“It would be a pretty uninspired life if you stopped growing as a person.”
This week Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie talks to MD about choosing what you want now and figuring out the hows later. She has trained extensively in ballet and modern dance but found her artistic home in breaking, hip hop and house. She began breaking in 2002 under Richard Santiago (aka Break Easy). Ephrat has performed and taught all over the world and has appeared on NBC, MTV, Comedy Central and at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. Ephrat dances with her crew MAWU and is a regular guest artist with Rennie Harris Puremovement. As artistic director of Ephrat Asherie Dance, her new work, A SINGLE RIDE, premiered in September 2012, commissioned by Dixon Place. Ephrat is 2012-2013 Fresh Tracks Residency Choreographer at New York Live Arts and will be presenting work at Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out Festival this summer. In August, Ephrat will be traveling to Brazil with a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study grant to study how Brazilian cultural and folkloric dances have influenced breaking in Brazil.
Every artist has a moment when they decide this is who they are. What was your moment?
I didn’t really have one specific moment. I always knew I wanted to dance, but for a long time didn’t know how or why, or what that even meant. When I found breaking, I began to feel more at home as an artist and realized that I didn’t really have to explain the why of it. I also had a strange (or ignorant) faith that the how would somehow work itself out, just as long as I kept discovering what being a dancer meant to me.
So you didn’t have a plan?
I didn’t really have a plan. When I first started breaking I couldn’t see past the floor I was going to practice on that day. I was completely enthralled by the dance. All I could focus on was trying to soak up as much new movement and music as possible. I remember one day it was snowing really heavily. There must have been more than a foot of snow on the ground; I think schools may even have been closed that day, but I was so bent on going to practice that I trekked to Bushwick from Harlem without even considering the possibility that the community center where practice was held might actually be closed. When I arrived, I couldn’t even make it to the door of the darkened community center because there was so much snow on the ground….
During these beginning years, I was fortunate enough to meet many great dancers in the New York underground scene who inspired me, danced with me and shared performance opportunities and classes with me. They helped me realize that there was a way to make a career as an artist with your own voice. I remember clearly the day I quit my job at the restaurant and decided I was going to dance. I’m thankful for my crazy boss who made my decision easier.
What does breaking give you that modern dance didn’t?
I was coming from the world of ballet and Horton technique and found freedom in not having to scrutinize my tightly clothed body in the mirror. I loved being able to improvise and do my own thing, without having to look exactly like anyone else. I also discovered my love for the floor and 70s funk and soul, which sort of changed my life. (I grew up in the 90s and I easily connected to the sounds of the 70s when I realized how many of these records had been sampled by 90s hip hop artists.)
How did you condition your body for the transition from modern dance to breaking?
I threw myself so much into breaking that I found my body adapting naturally due to how much time I was spending in this new movement world. My arms gained strength because I had to figure out how to move my body weight on the floor and with lots of practice my body reacted to help make my movements more efficient.
Many creatives have a routine to create new work. Do you have a routine for developing your choreography? And if so, what is it?
I work alot with music that inspires me, but sometimes, I also work from a more conceptual place if there’s something very specific that I’m interested in. In either case, I usually start by improvising. If there is a movement or a feeling that interests me, I work to explore it and see what develops from there, deconstructing and reconstructing it as I go.
Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie at Dixon Place performing “Brothers” in 2011.
How do you teach breaking?
Teaching good technique is really important in the beginning. A solid foundation keeps you injury free, but also gives your body more ease when you freestyle and create your own movement. Transitions between moves are everything and I think when your technique is strong, as your movements grown in difficulty, these transitions become more effortless. I also try to emphasize how important it is to understand how your body moves (because we are all so different) so that you can capitalize on your strengths and work through your weakness. Breaking is about originality, so the more you know about what’s unique about how you move naturally, the clearer your style will be.
How many hours a day do you practice? How often do you practice? How often do you recommend your students practice to master a step?
When I first started breaking, I would practice every free minute I had. As things became more hectic with work, I had to be more organized with my time and designate a few days a week to practice. I recommend being strategic about it, especially if you have limited time. If you know you’ll be in a small space one day, focus on top rock. If another practice spot has a great floor, work on spin moves. If your legs are super tired, spend your practice upside down on your arms. Sometimes breaking it up (no pun intended) helps you be more focused during your practice time. It’s hard to say how long it takes to master any one step since everyone is so different. What comes easily to one person, may be really unnatural to someone else. Your body will tell you when you’ve done too much. Always listen to your body!
A SINGLE RIDE choreographed by Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie in 2012, commissioned by Dixon Place.
I read that you will be travelling to Brazil soon to study dance. Are you always a student as well as a teacher, always discovering new moves? What do you hope to learn in Brazil?
In breaking, like in any art form, perfection is unattainable. You keep working at your craft and discovering new movement because possibilities are infinite. It would be a pretty uninspired life if you stopped growing as a person. The same goes for breaking. That’s not to say it’s always easy to stay inspired and/or motivated, but that’s the ultimate goal.
I’m really looking forward to my trip to Brazil. My dancing is strongly influenced by the New York underground scene, which in turn is an amazing conglomerate of so many different cultures and the dance styles derived from them. I’m very interested to see how Brazil’s different vernacular/folkloric dances have shaped the way Brazilian bboys and bgirls dance.
Do you have any tips to our readers who are interested in learning breakdancing?
What I love most about breaking is its rawness. All the breaking foundation and technique in the world means nothing if you don’t have that crazy desire to just get down and hit the floor. For all its triteness, my biggest tip is to just go for it. I always tell my students (albeit lovingly), go hard or go home. Throw yourself into it. The worst that can happen is that you get a couple of bruises and maybe scuff up your kicks, but it will be well worth it.
To learn more about Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie, go to her website www.ephratasherie.com.