Technique

Pavan Thimmaiah: How I Teach Breaking

Many breaking moves require the upper body to bear weight. Photo by Kyle Froman

Pavan Thimmaiah casually hovers in a freeze, his weight between his head and hands on the floor, legs extending out on an upward diagonal. From this topsy-turvy position, he encourages his students to try this breaking staple. “Take a picture and make it your Facebook profile," he jokes.

Self-taught Thimmaiah founded PMT Dance Studio in New York City in 2001 to teach breaking in a classroom setting to students of all different backgrounds, levels and ages. By focusing on safe technique and catering to his students' diverse skill levels, he's built a loyal following of teen and adult b-boys and girls in his Breakin' 101 for Beginners class. “I think a lot of times in breaking classes, teachers want to fly around and show what they can do," he says. “I want to show the students what they can do."


Class begins with top-rocking, or rhythmic footwork done while standing. It's the first movement a breaker must master before launching into more floor-based acrobatic moves. “I tell people that it's like a boxer entering the ring," says Thimmaiah. “You kind of bounce around a little bit and get the blood flowing." After teaching a tricky sequence of hops, cross-steps and jumps from one foot to the other, Thimmaiah speeds the top-rock up for more challenge.

When it's time for floorwork, or down-rock, he arranges his students in a circle (a “cypher" in breaking parlance) and explains the importance of performing three-dimensionally. “I try to get them comfortable with performing to an audience in a cypher, because it's such a huge part of the genre," he says. “So when they're at a party and they want to get down, they can."

Thimmaiah has his students get down—literally, that is—when teaching them how to do a classic down-rock move, the 3-step. He starts with a basic squat-and-kick movement so his students get used to the crouched position. “Stay low. We're not doing Riverdance," he teases. As he demonstrates the mechanics, he is specific about body placement. Because many breaking moves require the upper body to bear weight, correct placement of the hands in relation to the hips and shoulders is crucial for safety and momentum. Thimmaiah watches each student show him the 3-step, checking their placement and offering encouragement.

Most importantly, he encourages his dancers to test their knowledge and skills at parties and clubs. “You can learn the fundamentals in a classroom, and you can get better," he says, “but if you really want to get to the next level, eventually you have to get out there."

Pavan Thimmaiah is a self-taught hip-hop dancer and breaker from Staten Island. He founded PMT Dance Studio in New York City in 2001, where he currently teaches beginner breaking and hip hop, funk and street-dance styles. Thimmaiah has taught at New York University, Long Island University, University of California–Irvine, Peridance Capezio Center, The Ailey Extension and Ballet Arts. His choreographic and performance credits include television shows “Today" and “Conan," dancing with musical artists Vanilla Ice and Sean Paul and halftime shows at Madison Square Garden.

Beata “Bee" Wierzbicka is a b-girl from Poland and assistant teacher for PMT Dance Studio's Breakin' 101 for Beginners.


Teacher Voices
Getty Images

In 2001, young Chanel, a determined, ambitious, fiery, headstrong teenager, was about to begin her sophomore year at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, also known as the highly acclaimed "Fame" school. I was a great student, a promising young dancer and well-liked by my teachers and my peers. On paper, everything seemed in order. In reality, this picture-perfect image was fractured. There was a crack that I've attempted to hide, cover up and bury for nearly 20 years.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Getty Images

Though the #MeToo movement has spurred many dancers to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse, the dance world has yet to have a full reckoning on the subject. Few institutions have made true cultural changes, and many alleged predators continue to work in the industry.

As Chanel DaSilva's story shows, young dancers are particularly vulnerable to abuse because of the power differential between teacher and student. We spoke with eight experts in dance, education and psychology about steps that dance schools could take to protect their students from sexual abuse.

Keep reading... Show less
Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.