Zoom, November 2020
During her 23 years of breaking, Emma Ready has established an international reputation as an inspirational, empathetic motivator who is both approachable and accessible. Her students describe her as a treasure trove of information and she's known for her clear, helpful and insightful approach to sharing knowledge. Emma’s leadership style has been described as inspirational and elevating. She’s renowned for her creativity and has been dubbed 10,000 Moves Master. Her recent choreographic work looks at the issue of coercive control and has been described as utterly awfully wonderful and hauntingly beautiful.
IA: Can you introduce yourself and describe what it is that you do?
ER: Yeah. My name’s Emma Ready. I’m a B-Girl and choreographer, and I teach breaking. Yeah, so I started in ’97, in Edinburgh – so, I’m from Glasgow but I moved to Edinburgh for university, and that’s when I started breaking. And yeah…so I’ve been doing, I’ve been teaching since 2003, doing theatre since 2005 and, a couple of years ago, I started work on my first choreographic solo project, I’ve been developing since then. And, since lockdown, that’s been put on the back-burner, and I’ve started teaching online classes, on zoom. So, getting more back into the teaching side of things this year.
IA: I’ll come to all of those things a little later.
IA: The idea of the crew and the company is a form of alternate family and kinship. Can you talk a bit about your relationships with SIN Cru, Flyin’ Jalapenos and Flexible Flav?
ER: Sure, so…the Flyin’ Jalapenos I joined in 2008, but the crew was formed in 2002. Before that I was in a crew called ‘Random Aspekts’ that was Edinburgh-based, but I left that in 2005…I think and joined the Flyin’ Jalapenos in 2008. I’d known everyone in the Jalapenos cause the Scottish scene is small, everyone knows everyone. So…it was really nice to hook up with those guys, and travel through to Glasgow, because I still live in Edinburgh…travel through there to train with them and do various gigs and battles. And then, let’s see so… in the early 2010s…well, 2013-2015 maybe, me and Sideshow Maule and Niall, three of us did quite a lot of battles, Maule and I were invited to Montreal to compete in the breaking competition that’s part of the Just For Laughs Festival there. That was a lot of fun. We had some entertaining routines that we pulled out...it was a fun trip. A few of us were invited to Rockin’ Star, which is in Russia. I went and did that one as well. More routines. We got our Flyin’ Jalapenos shirts printed in Russian, with our names on the back, especially for that trip. It’s a good thing – travelling and battling together, it definitely brings people together, and you get to see, you know, all sides of personalities and frustrations, victories and losses…they all figure in that kind of environment. I joined Flexible Flav…a couple of years ago. I met Abe…he was one of the founders of the crew, based in Sacramento. He found me on Facebook in 2012, I think. He was helping to organise a B-Girl battle called ‘Queen Sweet Sixteen’ that was in Seattle. So he invited me to that, I went to it, and since then we’ve just been friends, training together a lot and we have a lot of big conversations about Hip Hop and…you know, definitely on the same wavelength when it comes to the culture and that kind of thing(s). Flexible Flav is a very international crew, so I’m close with Sdido who’s a B-Boy from Italy and…Loopi…B-Gir Loopi from Germany. The three of us travel to each other quite a lot, along with other people in the crew(s)and B-Boys from Spain, Poland and all over, as well as the American side. But the three of us were organising events at the same time. So for a couple of years we were all travelling round to each other’s events and hangouts…we’d really spend a lot of time together. Then Loopi and I battled together at the B-Girl battle at Battle of the Year when we were invited to that, a couple of years ago. Travelling...when you don’t live in the same place as your crew mates, travelling is a must if you wanna train together. I mean now it’s all online anyway. So that’s how I actually started doing all of my tutorials, because the Flexible Flav group chat…we just started sending videos to each other, tutorials, sharing our skills. That’s where my tutorial things for Instagram started this year. And that extended beyond the crew to that. You spend a lot of time together, don’t you? Travelling as cheaply as you can, so…car journeys, road trips…and you know, everyone gets tired and irritable so you have to learn how to be around each other, and be considerate to each other, if there are bickerings and you have to sort them out because you have to battle together. [laughs] Yeah. [laughs] It’s definitely…close, and a lot of time spent together and a lot of support, pushing each other to be the best dancer you can be…for each other, but also for the benefit of the crew. It’s definitely an important part of the scene which…I’m hoping after COVID, that there might be more crew-orientated events, crew battles might come back, cause people have been so spread out, so…alone…and I’m wondering if it might foster a new generation of crew battles cause everyone will want to see each other and dance together in crews. I think that we might see a shift in the battle circuit after this.
IA: You mentioned in the interview with Maule and Mel that you met Hip Hop dance in ’97, with Allan and Wallace in the popping class…can you talk a little bit more about that and your introduction to Hip Hop?
