you describe your style?” reign supreme.

Thus, since those questions appear to be answered elsewhere, we thought we’d take a more nuanced approach. When we met with Aprahamian, what we hoped to understand was the nature of his seemingly unrelated interests (activism, Armenia, and breaking), and their unique relationship to one another.

Firstly, why breakdancing? We want to understand what attracts you to this particular form of artistic expression above all others. 

Well, breaking has its roots in the African American minority communities in New York and South Bronx. It was a very underground music and art form coming from a community that was downtrodden, trying to find its voice and start lifting its head up a little bit. And it came from young people. So that spirit and energy was present even in the 90s when I came across it, 20 years later. You could feel the rebellion, the freedom of expression in it. Yeah, that’s what attracted me to it.

What was it that initially attracted you to living in and caring about Armenia? Is the fact that you are ethnically “Armenian” part of that?

This is a piece of land on the planet Earth where everybody speaks my language, looks like me, and who eats the food I love.For me, going to a place like Armenia is like… finding a country where everybody was breaking and listening to hip-hop, I would be like, ‘This is dope!’ I would be naturally attracted to that.

But don’t mistake Aprahamian’s straightforwardness for blind nationalism, because it’s definitely not. For him, it’s “not a racial thing.”

I really believe, especially through breaking, that we’re all human beings. We have two arms, we have two eyes, we bleed red blood. As much as we talk about Azeris and Turks, I mean, if you see an Azeri baby, that’s a cute baby! That doesn’t mean just forget what has happened. But human beings on a human level, we all kind of come from the same place. So, I don’t subscribe to a radical nationalist ideology. But, I do believe that if I don’t care about what happens to Armenia or to Armenians, who is gonna care? What I’m trying to say is that if you don’t care about your immediate community, you’re kind of doing a disservice to humanity. For example, I know for a fact that if I don’t care about my family or my parents, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to care about my parents as much as I am. Same goes for my cousins and my uncles. And then, you know, Armenia is just an extension of your family, that’s what a nation is. So, that same obligation to your family is kind of the same thing you should have for your nation. But not in the sense that it justifies bad behavior or endorses unhealthy practices. So, when I came over here, it felt like an extension of my family. It’s interesting, at the very least. 

Why do you think breaking has caught on in Armenia?

I think it’s really a post-Soviet thing – when the Soviet Union ended. This is new to these parts of the world. In Russia, now the scene is very, very highly advanced. But it’s been a decade of growth. Before the 2000s, there was next to nothing in Russia. When I was dancing in the 90s, we’d never heard of Russian dancing at all. I didn’t hear of Russia till about 2003, 2004. It was just starting. They just advanced very quickly. And because it’s new and fresh there, I think that’s why it’s good right now. And I do think the lack of travel perhaps is what separates Russia from Armenia. For example, the Russian breakers are very good – I think they’re the best in the world right now. But they have more access to Europe, to other parts of the world than Armenia. There’s more access to resources in Moscow than in Yerevan. But the growth in Armenia is crazy. I teach at Tumo, I have about 40 kids.

So, you’ve mentioned that Armenia’s breakdancing scene is actually quite advanced (and that was confirmed for us at a recent all-styles dance competition in Yerevan we attended called Project #DanceChallenge that literally blew our brains into oblivion with its awesome dancers). What some of the low-downs on Armenia’s breaking scene? Its joys and pitfalls?

The main difference is the culture, the mentality. Armenia is a very conformist society. For example, there’s schools. I never went to a class for breaking. I learned from people in my neighborhood – no structured class. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. But it’s just a bit harder, maybe. It’s a lot harder to learn, you make mistakes more. Anyways, in America, there are no schools really. In California, I don’t know about any ‘breaking school’. There are studios that teach dance that have a breaking class which you can sign up for, which there’s a handful of those now. And that’s a new development. But in Armenia, there’s 10 schools in every neighborhood in Yerevan. At an arm’s distance, you can learn breaking in a school, you know? I think that’s a huge difference. Only because the way that they teach at these schools – there’s two problems. One is that there’s a lack of information in some respects.

They’re doing the best they can with the information they have, there are things they don’t’ have control over. The second thing is, a a bit hierarchical at times, like, “I’m the teacher, you guys are the students. We go to an event, we go as a team, and you wear this shirt.” It seems almost like Karate or something.

And finally, how and when did the idea to move to Armenia become reality?

These are my two worlds: activism in the Armenian community, and breaking. In a nutshell. The two have nothing to do with one another directly, you know? But then, when I came to Armenia in 2003, I thought to myself, “Well this is interesting, but… Could I live here?” And then, in ’05, I met dancers and I was like, “Oh shit, this is crazy! They’re breaking in Armenia, they’re pretty cool!” And then by 2010-2012, friends of mine were moving here and then I saw, “Wow, there’s work I can do here,” and the breaking scene became bigger. So, I started asking myself the opposite question, “Why wouldn’t I move here?”

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