On the Record with Ana Garcia, Breakdancer

Kiana Mickles

Ana “Rokafella” Garcia is a B-girl who fell in love with breakdancing in the 1990s and danced with hip-hop crews such as the Transformers, the Breeze Team and the New York Float Committee. She co-founded Full Circle Productions with her husband and fellow breaker Kwikstep, where they teach young dancers and provide the community with educational performances. Rokafella came to Oberlin to teach the community some of her moves and discuss her documentary All the Ladies Say. This week, the Oberlin Review sat down with her to talk about her career, future projects, hip-hop and solidarity with other B-girls.

Is this your first time coming to Oberlin? What drew you from NYC to campus?

[Assistant Professor of Dance] Alysia [Ramos] asked if I was interested in teaching a dance class, teaching a community class and showing a film, and I thought those were all really important things because they’re three different platforms. One is working with Dance majors, the second one is working with the community — that means everybody. They don’t have to be students [to] have access to the moves I’m trying to teach. And the film — not that many people want to see the film; they just want to learn the moves. So it was nice that she included that labor of love because that film took so long to make. … It all made me feel like, “Of course I gotta go be there.”

Your documentary All the Ladies Say touches upon many obstacles for B-girls. Can you talk to me a bit about how the project came about?

I think I’ve always been trying to get the message across to people that women can do physical things and be just as excellent in physically demanding genres. Even though I’ve danced everywhere and performed a lot, it still seems like people don’t know we’re here. I wanted to make a film, but I didn’t know how to — I didn’t go to school for that. So when Martha Cooper approached me and told me to write a two-page thing about myself and what I look at when I see the B-girl world, I accepted. I wrote to my friend who worked at the Ford Foundation, and she asked me to write a grant proposal, which I didn’t know how to do, so I had to ask for help with that, but I did get the money. I was able to go to six cities and dance with these women and hang out with these female hip-hop practitioners and then archive it. I was able to pay someone to capture footage of whatever we did in those six cities, and coming back we had all these tapes. Then me and my husband were like, “OK, we can make a film.” Looking at all the tapes we were like, “This is a good story. We have to figure out how to tell it and format it.” It took a long time to do that, but we ended up with a pretty good film.

Will your second project touch upon similar topics?

Different topics. There’s the commercial realm and how it has affected our communities, the competitions and how they have affected our communities and gender issues. This time we opened up a little more into the gay community. We’ll see how that goes because the one gay B-girl we had didn’t even want to be included. She was the only one that everyone talked about, but she didn’t give me any profiles or any photos. So she’s there, but she’s not there. If I’m able to include that, that would be great.

At the talk, you mentioned New York rivalries. How do you balance solidarity with Bgirls and rivalries?

I really can’t say, because with some people I’ve had success in dissolving the rivalry but with others I have not. I don’t know that I have the answer to that, but I know as you get older you really want to minimize how much tension and conflict you have in your life. So I’ve tried to talk to people outside the battle or the cypher. Sometimes that helps because then we can see eye to eye like, “Oh yeah, these sneakers are not that great,” or “Oh yeah, Donald Trump is crazy.” Things like that kinda ease the “I don’t like her” type of feelings into “Oh, she’s just like me,” or “Oh, she’s funny.” But with other people these things don’t work. They don’t care how many jokes you say or what you have in common. They’re from that crew, and they’re not gonna make you soft.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue breakdancing as a lifelong career?

I don’t think there was a moment. I think that I was always doing dance, and when a new style presented itself, I would just jump in. It’s almost like when I had the chance to learn breakdance I was like, “Oh great, this is what I’ve been missing.” I had the salsa, I had house, I had the uptown styles. With breakdancing, I kinda missed the boat, because when it was emerging no one was teaching and no one considered a girl strong enough to do it. When I finally got the opportunity to learn it in the ’90s, I jumped in. Because I was an athlete, I felt like I could do this, and I got pretty good. I’m not sure if it was because I was destined for it, or because I was so on it every day. I just knew there were more moves, and once I learned those, there were other moves. So it was this lifelong pursuit of that upper level that everyone wanted to be on, and I was able to reach it. I’m still pursuing moves; it hasn’t ended. I think the name “Rokafella” was special. I think travelling the world, people see me as a champion of sorts. People see me and they’re like, “That’s the girl that reps B-girls.” And it made me feel important, like I was born for this.

As a New York native it’s often discouraging to see all the changes being made to a city that used to have so much culture. What have you learned from the experience of teaching breakdancing to students in your community?

I feel like it’s just important that they know the past. I know they’re so eager to leave their mark and do something that’s different, but they’re missing the connection. So when I can be in a high school or middle school — like I am until June doing after school programming — it’s really important for me to let them know that what they’re doing is cool. But I also have to tell them, this is how we did it, this is how we communicated; this is how we dressed; these are the pressures we faced. There needs to be that connection so they can feel stronger, and if anyone tries to knock them off their balance they can say, “No, no, no, I’m coming from a line of strong and creative people of color.” New York is changing, but New York has always been changing. So I have to accept that change is always going to be happening, but at least I can hold on to what felt like home. It’s kind of like the immigrant experience, where they go to new countries and new places, but they always have their food, their music. You can’t just exist in the present, you have to connect and hold hands with the past.

I feel like there’s a tendency for female artists to only be asked gendered questions. As someone who is recognized as the original “B-girl” can you tell me what questions you wish you were asked more?

I guess, globally, “How does it feel like when you encounter other B-girls who may or may not know who [you are] or care about the culture?” It’s hard for me to go to other countries and … meet people who don’t know why hip-hop even came about. They don’t know anything about the Civil Rights movement. They don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color in this country. They just do it because it’s cool. I think that sometimes it gets under my skin, even though I’m not completely Black — I’m a person of color, mixed race, Caribbean, Latina. I feel like people want to disregard the struggle and go for the “cool.” They don’t understand why we did it, and how it hurt and still hurts. Hip-hop still doesn’t have an institution, a museum, an official website. The elders have passed away without any reparation or compensation for everything they did. So I guess sometimes that’s the part that bothers me about knowing how the culture has been exported, and people can do whatever they want with it. I think in New York City there’s such a culture that’s mainstream; the hold on hip-hop is stifling and preventing the true creatives from coming out. I don’t want to be their parents, but I also don’t want to condone what they’re doing and how they’re watering it down. That’s what I’d like to be asked more about rather than the experience of being a B-girl. I’ll gladly answer that question, and I’ll tell you it’s hard.