Break Dancing Takes Duluth By Storm, 1984

I found a file of break dancing photos in the News Tribune Attic, and oddly enough every single one of them was from 1984. It seems like that was the year break dancing really took off in Duluth, at least for a while.

Here are a few photos from “The Icebreakers,” a break dance show staged by students at Washington Junior High in December 1984:

Willie Kruger rehearses a solo dance from “The Icebreakers,” Washington Junior High School’s break dance show, while Ebony Carter and Kim Ouillette watch on Dec. 4, 1984. Kruger is one of about 15 dancers who have been rehearsing since early November for the show, which will premiere before the student body Friday. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Mike Rojas “takes it to the floor” during a rehearsal of a break dance show, called “The Icebreakers,” at Washington Junior High School in Duluth on Dec. 4, 1984. To the left are Scott Daugaard and Steve Miller; to the right is Jeff Jegloski. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Here are some photos from March 1984, which accompanied an article headlined “Break dancing makes it to Duluth”:

Make a “wave” in the halls of Washington Junior High in March 1984 are, from left, Alvon Carter, Ollie Grant and Chet Pepper. Carter learned break dancing from relatives in Ohio. He taught Pepper, who taught others, and so on. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

Sean LaFontaine break dances at a Washington Junior High School dance in March 1984. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Terry Goods break dances at a Washington Junior High School dance in March 1984. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


And then there were these photos with an article that ran on September 19, 1984:

Alvon Carter, 16, takes David Gerber, 10, through some “floor rocking” moves during break dancing lessons at the Duluth YMCA on August 23, 1984. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

Young dancers breakin’ parents tradition

By Marc Perrusquia, News-Tribune & Herald staff writer

Some women in black leotards were finishing an aerobic dance lesson when the children rushed into the gym, crowding around the exercise mat in the Duluth YMCA.

A Michael Jackson song blared from a tape deck: “Billie Jean’s not my girl…”

The women seemed to enjoy it immensely, smiling as they twisted their torsos side-to-side in an exercise that would make a belly dancer groan.

The kids didn’t appear impressed with the older generation’s gyrations. They were waiting for the “old folks” to clear the mat so they could get down for the real hit of the day – break dancing lessons.

A group of the youngsters gathered around their instructor, Shockwave.

The first lesson of the day was this: Shockwave is the street name for Alvon Carter, a 16-year-old Duluth break-dancing enthusiast.

Picking a street name is the first and simplest step to becoming a break dancer. All you do is take a name you like and give it to yourself, as many of Carter’s friends have done: Reflex, Sonic D, Space Cowboy and Baby Breaker.

The second lesson is this: The name must be “fresh.” Fresh is the equivalent of “cool” or “with it.”

For example, it’s doubtful a name like Melvin Podiovak would be fresh, but Marvelous Mel just might be.

Lesson three is similar to lesson two: Along with the right name, you must have the appropriate music.

Carter shook his head as he watched the women finish their Michael Jackson-inspired lesson.

“No, it’s just not fresh enough,” he said, nodding toward the aerobic exercisers.

Carter brought his own music by little-known groups like Grand Master, Sugar Hill Gang and Electric Kingdom. The music features a lot of of bass playing, lightning-fast lyrics and, most importantly, a quick beat.

Some youngsters try break dancing during lessons at the Duluth YMCA in August 1984. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

After the women cleared the mat, Carter’s 25 young apprentices  climbed on.

The first step Carter showed them was the “Joker Kick.”

To do it, you squat to the floor, bend a leg beneath your seat and, alternating with the other leg, thrust it forward like a Russian gopak dancer – except here the dancer isn’t really leaving the ground. …

Some of the students of the students were taking spills, so Carter watched them individually.

“What are you guys doing here?” Carter asked.

“It’s too hard,” said little Jim Kubiak, 7. He and some boys were sitting on the edge of the mat, watching the others.

Unlike a fresh name, fresh dancing never is achieved easily.

“Go like this,” Carter said, demonstrating. “I’ll bet you can do it.”

The boys mimicked Carter. Still they weren’t up to his level, but they were a bit better. When Carter left, the boys sat down again.

“I seen break dancing a lot on TV and I like it and stuff,” young Kubiak said. “Mostlty on ‘Beat It’ (the Michael Jackson video).”

Unlike their instructor, most of the students have a greater fondness for Jackson.

So do many of their parents.

“When Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ tape came out he (her son, Justin) started break dancing by himself, so I mentioned they had classes and he said yes,” explained Wendy Eld, 29, who was watching from the edge of the mat. “I like it. I’m glad he’s into it. I try to do it myself, but he says I do it wrong.”

“When we were young, we were doing the twist and jerk,” said Terri Reilly, 28, Eld’s sister. “It was Elvis, then.” …

The stars and the dancers have changed since then, but the enthusiasm of these youngsters is just as intense as it was for their parents.

Back on the mat, Justin was going through some steps.

He stumbled and fell, but got up and continued. …

Carter doesn’t demand that his students be good, only that they try.

“You can make things up if you just practice it,” Carter said. …

Carter discussed many other break dance moves: popping, top rocking, ticking, and hand spinning. To describe them would take more words than Michael Jackson’s gloves have sequins.

But if you feel up to it, the break-dancing lessons are continuing at the YMCA at 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. The cost is $16 for four weeks.


Do you recognize anyone in these photos? Share your memories by posting a comment.

5 Responses

  1. John D'Auria

    This really brings me back to the days, when I used to break dance with Willie Kruger and others, I knew all of the Duluth City Crew and Willie and I had our own 4 person group that used to compete against them and sometimes we would team up and dance together, All those nights at Faces dry club having dance offs with other dancers and now I look at these photos and they make me sad, because Willie is missed greatly by many, his death took us all by surprise, but it makes me smile to know he is probably teaching the angels how to dance.

  2. Joli Shamblott

    Oh the good ole days! I remember Washington Jr and the break dancers. what a great time to be a kid!

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