using facebook to organize a major hip hop event in whitehorse

It almost sounds like an impossible story from the off-kilter mind of director Spike Jonze.

It almost sounds like an impossible story from the off-kilter mind of director Spike Jonze.

Using only Facebook, one man must organize a world-class b-boy event in a remote northern community involving more than 40 youth from across Canada and some of the top performers and judges from the US.

But it’s no story, it’s a reality that Ben Robinson is working to bring to the Yukon from July 20 to 25.

Robinson is an event co-ordinator for the Breakdance Yukon Society and a member of the local b-boy crew Groundwork Sessions,

The Walmart Cypher For Change Youth Forum and Klondike Heat National Bboy Battle is part workshop, part festival, part competition, and all social extravaganza. It’s unique not only in Canada, but in the world.

“Yeah, it’s pretty unique. There are invitational competitions. But that’s just the competition aspect. We throw in the Yukon experience and the community building aspect.”

What the breakdance society also throws in during the Cypher for Change event is a series of workshops that build skills, confidence, and a sense of national b-boy and b-girl community.

But hold on, I should pause to clear up a terminology issue.

That word you know so well: breakdancing? Lose it. Replace it with b-boying.

Robinson set me straight on this point: “Breakdancing is like a media-coined term.”

That goes for the noun, as well. There are no breakdancers. There are only b-boys and b-girls in this world.

The “b” stands for break, and dates back to the ‘70s when DJ’s looped the “break” or “breakdown” in songs.

A “break-boy” would dance to those breaks which were originally only a few epic seconds, but became increasingly longer as DJ’s began to figure out how to keep them dancing.

Now, of course, b-boying is an art unto itself and, in some cases, a sport.

The Cypher for Change event that Ben is co-ordinating will mix some of the biggest names in b-boying with under-recognized, but highly talented youth from every corner of Canada in a series of workshops, performances and competitions.

To bring it all together, Robinson has been relying on Facebook.

“Facebook is probably my main thing right now. I spend maybe eight to 10 hours a day on Facebook.”

“I’m in contact with probably 50 b-boys and b-girls from around Canada,” says Robinson.

“I can get ahold of all of them on Facebook.”

“If I never need to ask them a question, like, ‘Does this flight date work for you?’ I just go on Facebook.”

He then either chats with his contacts online to co-ordinate details, or he digs up their contact info and texts or emails them to get in touch.

“I’ve made little to no phone calls,” he says.

But even though Robinson says “the 15 and 16 years olds are almost always on Facebook,” even that platform has provided some communication challenges in reaching the younger visitors.

It’s a problem that many of us have faced: Text-based communication can easily be misinterpreted.

“That’s definitely one of the setbacks of Facebook, and even e-mail too,” Robinson says.

But he says instant messaging on Facebook has generally worked well for him.

“Messaging on Facebook is better than emailing … I’d rank that between a phone call and emailing.”

In the end, he laughingly concludes: “When it comes to details, like: ‘You need to get your payment in,’ it takes a phone call.”

As a result of Robinson’s time on Facebook, about a dozen communities from Vancouver to PEI to Nunavut will be sending two to three young b-boys and b-girls to Whitehorse in a couple of weeks. An older, mentoring b-boy or b-girl monitor will accompany each group.

These youth will come to Whitehorse to learn new skills, make new contacts, and experience a level of b-boy performance and competition they probably haven’t had access to before.

Then there are the big names.

Kid David and Luigi from LXD (the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, a stunning video web series that presents the classic struggle of good vs evil as a series of narrative dance battles).

Flea Rock from Skill Methodz.

Wicket from Renegade Rockers.

Vancouver’s Project Soul.

And Boston-based Lean Rock, a young, internationally-acclaimed DJ who also happens to be a velvet-cheeked model for Braun razors (check out the ads: it’s a toss up whether he’s batting off more mosquitoes or girls during his visit north).

These names might not mean much to most of us, but to the b-boy community, they are some of the hottest performers in hip hop.

Robinson reports, though, that when it comes to communicating with the stars, Facebook hasn’t really cut it. He’s had to fall back on that other internet stalwart: Skype.

“I do Skype quite a bit, because it’s free. And that’s mainly with the big guys who are coming up,” he says.

“The Americans … and the older guys like to talk.”

And that’s generally where he finds the divide between the people online: kids are comfortable making plans on Facebook, while older folks (older as in above 20) want to sort out the details on the phone.

That said, there’s no doubt that Facebook was key in organizing the BYS Cypher event, and that Robinson’s used it strategically and effectively to co-ordinate three dozen of the hardest-to-reach people on Earth: teenagers.

Most of the Cypher event will take place behind closed doors at the Hotsprings Valley Retreat (or on the climbing wall at Takhini Hot Springs).

Fortunately, though, there will be two evenings of performances and competitions that anyone can attend.

The Yukon Arts Centre will host CypherFest events on Friday, July 22, and Saturday, July 23.

Each event costs $15, or you can buy a weekend pass for $30.

Andrew Robulack is a Whitehorse-based freelance writer and communications technology consultant specializing in the internet and mobile devices. Read his blog online at www.geeklife.ca.