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2012 fall columnists Credit: Justin Cohen , Yessenia Gutierrez

I arrived at Houston Hall on Saturday night exhausted after spending all day at my work-study job. But there was no way I was going to miss Rhythmic Damage VII.

The annual breaking — or break dancing — event has gained a following beyond Penn. This year, 52 crews from states like Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and as far away as California packed the Hall of Flags to show off their newest moves.

Although I walked into the show late, I was soon caught up in the performances. During the crew battles, where two teams of four B-boys faced off, I joined the crowd in cheering and oohing at their hat tricks and spins.

Rhythmic Damage is organized by Freaks of the Beat, Penn’s premier B-boy and funkstyles crew, which was founded in 2001.

While breaking might seem intimidating, members of Freaks of the Beat promote a welcoming environment. In addition to holding open practices where anyone can join, they are always willing to share the history, culture and lingo behind breaking.

Perhaps this stems from the fact that most FOTB members had little, if any, experience breaking before Penn. “Ninety percent of us, if not more, didn’t dance, much less break, before being in Freaks,” Wharton junior and FOTB member Paulo Bautista said.

Although the group performs in charity events and collaborates with other groups on campus, its main focus is the development of individual members.

“We really want people to create their own style while learning the history,” Bautista said.

Rhythmic Damage has expanded since it was first created by 2009 Engineering graduate Sama Ahmed, who is now a graduate student at the University of California, San Francisco. Although Ahmed hasn’t been to show in the last two years, he said he’s “glad to see the new freaks take over and make it into an even bigger and better event.”

The event remains true to the original form by featuring small-crew and individual battles as well as spontaneous battles, which are called cyphers. Teams arrive on campus ready to display the results of a year of practice.

One battle type, “Seven to Smoke,” has individuals compete against each other. The loser in each round gets sent to the back of the line while the winner continues to compete.

In other words, the more rounds a person wins, the more tired he or she becomes. At the end of the allotted time, the person who succeeds in the most rounds wins the battle.

“There’s not a moment throughout the whole event where you are bored,” College junior and FOTB member Alex Guo said, adding that Rhythmic Damage fills the Hall of Flags with a “positive energy.”

There is something about seeing a room full of people completely dedicated to improving their skill that animates non-breakers like myself. Although the event is based on a series of battles where crews face off, most of the animosity is feigned. Rhythmic Damage instead creates a strong sense of community.

This year was the first time the event was live-streamed. Although the feed was not publicized on FOTB’s Facebook page until a mere five minutes before the event started, Bautista said it still received over 200 views from places like California and North Carolina.

This is a testament to the community Freaks of the Beat has helped to create by actively engaging with B-boys in the area. And as Guo echoed, “I’m thankful that Freaks is so open to expanding off campus.”

“I know there wouldn’t be a lot of people breaking if it wasn’t for UPenn,” added Mark “Metal” Wong, who performed on Saturday and has been breaking for 12 years.

Wong started breaking after attending “The Gathering” at the Rotunda. This event, which takes place during the last Thursday of each month, invites B-boys and B-girls to showcase their moves. Wong was enthralled by the performances and remembered thinking, “Whatever that is, I need to be a part of it.”

This seems to be a common experience among the people I talked to. Guo and Bautista started off as freshmen. While I have no plans to become a B-girl, it was my third year at Rhythmic Damage. I felt at ease alongside breakers, and that’s the beauty of their inclusive community.

This column is dedicated to the memory of Robert “Bobby” Mozia, who died a year ago. He played a crucial role in both Freaks of the Beat and in organizing Rhythmic Damage. His community remembers him.

Yessenia Gutierrez is a College junior from Hollywood, Fla. Her email address is “Yessi Can” usually appears every Monday. Follow her @yessiwrites.

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