Monday, May 16, 2011

Ana "Rokafella" Garcia talks with Itzel Yagual on breakdancing, hip-hop and the issues women face in a male dominated industry

Looking at Nicki Minaj's music video, "Super Bass," some would claim the video highlights the fact that in today's society women are able to express their sexuality freely, even if it's showing a little cleavage, talking about their sexual desires or engaging in an exotic dance move, yet others, would argue that the sexuality displayed in this music video is simply a typical quality of what roles are more acceptable for women, to play in hip-hop culture. There is certainly no question in Nicki Minaj's undeniable talent nor in the fact that in the music industry "sex sells" but, there are underlying questions as to what roles women are more likely play and have success in hip-hop culture. Are women easily accepted in the hip-hop culture? Are women in hip-hop having more success in roles that defy the common female stereotypes or are they seeing success in embracing the female social norms of the genre? Where do women fit in hip-hop culture and how can they become successful in a genre that often places them in negative and limited categories? 

Who is Ana "Rokafella" Garcia?

Despite the challenges women often face in the hip hop culture, there are several successful women who have defied the social tags and negative connotations that come into play when having a career in hip-hop. One of these remarkable women, is Ana "Rokafella" Garcia, a highly regarded, well known break-dancer and artist. Rokafella is not only educating youth on the importance of preserving and learning their personal histories but also teaches them the importance of preserving the culture of breakdancing, by empowering young women who are striving to become B-girls at her dance studio and by creating films such as "all the ladies say," which touches on the lives of six iconic female street dancers.

Ana"Rokafella" Garcia: history, experiences as a woman in the hip-hop genre and present day 

In a recent interview with the multi-talented Rokafella, who has been in the hip-hop scene for many years, she reveals her experiences and thoughts on hip hop culture, breakdancing culture and the common issues that women face in the music industry. The hip-hop dancer, choreographer, filmmaker and band member of La Roka Soul says that women had "less difficulties back in the day because the culture was organic and free-spirited" whereas today, "there are so many rules in the hip-hop game,” especially if you are a woman. 

Rokafella became passionate about dancing during the1980's in Spanish Harlem where she says, "making a name for myself took its own natural course" and there were "no rules and anyone could just watch it take place." Rokafella's passion for dancing and music began when she was very young. She grew up watching dancers on the streets and participated in talent shows and community events. She first learned about breakdancing when she was 11 and then took her skills to the next level at age 23, where she began performing as a breakdancer, B-girl. Ana says that she was inspired by breakdancing because she liked "the aggressions in the movement, how strong you can become and the attention you receive as a break-dancer." Rokafella believes, “breakdancing was what put hip-hop on the map," and that it is an important element of hip-hop such as poetry, rhyming, and disc jockeying. 

Currently, she and her husband, Gabriel "Kwikstep" Dionisio, a well known B boy, are running Full Circle Productions, a hip-hop, dance and theater company where they strive to “preserve the breakdancing culture and to train the new hip hop heads into theatre, community zone, spoken word, song, starting a crew and dance." Rokafella continues to perform as a B-girl and as a singer in her band La Roka Soul. Ana loves her job because to her "play is work."

Rokafella on hip-hop: females’ struggles and what females need in order to succeed 

Rokafella is very proud of her success but explains that to be a successful B-girl, one must understand that, dancing "takes commitment, discipline and that as a female you must bring something unique to the table." She adds that "you, must have potential in unlocking it," otherwise, "it is treacherous if you do not have a talent which poses a challenge for women." Rokafella feels that women are at a disadvantage when it comes to pursuing careers in the music industry because they are often taught on the basis of social norms. She says parents often teach little girls "to play with dolls whereas boys are being taught how to defend themselves and play with toy trucks." She also feels that the genre has always been "very difficult for women" and that women coming into the entertainment business must have "skills to override or navigate" the social norms of the music industry. She says that it is not uncommon to hear “women do sexual favors to get ahead" in the industry and regardless of whether its true or not, this is a negative tag that women will have to deal with and or continue to defy in hip-hop culture. 

The women that do succeed in the industry she says, posses two things "an undeniable talent and a good network," whereas those that do not, just simply “can’t survive." At Full Circle, Rokafella mentors and teaches young women the importance of "building their skills through time" and ensures that each youth understands that, "honing your craft" does not happen overnight. She wants her students to succeed and underlines that in this industry, they need to be "aware of who is out there performing, what is the trend, who are the leading Dj's and B boys/B girls." 

Rokafella's advice to women pursuing careers in hip-hop

When asked what advice she would give to young women pursuing careers in the hip-hop genre, Rokafella recommends that women need to "know the history of the genre, know your cultural history and know the techniques so that you can be at a level where you can make demands and start calling shots." She underlines that young women need to also "understand that they must become followers before they can be leaders." As far as the future for hip-hop and whether women will continue to struggle in being misrepresented with a negative tag, she believes that the culture will continue to "evolve" and that women will have to continue to work hard in making a positive name for themselves when they enter the "hierarchy of the entertainment business," to become a professional. 

Rokafella's future and her predictions on hip-hop culture and breakdancing

In the next ten years, Rokafella believes she will be "teaching a course on dance at a university," maybe having her own show and have "published two books." She says that she could also see herself reaching out more to communities, possibly directing plays and doing a web series.

As far as the future for b-girlying and breakdancing, Rokafella believes that youth will continue to be attracted to it because there is passion for the dance and others see it as "trendy, fun and as a distraction that keeps them from joining gangs." She also predicts that there will be “some connection or solidarity to hip-hop."

When it comes to hip-hop, Rokafella pictures that hip-hop will have "institutions and universities" where leaders who have lived the hip-hop culture and seen the genre grow from humble beginnings versus those that have learned the genre through teachings, "will educate students about hip-hop," its impact and continue to inspire future generations on what hip-hop is about, its elements and how to preserve the culture.

Regardless of her future endeavors, it will be no surprise that this lady will continue to be successful for many years to come. What the future holds for women in the hip-hop genre is unsure but it is hoped that many will recognize the potential that women have to offer in the genre and value what women bring and how they contribute to the hip-hop culture and genre without placement of a negative label.

During the summer, Ana "Rokafella" Garcia will be teaching hip-hop dance classes from June 20-24, 2011, at Queens College. Her film, "All the ladies say," will also be showcased on June 3, 2011. 

To learn more about Ana "Rokafella" Garcia and her work, please view the following links:




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