ER: Well my first meeting was a lot earlier…so I grew up in Glasgow and there used to be a busker. I saw a street performer called…well I didn’t know his name at the time but years later I found out he was called ‘Robbie the Robot.’ He used to dress, you know, all in the white suit with the white expressionless mask and do robotics on Argyll Street. So, whenever me and my mum were in town, I would always wanna stop and watch him. I thought he was mesmerising but also terrifying. If you put money in his hat, he’d want to shake your hand, but I was always too scared to approach him. But my mum says that I used to go home and practice all of his moves, until one day she said I came downstairs and I was like ‘OK, I’m ready.’ And she said ‘ready for what?’ I said, ‘Well, to dance on the street.’ [laughs] Yeah, so…my mum tried to find classes for me back then, but there weren’t any in Glasgow. But, later on, I found out that Nancy, who’s the original B-Girl from Scotland, Traki G, she was teaching breaking classes in Fife at that time – this was like, ’84, ’85 kind of time – maybe if we’d lived closer to Fife or we’d known about it, I might have started breaking a lot earlier. Then I got into Hip Hop music in like, ’95 when I was about fifteen. I started listening to Cypress Hill and Snoop Dogg and James Brown, so…I think that originally the dancing came first, from the street performer, and then the music, and then when I found out about classes – breaking and popping classes, in Edinburgh – I went along. It was just a Saturday afternoon, once a week, at first. But after the first class I was like, ‘oh yeah, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna keep doing this.’ Just really enjoyed it immediately. Liked the music, liked the moves. That was first year of uni. I didn’t go so much in second year, but third year they started another class at the university, part of the Modern Dance Society. So I went back to that, and that’s when I met a lot of other people who were dancing, and we started going out to clubs together, training together. I think that’s really…so ’99 I would say was when I really got into it the way that I’m into it now.
IA: What were some of the clubs that you were hitting? What are some of the memories from that period?
ER: Edinburgh was great for Hip Hop nights back then. There was a lot going on...there was a club called…well, it’s still a club but it’s in a different location now – The Bongo Club. There used to be nights on there ‘Give It Some’ and ‘El Segundo’, which were put on by a DJ called Jonny, DJRed6, and he played a lot of funk and Hip Hop. We used to go to those nights a lot. There was Ritchie Ruftone, who was a world DMC champion four or five times now…he’s based in Edinburgh and he used to run a night called ‘Scratch’ at another place called ‘The Venue’ and he would bring up a lot of other big name artists in the Hip Hop world. I saw a lot of people perform there, like Rahzel and…oh, god I can’t think off the top of my head…lots of big names in American Hip Hop. There were a lot of other clubs going on, it was just…every weekend there was something going on that we could go and listen to music and dance…the scene was really lively then and there was a specific pub that everyone would go to before the club. You’d meet everyone and chat, go to the club and dance. It was a really fun time. And I think now…there’s not as many Hip Hop nights on. I think Edinburgh went more into the house genre with clubbing. So I stopped going out so much here, but I still like to go out...so that’s why I really enjoy pre-parties and after-parties at events cause it feels like that atmosphere. I always really enjoy it. I like a party.
IA: Your work ‘Second Guessing’ is a Hip Hop theatre work that looks at coercive control and intimidation from the point of view of the survivor. Watching some of the trailers…you’re making your body look small, limbs are knotted, there’s states of collapse and you’re not taking up much space. Can you talk about the origins of it, where it is in its development and your motivations behind it?
ER: My motivation(s) behind it is to raise awareness of coercive control, because I think that when…once you can name something, you can identify it and realise what’s going on. I think coercive control was a phrase that was coined in the seventies, but it’s still not that well-known. When I talk about coercive control, people don’t really know what I mean. I’ve got the Women’s Aid definition here, so they say it is: ‘Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victims.’ There’s a man called Evan Stark who wrote the book on coercive control, and he describes it as ‘A pattern of behaviour which seeks to entrap women and take away their liberty.’ It’s really about domination, and the statistics are that it’s mainly men abusing women with this tactic, or these tactics – cause there’s lots of tactics involved, because gender roles play into it. You know…women stay at home and look after the house, look after the children. So because society is still patriarchal, these values are still embedded in our society. It might not seem unusual to the outside if the woman stays at home and you don’t see her much cause she’s busy doing things in the house. But it could actually be…one of the tactics of coercive control is isolation, so cutting the victim off from any support…support networks that they might have – friends, family, work. They might be forced to…stay in the house and are not choosing to be there. That’s why it can be an invisible type of abuse. I wanted to have the conversation and help to raise awareness of that, and make people aware of what the red flags are, what the tactics that abusers use are, so that if someone is in that situation, they can say ‘Oh, that’s what’s happening to me,’ and seek help, or if someone’s friend or family member is in that situation then they’ll know how to recognise it better. I think my plan…well, my plan has changed with COVID and everything, but when I do perform it, the plan is to…after the show have a discussion lead by a domestic abuse advocate who’s a specialist in the area so they can talk about what people saw in the show and how that made them feel. You know, describe verbally what coercive control is after people have seen the show. What I’m tryna do is – in order to make people understand…how it feels to be coercively controlled is to foster an emotional connection with the audience. One of the ideas I had…it’s a very uncomfortable piece, so I’m gonna have an age warning and a trigger warning…but it’s an uncomfortable piece to watch, so I think people might want to leave the theatre while the show’s ongoing. And if people don’t leave, then a question that we can ask the audience is ‘Why didn’t you leave?’ You know that classic ‘Oh, why doesn’t she just leave if he’s abusive?” question. Then people might think ‘Well, it’s against the rules of society. You don’t just walk out on a performance – that’s not what you’re meant to do.’ You can see how people get trapped in that situation, and remain there because of what’s expected of you, or what you feel like you’re capable of in that moment, or not capable of. I think what people will realise is that people might not leave a situation that’s dangerous…you know, women are killed on separation. I think the first three months are the most dangerous time for a woman to leave and it takes on average seven times for a woman to leave an abusive partner for good. I’ve lost my train of thought now…what was I saying? [pause] Yeah, so leaving, not leaving because it might be dangerous, but also because you might not be able to think about that, cause all you’re thinking about is surviving, in the moment, moment to moment, so it’s tryna bring that awareness to people and also challenge the victim blaming that goes on. Those are my goals and aims with the piece.
