Icey Ives practiced his moves in the dance studio at the Spenard Recreation Center last Thursday. To the hip-hop pulse of a mix tape he sidled smoothly across the floor, head level, torso straight and steady while his feet wove around with the speed and articulation of the fingers of a sign language adept. Then he broke into the exciting stuff, flinging his body onto the ground and back up in flow of flips, spins, slides and freezes, winding up the set by completing a full circle of leaps on his hands, springing like a ballet dancer executing a grand jete -- except with his arms instead of his legs.
Ives is a B-Boy, and not just a Friday night wannabe. On Saturday, Aug. 22, he'll represent Alaska at the Red Bull BC One North America Final in Orlando, Florida. Billed as "the world's largest and most prestigious one-on-one B-Boy competition," the Red Bull contest features 16 dancers from the U.S. and Canada in an all-out throw-down to see who goes to the international championship in Rome on Nov. 14.
Qualifying competitions for the world championship this year will take place in Egypt, Spain, South Korea, Peru and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, as well as in Orlando.
Born and raised in Anchorage, Jeremy Ives Calara Viray -- to give his full name -- graduated from West High School last year. He's the youngest of four brothers and the only one who dances. He was first exposed to B-Boying at age 10 when he saw people doing it in the game room at the Spenard Rec Center and was instantly hooked.
"This is where I grew up, pretty much," he said, tapping the walls of the dance room. An older dancer tagged him with the name "Icey." "I grabbed it. It made sense. After all, we are from the land of ice."
When he was 14, an older brother bought him a ticket to Seattle, where he could take part in a competition. He recalls being nervous but inspired by the experience.
"We don't really have a big hip-hop community in Anchorage," he said. "But that's good, in a way. It motivates us to do better. We use it as a sanctuary for practicing."
Ives practices for at least two hours every day. It's crucial to stay in shape. A B-Boy's body, like that of a gymnast, takes a lot of pounding; try hopping onto your elbow a couple of times. Injuries to wrists, backs, necks and knees are not uncommon. Some presumed purists look down on kneepads, but Ives uses them. "I want to keep my body safe," he said.
As important as physical conditioning is mental agility, awareness and attitude. Improvisation and spontaneity are essential in competition. A B-Boy doesn't rehearse the same routine over and over, like a jazz or ballroom dancer might. He works up a repertoire of moves and, depending on the music and the situation, mixes, matches and experiments on the spot.
"There are two ways to approach competition," Ives said. "Either you explode on your opponent and blow him away or you be yourself and concentrate on doing your best with your personal style."
Either way, a champion dancer has to meld his action and thinking on the spot. "I tell people B-Boying is all in your mind," he said. "It's more mental than physical. It's all about composure. Like boxing."
Martial arts moves have been part of the B-Boy vernacular since its earliest years. Ives noted that the stylized, belligerent gestures spring from the fact that breaking was invented, in part, as an alternative to gang violence. Young men (mostly) could show off their prowess without necessarily drawing blood.
The Red Bull contest resembles old-school solo competition, in contrast to the more choreographed group performances that have emerged over time. Ives will be up against formidable dancers, three of whom hail from Florida and are expected to have audience support at the free, all-ages event. The group includes last year's champion, who goes by the name of Victor.
It's not Ives' first time in the big show. He competed in last year's championship in Las Vegas, where he was eliminated in the first round.
He sounded cautious but more confident about this year's competition. He's been practicing hard, working out and increasing his skill set. "I actually took ballet classes," he said. "It helped me with my balance."
And he's changed his eating, giving up meat and going vegan. "I find it makes me lighter on my feet," he said.
All in all, he said, he's feeling more relaxed this time around. He's in top shape, he knows what to expect and he may have luck on his side. Five of the B-Boys at the nationals got there by winning regional bouts called "cyphers." The other 11 have been selected by scouts on the basis of their evident talent. Ives is one of them.
"I just hope everything falls into place," he said. "Because this is my dream."
In the long term he'd like to have his own studio and elevate awareness of the art form in Alaska. He's hosted local B-Boying events here in the past and worked to keep the dancing alive in his home state.
Breaking is a style that can be used to express a range of ideas and feelings, he said. "It's like a ball of clay. You can shape it anyway you want. What you do with it is pretty much up to you. But it's underexposed and underrated here."
He'd like to be recognized for what he's done, he said, and supply a hopeful example to other youths. "I want people to know that, even if they're in Alaska, they can just keep going. If you want to take it up to another level, then you can take it up to another level."
He also wants to see acknowledgement of the generation of Alaska breakers who preceded him. "You need to respect the elders," he said. "They taught us. They were dancing before you were. We want that legacy to continue."
Red Bull BC One North America Final
4:30 p.m. Alaska time Saturday, Aug. 22
Streaming live from Orlando, Florida, on redbullbcone.com