Pavan Thimmaiah casually hovers in a freeze, his weight between his head and hands on the floor, legs extending out on an upward diagonal. From this topsy-turvy position, he encourages his students to try this breaking staple. “Take a picture and make it your Facebook profile,” he jokes.
Self-taught Thimmaiah founded PMT Dance Studio in New York City in 2001 to teach breaking in a classroom setting to students of all different backgrounds, levels and ages. By focusing on safe technique and catering to his students’ diverse skill levels, he’s built a loyal following of teen and adult b-boys and girls in his Breakin’ 101 for Beginners class. “I think a lot of times in breaking classes, teachers want to fly around and show what they can do,” he says. “I want to show the students what they can do.”
Class begins with top-rocking, or rhythmic footwork done while standing. It’s the first movement a breaker must master before launching into more floor-based acrobatic moves. “I tell people that it’s like a boxer entering the ring,” says Thimmaiah. “You kind of bounce around a little bit and get the blood flowing.” After teaching a tricky sequence of hops, cross-steps and jumps from one foot to the other, Thimmaiah speeds the top-rock up for more challenge.
When it’s time for floorwork, or down-rock, he arranges his students in a circle (a “cypher” in breaking parlance) and explains the importance of performing three-dimensionally. “I try to get them comfortable with performing to an audience in a cypher, because it’s such a huge part of the genre,” he says. “So when they’re at a party and they want to get down, they can.”
Thimmaiah has his students get down—literally, that is—when teaching them how to do a classic down-rock move, the 3-step. He starts with a basic squat-and-kick movement so his students get used to the crouched position. “Stay low. We’re not doing Riverdance,” he teases. As he demonstrates the mechanics, he is specific about body placement. Because many breaking moves require the upper body to bear weight, correct placement of the hands in relation to the hips and shoulders is crucial for safety and momentum. Thimmaiah watches each student show him the 3-step, checking their placement and offering encouragement.
Most importantly, he encourages his dancers to test their knowledge and skills at parties and clubs. “You can learn the fundamentals in a classroom, and you can get better,” he says, “but if you really want to get to the next level, eventually you have to get out there.”
Pavan Thimmaiah is a self-taught hip-hop dancer and breaker from Staten Island. He founded PMT Dance Studio in New York City in 2001, where he currently teaches beginner breaking and hip hop, funk and street-dance styles. Thimmaiah has taught at New York University, Long Island University, University of California–Irvine, Peridance Capezio Center, The Ailey Extension and Ballet Arts. His choreographic and performance credits include television shows “Today” and “Conan,” dancing with musical artists Vanilla Ice and Sean Paul and halftime shows at Madison Square Garden.
Beata “Bee” Wierzbicka is a b-girl from Poland and assistant teacher for PMT Dance Studio’s Breakin’ 101 for Beginners.