IA: How has it been for you as a breaker and using your own choreographic language to embody and create that? We’ll get onto this later – but a lot of the time breaking and the battle scene is a toxic place for women to be. You’re making a political and social statement with this work, using your choreographic language and the skills that you have.
ER: Yeah. Well that’s another one of the aims…to show people that breaking can be more than an aggressive act, and that is because it’s a dance form and an art form. It’s part of a wider culture that does have roots in aggression, but also – because it’s an art form – you can use it to express a wide range of emotions. I think we see that in battles as well. It’s not always about aggression. I think that’s what immediately people think of, or feel like they have to portray. But you know, you can have clowns, people who make people laugh and do funny moves, which doesn’t need to be aggressive. You know, you can get a laugh aggressively by taking the piss out of your opponent but you can just do…like Frosty Freeze…or you know, a funny performance. I think it’s good to widen the view of what breaking is for people outside of the scene, as well as people inside of the scene.
IA: Can you talk about ‘Trailer 4’ that you shot in Torino? It’s a short film in it’s own right. Is the film-maker you worked with a B-Girl as well? How did that come about?
ER: Yeah. The filmmaker is Sara Tamburro or B-Girl Etta Tee, and she’s from Italy, from Torino. We’ve been friends for seven…seven or eight years now, and I often go and visit her, stay with her and we train together and all the crew stuff that we talked about before. We got on really well and we have a lot of fun together. She also teaches breaking and performs, so she understands the choreographic and the performance side of things...and breaking...and she’s also an incredible filmmaker. That’s what she does as well, for a living. So, I asked her if she wanted to be involved. So the first trailer that we made, that was in Modena in Italy as well, she came to the studio that I was in there. It was called ‘Centro la Fenice’ in Modena where my friend Sdido teaches breaking. I wanted to make the trailers to document my progress over the development period. It was also part of my funding, you know, how will you write about what you’ve done and whatever, so I was like ‘I’ll make some films, that’ll be cool.’ And they became something much bigger than what I had anticipated. When Sara came to Modena, she was like ‘Oh, do I have to do it in the studio…I wanna find a better location.’ She was like, full-on vision mode, and I was like ‘Well, that’s fine, we’ll just do it here.’ She was like ‘Oh, alright.’ But then, when I went back to Torino…so Modena was the first…the rehearsal fortnight and Torino was the last one. So when I went there, I stayed with Sara when I was doing it and she said ‘This time, I want to do it in a good location.’ So she had a lot of ideas, and I was like ‘Cool, we’ll do whatever you want, let’s go.’ So that park – Parco Dora – used to be a factory. All the tall structures, there were supporting beams, they’ve got rid of all the walls and the roof, but kept the internal structure and there’s parts with graffiti and they’ve got a skate ramp, basketball courts. People were there working out, dancing, it’s just like a big outdoor park but it’s concrete. So we went there to film it. I think it’s a classic place in Torino for people to film their breaking videos. A lot of people use it. It’s really visually spectacular. Each film was like…in each rehearsal period I was working on a different section of the piece. So, intimidation, rules and regulations, manipulating, gaslighting – all different sections. That one in Torino was the final one, but it was kind of a mixture of everything, so it brought all of the sections together. I also had mentors when I was doing my development in Torino and in Modena; in Modena Serena Mignano and in Torino Cristiana Valsesia, who are both award-winning choreographers and focus on contemporary but they do a lot of work with breakers, and use them in their pieces as well, so I wanted to learn from them. Cristiana came with us to help decide the shots and everything. It was a nice…we did it all in one day, all the filming in one day. Then Sara edited it in three days. [laughs] It was a super-fast piece of work, because on the…I think I found out on the Tuesday that on the Friday I was performing, you know, what I’d done so far with the piece, and we screened the film…so frantically getting it all finished. It was very fast paced.
