Ana “Rokafella” Garcia-Dionisio remembers glass on the floor and piss in the staircases of the 1970s Harlem and Bronx apartments where she grew up. “You had to be tough to survive,” she says.
It was at that moment in the Bronx when we witnessed the birth of hip-hop. From the sparks of hardship, struggle and adversity, an entire underground culture emerged, encompassing music, dance, art and style. And while hip-hop’s men have received most of the attention, women such as Rokafella have been there since the beginning, contributing to every facet of the revolutionary art form.
Rokafella was one of the first women to get a reputation as a “b-girl,” or break-dancer. B-boys and b-girls were named by pioneering hip-hop DJs Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, who, at Bronx parties in the 1970s, extended break beats in their sets specifically for dancers. Breaking was later declared one of the four pillars of hip-hop, along with rapping, D.J.-ing and graffiti writing.
Rokafella earned her name by going up against the guys. She learned to spin around on her back …
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