Most business owners wouldn’t be too happy to find graffiti on the walls. But Antonio Castillo, known as Tazk in the break-dance world, asked for it. The spray-painted mural at The Lab (6925 Willow St. NW; 703-231-5350; Thelabdc.com) makes you feel like you’re out on the streets rather than inside what Castillo boasts is the region’s first break-dance studio.
What It Is: Although Castillo has been teaching workshops in the area for years, he felt D.C. didn’t have a proper place for break-dancers to hone their craft. “At ballet schools, they might have one hour they teach break-dancing. Here, we have a break-dancing school and ballet might have an hour,” says Castillo, who opened for business in January.
Besides Power Fridays, an open B-boy session that’s available to all for a $5 donation, Castillo has offered just one class so far, Breaking 101 (Fridays at 6 p.m.). On April 13, that will get split into a kids class at 6 p.m., followed by an adults class at 7:30 p.m. ($150 for an eight-week session). Other classes will be added soon, starting with a ladies-only series taught by Julie Stoessel (aka Juju) that kicks off April 10 at 6 p.m.
Castillo’s vision is to create a school that goes beyond the moves to explore break dancing as a movement. To teach the culture, he’ll discuss history, show movies and bring in dancers from around the country. Castillo says the scene in D.C. is dominated by teenagers. “They haven’t gotten an identity. They copy YouTube,” he says. “I want to help them develop a style.”
How It Works: At Breaking 101, Castillo breaks it down for students who have no experience. Class starts with a quick warm-up and stretch (those wrists will need it) before you get into your “top rock,” the side-to-side hopping steps that are the basis of break dancing. Then it’s on to the “six-step.” Get into push-up position, and with a series of quick movements, spin your body around the floor and arrive back at where you started.
Students also learn how to perform freezes, which require balancing on your head and forearms. They look tricky, but Castillo insists they’re easy enough for most students to get within the first class. The tough stuff he’s saving for later. “You’re not spinning on your head yet,” he says. “It’s easy to get injured, so we work up to it.” Besides, even with the foundations, you’re ready to string together simple combinations. Get ready to show off — class includes a chance for each student to demonstrate his or her moves while the rest of the class top rocks in a circle.
Crowd: The first crop of Breaking 101 students range in age from 48-year-old Tom Maresh, who’s trying to improve his dance skills for parties, to 2-year-old Ocean Carrasco. “I wanted to get her exposed to music and dance,” says 34-year-old dad Nelson Carrasco, who originally thought he’d be sitting on the sidelines with his wife, Leandra, 29. Instead, the whole family is now moving together.
Workout: Ocean just plops down on the ground every once in a while, and the rest of the class probably wishes it could get away with that, too. Those six-steps will make your heart rate skyrocket when you do them fast, and they’ll make your muscles burn when you do them slow. Maresh points out that the sweatbands he wears around his wrists and forehead aren’t just for show. They’re to prevent him from having to towel off too often. But the hotter it gets, the cooler everyone feels — especially when they master the freeze.
The Lab officially launches Saturday with a big party featuring one-on-one competitions (called “battles,” in break-dance lingo), B-boys and B-girls from around the country, food, prizes and a massage therapist. Admission is $10. The next session of classes starts the following week, with a ladies-only class April 10 at 6 p.m.; Breaking 101 for kids April 13 at 6 p.m.; and Breaking 101 for adults at 7:30 p.m. Power Fridays will continue at 9 p.m.