IA: When you’ve shared it with a live audience, what has been that response in both Scotland and Italy? How has it landed?
ER: It’s one of those pieces where, you know, it finishes and then there’s a moment before people start clapping. I think it really hits people and I think it’s like ‘Oh,’ and they have to take a breath and then ‘Thank god that’s over.’ [laughs] ‘I’m exhausted.’ I think the reactions from the audiences were similar. I think it has the effects that I was going for, I think I do manage to connect emotionally with the audience and create, you know, a bond of empathy between us. I’ve got footage of the last performance I did in Edinburgh, and when I’ve shown that to people they have the same response, even just watching a recording of it, so I think it’s a very powerful piece and people feel it viscerally. I think it’s very powerful. I want to keep going with it…it’s kind of knocked back by lockdown and everything, so I’ve just put it away but it’s coming back now, I really wanna get it finished, get it ready. The plan is…at the moment it’s thirteen minutes long, and I want to extend it to half an hour, but then have three ten-minute pieces so that I can perform the whole thing or just an excerpt, depending on the audience. Sara and I were gonna make a longer film, but she’s in Italy and I’m in Scotland so, I don’t know when we’ll be allowed to travel again. I might just have to focus on the theatre piece first and then come back to that later.
IA: Within your networks who are the three people that you go to, who support you, who nourish you? It’s about giving props to them.
ER: Three people?
IA: Only three. That’s the limit.
ER: Well, I think, throughout my breaking career, my friend Rebecca – she’s been there the whole time. She’s a big Hip Hop head, really into the music, loves going to live music. I think she’s been missing that over this year. All the clubs that I mentioned before, we used to go to together. You know, we really forged our friendship on the dance floor, doing silly dancing. I wasn’t always breaking when I went out. She’s someone I always bounce off ideas with…about my career, what I’m doing, what my plans are. She’s always ready to watch my training videos. [laughs] And she does yoga, so she can see the shapes and all the moves that I’m doing…and has ideas for what could happen…she’s been there through all the ups and downs of my breaking and Hip Hop career. So she’d definitely be one. Oh, I’ll have to choose wisely. [pause] That’s difficult, to choose three people. [long pause] Well, Abe’s been a big one…over the past six or seven years. I’ve learned a lot of different techniques of breaking from him. He’s in Sacramento and he learned a lot from Stuntman and Jayrawk from Style Elements, so he has learned a different base from the base that I learned. He’s really keen on developing…taking one idea and developing it and developing it and developing it, which I also really like to do so. When we train together, he’s someone that can watch you and be like ‘OK, from there do this, from there do that, from there do this,’ and just full of ideas, and they’re different for every person that he’s watching. He can work with lots of different styles…and he can talk about moves on the phone as well. I think when you can find someone who speaks the same language – even within breaking – it makes it easier to talk about developing moves, and styles of moves, cause you can have a conversation about it without having to dance, physically. He really supports a lot of people in Flexible Flav by doing that, and outside of the crew as well. Hmm…third person. Hmm. [long pause] Oh there’s so many. People are going to be offended when I miss them out. Shelltoe Mel is a big one. Having another woman in the scene in Glasgow is really, really important. She’s been breaking longer than me, and she used to come through to Edinburgh to all of the clubs that I talked about earlier, and I was always really intimidated by her. [laughs] When she went in the circle I was like ‘Oh, I don’t want to go next!’ [laughs] But she’s great. She does everything – she breaks, she pops, she locks, she does rocking. She started writing in the past couple of years and performing. She’s just super into the culture, into Hip Hop, and we support each other as women in the scene. Yeah…kind of inspire each other. We’ve worked together before on theatre pieces and we’d like to do that again in the future but, yeah…we’ll see what happens. I mean there’s a lot of people that I could mention. [laughs]
IA: It feels like your relationship to learning and sharing knowledge is central to you…you studied linguistics, your work at the royal conservatoire, the research around performing anxiety…can you talk more about that?
