"When I first arrived here in New York I did a lot of work at the public schools. I frequently went to the Bronx and before break dancing was considered a style of dancing, or was successful, there wasn’t even music involved at that time. I used to see boys break dancing their breaks at school, in the streets and on the street corners, mainly during the summer. This was in 1975 and these boys, from the public schools, sometimes participated and began to be introduced to capoeira....

It was like a show, a lecture. At that time, we did not speak English, so there was a person who translated everything for us. Loremil and I, both with our berimbau, would put a vinyl record on because there was no one to play for us while we were showing the boys capoeira. They were crazy about it. After each show, everybody wanted to talk to us and invited us to their break dancing circles. At that time, break dancing was totally different than it is today. It was more of a cultural movement than a commercial thing, and it also had identification and styles within each neighborhood."

-Jelon Vieira

Friday, November 8, 2019

Breaking at school: bboys at Angelo Patri I.S. 137

Spy in "The Freshest Kids"(2002)

"I can't really say I invented it, cuz it was a couple of us who invented it. In school. In seventh grade." Spy

About thirty seconds into the opening credits of the 2002 documentary "The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy," legendary bboy Spy says that "a couple of us invented it.  In school. In seventh grade."  By "it," I'm assuming that Spy meant bboying foundation, or at least some of it.  Spy has been given credit for the baby freeze and swipes; his best friend and co-founder of the Crazy Commanders Crew, Shorty Rock, is often given credit for the six-step.

So, given this statement, what middle school did Spy and Shorty Rock attend, and when? To my surprise, it appears that none of the historians of bboying have bothered to find out.  Trac 2 came to the rescue, and asked Shorty Rock himself.  The answer is I.S. 137 (Angelo Patri) between Webster Avenue and Tiebout Avenue at 182nd Street in the Bronx.  The school still exists, and is only about one block south of the Webster Avenue PAL, another important location in the history of hip hop.

Shorty Rock in eighth grade

The year they graduated seems likely to be 1977.  Shorty has said that it was 1976, but from spending time on the school's FB page, I've discovered that Angelo Patri opened in 1975 in a brand-new building, and graduated its first class in 1977.  Both Shorty and Spy were born in the second half of 1963, so they would have been 13 years old at eighth grade graduation, which seems right.

Spy in 1979

Teacher Jose Manuel Rodriguez-Ortiz started at IS 137 as part of Fordham University’s Teacher Corps Program in 1975.  He later became dean of the school, and seems to have been Shorty's seventh grade science teacher, though he doesn't remember him specifically.  Mr. Rodriguez kindly allowed me to post on the school's alumni page.  Through doing so, I discovered several other important bboy alums of I.S. 137.

Jose Rodriguez in 1975

Jimmy Lee and Jimmy Dee, who repped The Bronx Boys before founding the Rock Steady Crew in the fall of 1979, also attended I.S. 137.  Three(!) of Jimmy Lee's blood sisters spoke up on the school's FB page to identify him as having gone there.  I also found an old post by Lefty Left (TBB) recalling  both Jimmy Lee and Jimmy Dee as schoolmates.

So, what does all this mean?  I'm not sure.  Neither Mr. Rodriguez nor the other few staff members who frequent  the school's FB page were aware that Angelo Patri had any particular connection to breaking.  Mr. Rodriguez speculated that they may have danced in the cafeteria or the gym.

Could Jelon Vieira and Loremil Machado have done one of their capoeira demonstrations at Angelo Patri between 1975 and 1977?  Definitely, though of course I do not yet have any proof that they did.

Angelo Patri interior