Bust a move: International duo brings breakdancing to Juneau

A visiting breakdance duo has been teaching Juneau residents some new moves. They’re featured in a documentary that’s playing in town over the weekend about hip hop culture and social change in Uganda.

About 12 people ranging from toddlers and teens to adults are learning the fundamentals of breakdance at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

“Breakdancing is one of the elements of hip-hop. It’s the way you use your body,” says Fahad Kiryowa, the dance teacher who lives just outside Kampala in Uganda.

Breakdancing is often characterized as being low to the ground. There’s spins and flips. It’s a full body workout.

Fahad Kiryowa shows a class how to master the basic moves of breakdance. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
Fahad Kiryowa shows a class how to master the basic moves of breakdance. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

But Kiryowa is taking it slow with his new students.

He’s here in Alaska teaching with Eric Egesa.

Juneau-born Rachelle Sloss convinced the pair to come up to her hometown. She’s lived in Kampala for several years and became fast friends with the two through Breakdance Project Uganda.

“By the end of my first week there, I was totally sold on this place with so many great dancers and this great community,” she says.

The dancers just attended a youth leadership camp in Colorado.

“And the camp funded their international flights. Then they were here and we thought, ‘Let’s go to Alaska,’” she says.

Egesa started dancing when he was a kid. He says it took some effort to convince his parents that breaking was a good thing.

“Anything football or any sports, back in Uganda when children join anything, they just go into drugs,” he says.

(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The director of Breakdance Project Uganda came to visit Egesa’s house to talk with his parents. It’s a nonprofit that offers free dance lessons and mentorship to at-risk youth.

Egesa’s parents said yes.

Kiryowa says breaking entered his life at the right time.

“I couldn’t listen to my parents. I was chilling with the gangs because that’s what I see people doing,” he says. “So I was just like that. Stealing, that was one of the things I always did.”

But he didn’t want to go down that path.

“When I started doing breakdance, they said if you love this you have to quit the other one.  It was at first hard for me, but when I got into dance I loved it. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m stopping this.’”

After a while, people started to notice a change in him.

“My mom was like ‘Wow. Are you still on drugs?’ I was like, ‘No.’ I changed my life, dance changed my life,” he says.

When he’s home in Uganda, Kiryowa says people see him as a leader. The dancers are looking forward to sharing their stories of Alaska back home.