ER: I’ve always enjoyed training with other people, collaboratively and sharing ideas. I feel like I get the most out of a training session if I’m doing that back and forth with someone. That’s the most fun for me. I think being a woman in the scene…for years, nobody wanted to listen to what I was saying. You know, cause I can watch people when they’re dancing and be like ‘Oh, I’ve got an idea for you – try this.’ And I would say it to people and they would be like ‘Right…’ and not do it. And I’d be like ‘I’ve got all these ideas going to waste, and no one will listen to me because I’m a B-Girl.’ So it used to really piss me off that I always felt overlooked and underestimated, when all I wanted to do was help people and share things, and be excited with people about what they’re doing as well as what I’m doing. I used to talk about this to Abe a lot and he’d be like ‘Well, you just have to get good enough so that people can’t ignore you.’ [laughs] So I think that’s what I’ve done. And now, through sharing my tutorials on Instagram, I’ve found people who are interested in what I’m sharing and want to learn. That gives me motivation to keep making the tutorials. There’s so many different scenes within breaking and I think I’ve found where I fit in, which is being a real nerd about little details, in footwork, in flow and in back rock. I’m really interested in what happens to this move if you put your hand two inches to the right. Really little things like that, that’s the kind of stuff I do in my workshop…I have a list of things, creative tasks that we can do and it works on any move, and it creates something new. Making something out of what you already have is a real Hip Hop pillar. I think when I was studying…so I studied Learning and Teaching in the Performing Arts at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and I did research on dynamics. Quality of movement…in breaking you talk about the contrast between going fast and slow but much more in depth. It’s something that I was interested in, but didn’t know how to talk about it, I didn’t know how to ask questions about it because I didn’t really understand what it was. Doing all that research, I read a lot about Laban’s Efforts…I’ve taught some of that in my workshops as well. Things that work to find new moves, to be creative, but also to find different ways of moving. Because everyone has their natural way of moving – everyone has their own walk, their own run; everyone has their own tempo, their own speed and their own tension when they’re breaking. Something that I really learned when I was studying, something that really stood out was learning what your habits are so that you can break them. So, if you know that you move fast, fast, fast, fast, fast all of the time when you’re breaking, it wouldn’t take much for you to just change your speed a little bit, and it would be like ‘Oh!’ Something unexpected for people who are watching you. People get used to the way that you move as well, so if you want to be unpredictable, this is the way that you can change things up. You can be loose, you can be really tight, or you can be straight to the point or you can talk around the point…I think it’s a limitless way of exploring movement that I’m really interested in. Performance anxiety, that was another project that I did on that course…battle nerves and how to overcome them, what causes them and all that kind of stuff. That was really interesting…so when I studied Linguistics I actually started off doing Psychology, and I changed to Linguistics. I find that all really interesting the psychological basis for nerves and things, all that’s up on my website, all those articles. I’m figuring out how to distil it into bullet points, maybe for Instagram and put little tips up for people.
IA: I like that idea of the ‘breaking nerd’ going deep on the micro details. What’s the ten thousand move master, the hundred go-downs and hundred variations?
ER: ‘100 Days’ is a project, well it started in New Zealand, but my friend – Isla Munro – started doing one in Scotland, it’s called ‘100 Days Project Scotland.’ The idea is to take one creative task and repeat it for a hundred days. So, people did…you can draw the same thing every day, my friend Sheila drew a horse every day for a hundred days. It’s to see your improvement from the start to the end, but it also pushes you to break through your habits or limits…normally I would create this much and then stop and move onto the next thing, but I have to keep doing this one thing for a hundred days. It’s really, really difficult…and frustrating, but very rewarding. Last year I did a hundred freezes…I found that one much easier than…I don’t know if it was because we weren’t in lockdown and I was travelling a lot so I was in different countries, different cities, different environments. I quite often used what was around me…like the wall to do a freeze on or I’d use the table or whatever. But then, when I was doing a hundred go-downs, it was all in my bedroom. [laughs] I got so sick of that room, you know, it was like ‘Ugh.’ I was so bored of being in my house all the time. There was nothing new to inspire me so it was a completely different way of being creative because you can’t rely on your surroundings anymore, it’s just all in your head, or in your body, so…that’s why I think, this year I was asking on Instagram ‘What go down can I do next? Give me some ideas cause I’ve run out.’ This was great for creating conversation about creativity and about all of that kind of stuff. I made some of my go-downs into my tutorials and so it served two purposes. It was hard, go-downs was hard. [laughs]
IA: And what’s the 10,000 move master?
ER: That’s what someone called me…one of my friends, who’s in China. She just commented on my post ‘10,000 move master,’ and I was like ‘Oh, I like that. I’ll keep that.’ [laughs] But, you know one of my first breaking names was ‘Multiple Choice,’ and my friend Amber called me it because she said I had so many moves to choose from. [laughs] That was in the very beginning when I didn’t have a lot of moves to choose from, but I just remembered everything that I’d been taught.
IA: If that was one of the original names, how did you get to ‘Emma Ready’?
ER: There’s a song called ‘Ever Ready’ by Johnnie Taylor. It’s the…[makes a noise with her mouth] ‘Ready…’ [makes noise with her mouth] I don’t know if you’ll recognise it from my singing, but [laughs] SIN Cru used to sing that song to me but saying ‘Emma Ready’ instead of ‘Ever Ready’, so the full name is ‘Ever Ready, Emma Ready.’ I used to do all of the work on the bookings for SIN Cru, so the name of the agency was ‘Ever Ready’, so it all tied in.
IA: I’m interested in how you have been using Instagram and Zoom in the lockdown; it feels quite innovative and different to how a lot of people are using it. Could you talk about that?
ER: Yep. I learned more about Instagram last year, the first time I was doing ‘100 Days,’ cause I was posting every day. I started watching YouTube videos about how Instagram works, the algorithm, all the strategies to get more followers and hashtags. I got into it then, and after the project finished I kind of let it go. I didn’t do so much Instagramming, so I thought I’ll start again this year. I think I started with the tutorials before 100 Days started up again, cause I remember thinking ‘Oh, I can’t wait for a hundred days to start so I’ve got something to post every day.’ [laughs] It’s a lot of work, Instagram, if you wanna post every day, and create something new every day. It really takes a lot of time. I never quite got to the stage of batch…you know, preparing things a month in advance and scheduling them, I never got to that level. I think over lockdown when you couldn’t see anyone or go anywhere or do anything, it definitely was nice to have conversations with people online. Instagram was a good platform to do that. My Zoom classes…I started them in May and that’s been really fun, I’ve got people from South Africa, Canada and Japan, people from all over the world coming to class. Germany, Italy…it was really nice to have a chat with everyone before class started, ‘What’s the situation in your country? What’s happening with your lockdown?’ All of that kind of stuff. You get a snapshot of what’s going on outside of your own bubble, which is something you get when you’re travelling in person. So not being able to travel, but still being able to meet people, and people that I didn’t know before from other countries, it’s been really nice. Good to get to know people…I probably wouldn’t have met them if I hadn’t started doing Zoom classes…it’s been a good way to expand my breaking circle as well. The people who come to my Zoom are also really interested in being creative and are willing to feel uncomfortable to progress with their skills and be creative, which is something that I think is really important. If you do want to get better, you have to embrace that – those moments of ‘Oh, I feel like a beginner again.’ You know, we have to go through those cycles, otherwise you plateau and stay where you are.
IA: The idea of plateau and incremental gains…if you imagine a circus artist specialises in a particular skill for their whole life. It could be the trapeze or hand-to-hand and after achieving their physical peak, it slowly fades, slowly disappears. Is your relationship like that in breaking? A peak and slow fade, or do you keep growing or developing different skills?
ER: I think if you’re talking about reaching your peak, and if it fades or not, that’s up to the individual. You can train to maintain. If you’re happy with your level where it is, and you just want to stay there, you just need to train in what you’re doing and not let it slip. I think if you want to progress, you have to keep moving forward, keep forging ahead. There are so many different skill sets in breaking. You’ve got footwork, top rock, power moves, tricks, freezes, flow, threading. There’s a lot of different areas. Footwork’s always been my favourite. In 2012 and 2013 I did another project where I got funding from Creative Scotland and I went to New York for a week and did private lessons with Ken Swift, then I went to Italy for a week and did private lessons with Maurizio. That experience really changed my breaking form and that’s when I really got interested in form…the way that Maurizio does his footwork is different from anything I’d seen before. That was really a week of…we spent a lot of time doing CC’s. At this point I’d been breaking for over fifteen years, and I was like ‘Oh god,’ doing CC’s for hours and hours. But it’s because it was a different technique, and so I had to learn a completely different way of moving. Then learn how to do it in six-step and, you know, once you get the base and the form then it carries on into all your other moves. I think that’s what interests me about form. If you’ve got a nice form, if you’re in the right place and your balance is good, you’re positioning is correct, then there’s so many opportunities to create new moves, because you’ll be in the right place at the right time. If you lose your balance, you can just catch it and end up doing something…crash to create…if your form is on point, it’s much easier to create new moves and conserve energy, so it’s good for your stamina and it creates nice shapes. So learning a different footwork form from what I’d done before, and also from what I’d learned from Ken Swift…two different footwork styles…I got really interested in what else can we do. One time Abe and I went to stay with Simon for a month in Italy and we did a lot of training, and came up with lots of different footwork styles. Different positions, different forms…it was really exciting. One of our aims from that is…one of my aims if I ever get to battle again, if the world opens up. I’d like to do a seven to smoke…a footwork seven to smoke and do every round as a different style. That’s something that really interests me. You can learn form and different forms for the same skill set, but then you can also broaden out. I’ve spent a lot more time doing back rock, creating different kinds of back rocks, and different styles of back rocks, again… Again I had to go back and learn the base of back rock and sweeps, like, pretzels or legwork, people call it lots of different things, before I could then start to create different things and make my own style with it. I think, as long as there’s something new that you can do, you can learn something or you can create something new. If you really liked power moves, you could think ‘Well how could I create a new style of power moves, how could I make everything a bit lower? Or change the level of my power moves? So it looks a bit different from what everyone else is doing or…how could I add on a leg twirl into my flares, you know just one little thing that you could add that would change everything. Those kind of keys. Another thing I’m interested in…or a question that I had for a long time that I didn’t have an answer to, is really coming back to the dynamics conversation. Because I don’t do power moves and tricks or big freezes, how can I do a blow-up? How could I do a blow-up in my own style? That’s something that I was really interested in for a long time and I struggled to find how to actually do that. But I think it’s about originality and contrast, so having signature moves is a way to do blow-ups if you don’t want to do traditional blow-ups. Also learning where to put them in your combination. When are they gonna have the greatest impact? What do you need to do before or after to make that pop?
IA: In the interview with Mel you mentioned inventing moves, and your Slidey 8s, they’re a signature move for you. Can you talk about the nuts and bolts of creating a move and putting that into a combo or your routine?
ER: Yeah. So, Slidey 8s is a…well, it’s inspired by two things. So it’s inspired by Ken Swift’s move ‘8 ball’, where he does a sweep and changes face direction, sweep and comes back, so he makes a figure-eight with his footwork. I wanted to do something in a figure-of-eight, but something different. I made this move, well over ten years ago I think. I’ve got footage of me tryna work on it in the warehouse, which is where we used to train with the Jalapenos. I think Maule filmed it. I was just tryna figure it out so, at the time, everyone on the scene was doing closed leg flares – that was the popular move of the time and I couldn’t do it, so I was like ‘Well how can I…if I battle someone and they do that to me, I need a comeback for that. What can I do?’ It was a combination of…I was like ‘OK so if I have closed legs, that looks a bit different but similar,’ so that’s the idea that I came up with, making a figure-of-eight with my legs closed. And that’s stuck, that move stuck. It works! [laughs] I don’t make full sets anymore, I make short combos. Then, if I’m doing a battle or something I’ll choose three short combos and freestyle in and out of them, that’s the way I’ve found works best for me. What’s the other move called? Knee swirls – it’s like an old school move where, so you’re legs are together, and you’re facing the floor at the back of your footwork, and you jump two feet, two feet, but your knees go in a circle. It’s kind of like…[makes noises with her mouth] So I did that, jump into the Slidey 8s, and then…once I got more into the sweeps and the flow, I just kept going with it and found a different flow…Slidey 8s over here, come down, go onto my back. So it’s still swirls around, but I take it down onto my back, into a freeze. Similar to the move before, with the knees together, but it’s a jump and then figure-of-eight, and then keep sliding into the next thing, finish in a freeze, and that’s that combo. But the Slidey 8s, that’s the main part.
ER: That’s the blow-up part. [laughs]
IA: One of the things that I don’t think Hip Hop does very well is archive and documentation. How do you archive and document your own work, your practice, your physical history?
ER: I think because I started going to class when I was at uni, and I was in the habit of taking notes, I’ve always had a set book. I’ve always written everything I learn down. From early on when I started breaking, I learned how to write things down in a way that I could still read it when I went back to it later on. Which I think is something that people struggle with; they might take notes and then read it next year and have no idea what they were talking about. I think if you can figure out a way to…that you’re always gonna understand, to notate things then that’s important. That’s something else I was thinking about researching when I was doing my course at the Conservatoire. Laban has a notation system for dance, but I didn’t do that so I don’t know much about it, but I’m still interested in it. I’ve got all my notebooks from the beginning. That’s my library of moves and history. Since I’ve started doing my Zoom classes, I record them, and I’m uploading the recordings to my website so people can download the workshops if they want to do them at a time when they can’t be there live. I’m excited about building up a library there as well – a library of workshops. I think that’s really cool. I’m tryna write more blogs but I’ve not quite got in the habit of doing that regularly. It’s something I’d like to get better at – practicing writing more about what’s happening. You know, photographs of course – always a good memory. I don’t really keep flyers or lanyards or anything like that, but I know a lot of people do, which is always interesting to see, years after the fact. I feel I also film a lot of things when I’m training, and I don’t delete them. I’ve got so many videos of training and ideas, because as I said before, I like to train collaboratively, and if there’s nobody around, then I can film and watch it for myself and see what could work from there or what doesn’t work. I think now…social media, isn’t it? It’s a big one. I had another idea and now I can’t remember what it was. If I remember, I’ll tell you.
IA: What would you like to dismantle in Hip Hop?
ER: Ooh. [pause] That’s a big question. [long pause] Well, I think I would like to…if we really were living under the ‘Peace, love, unity and having fun’…that would be good. Get rid of all of the isms – sexism, racism, homophobia, all that. All the toxic side of the scene – I would love to get rid of that and make it a more welcoming place for everyone who wants to be a part of it. I know, alot of people have said to me over the years, ‘I wanted to start breaking, but I was too intimidated by going into a room full of guys,’ or ‘This guy did that to me and I don’t wanna go back.’ I think we’ve lost a few…I think the scene has lost a lot of people, a lot of talent, because of the way that people in the scene treat newcomers. Not just in a sexist way, but in whatever way. I think that’s a real shame, that we don’t know, you know? The scene could have been a different place with different people in it, and we don’t know but they didn’t want to stick around cause it wasn’t a nice place for them to be. That needs to change. I think things are starting to change now, this year with the…I feel like the scene is having it’s #MeToo moment. There’s been a lot of discussions of the sexual harassment and racism, which is great. I think we need to continue doing more of that. What else? Like I was saying before about crews, crew battles and everything, I think it would be good if we could go back to more of a crew mentality than an individual mentality because the scene has been about individuals for a long time. It means that there are fewer people at the top and fewer people get the opportunities. If there were more opportunities for crews, I think also the scene would look like a different place because it would have a lot more variety, a lot more outlooks, a lot more opinions, and that would make it a bit more interesting. Maybe the turnover at the top would be…shorter? And it would be less of a club, and an in-group, you know? I think it needs more opportunities for more people, in general. I think breakers need to earn more money somehow. Probably lots more, but that’s what I think of right now.
IA: I’ve got a couple more questions, but is there anything that you want to document or talk about that you’ve not spoken about so far?
ER: No, I don’t think so. [pause] I think…this is something I’ve been thinking about actually. As I’m still developing my theatre piece, I’m part of a community called ‘Creative Entrepreneurs Club,’ which is like a support system for creatives. You can have a chance to have one-to-one mentoring session with someone who specialises in whatever it is you’re looking for and they’ve got lots of different people involved in it. I did a course about…it was called ‘Design Your Practice’ and it was asking all the questions like ‘Where are you now? Where do you wanna be? How are you gonna get there? What are the obstacles? Who are you making this work for?’ All of these kind of things that businesses think about that breakers maybe don’t think about so much, or people who are Hip Hop artists. Having something like that all for people in the scene when they’re coming up and they have an idea but they don’t know how to go about making it…I don’t think there’s much opportunity at the moment for people to be mentored outwith their crew. I know there are development courses for Hip Hop theatre, like Open Art Surgery…but I think more of that would be good. More of how do you make a theatre piece? How do you choreograph? What does a producer do? How do you run a business? How do you become self-employed? I think Scanners’ Inc does a lot of that support…but having older members in the community available to younger members for advice sessions so that people can get their business head on faster than we did.
IA: Breaking as a craft, as a practice. What excites you about the craft of breaking?
ER: What’s always excited me about breaking is the endless possibilities. There’s always something new that you can do, something new that you can create, something new to master. For me it’s a very creative place to be. I like how it’s physical, but also mental, it’s like a puzzle, isn’t it? ‘How can I do that? I wanna do something like that – how can I make it happen?’ Or ‘I’m here, in this position, now how do I get over there, how do I work on my transitions?’ I think this year I’ve become much more interested in transitions, so ‘How do I get this move to that move?’ Thinking of the transition as part of that combo. So transitions as a seamless part of the movement, as opposed to the thing that you do in the middle to get from here to here. Like I was saying before about all the different styles, all the different forms, there’s a lot, there’s just so much to learn…you could never learn everything about breaking and that’s why it’s interesting to me. [laughs]
IA: I came across ‘Ready, Ready Sauce’ and a Hip Hop theatre work called ‘Excessive Measures’ at Breakin’ Convention in 2011 or 2012. Could you talk about that?
ER: ‘Ready, Ready Sauce’ was a female crew, a Hip Hop crew that started with me and Kerry Sauce. So Emma Ready and Kerry Sauce…we came up with the name ‘Ready, Ready Sauce’, like ‘Reggae, Reggae Sauce.’ [laughs] The two of us used to train together in Edinburgh, and we were training with Mars as well, another B-Girl. The three of us were just training, a lot of hardcore training at that point. There were lots of other women around in the scene at the time, and we all got together and decided to do some shows. We did Breakin’ Convention and a lot of other things as well. We performed at the Paralympics in London 2012 and the Olympic Torch procession in Glasgow, we did a lot of shows in a short amount of time. It was a fun time. There were a lot of us. Mel was in that as well. ’Excessive Measures’ was a show about teenage drinking. [laughs] I was the one who was drinking…I think I was being bullied and then I started drinking, and then Mel played my mum and I ended up dying in the hospital at the end of it. [laughs] It seems like such a long time ago.
IA: Final question – what is your strongest memory of dance?
ER: Ooh. [pause] Ooh, I don’t know. What is it? That’s also a tough question. I think…I think my favourite was that time I was in Russia, at Rockin Star, with Maule and Niall. We had so much fun that weekend, it was an amazing weekend. It was a great event. We all stayed in a hostel with lots of other dancers, so it was just one of those crazy, you know, no sleep, drinking all night kind of fun weekends. When I got there, we were there to do the three-on-three battle, but when I got there, the organisers were like ‘Oh, we’re doing a seven-to-smoke B-Girl battle, do you wanna do it?’ I was like ‘I’m not prepared for that. I’m here to do a three-on-three!’ And then I was like ‘Yeah, OK, that’s fine. I’ll do it.’ That was the first seven-to-smoke I’d ever done, and I ended up winning. That was the year after I did the project where I did the private lessons with Ken Swift and Maurizio, that project was called ‘Levelling Up.’ I wanted to level up my breaking and then, the first competition I entered after I’d done that project, I won, so I was like ‘Yes, my project worked!’ [laughs] I was very excited and I felt like my breaking had gone up the graph. That was a good moment. Lots of other ones, but that’s just the one I picked.