The documentary Inside the Circle, which won the Lone Star States' audience award at SXSW this year, is one of the most energetic, kinetic films I've seen in recent memory. Perhaps the subject matter is the reason: the movie takes us into the world of contemporary breakdancers, known as "b-boys" these days. (There are also b-girls, but they didn't get much screen time in this film.) This isn't the goofy stereotypical breakdancing we remember from the 1980s, but dancing that requires endurance and skills. The dance moves are impressive, especially the ability to freeze in the middle of complicated moves. The soundtrack from Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma certainly helped spread the energy, too.
The movie opens with a b-boy competition in a club that quickly moves out into the streets -- it's one of the B-Boy City competitions. We meet Romeo Navarro, the founder of B-Boy City, which has been going on annually in Austin since 1997. Later, we meet the other two b-boys around which the film centers: Josh (at left in the above photo) and Omar (at right), who begin the film as good friends. They're still in high school when the film starts, but they spend hours every day rehearsing their dance routines. Both are part of different teams: Omar joins the Jive Turkeys, who have won B-Boy City before, and Josh joins the Masterz of Mayhem, a team based out of the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas. The Masterz of Mayhem gladly drive the five hours to Austin to compete. The b-boys have difficult lives. The boys in the Rio Grande Valley live in rundown apartments with their families. Josh has been in juvenile detention, and he gets in further hot water when he steals a golf cart. Omar's father is eager for him to attend college, but Omar wants to try to make a living with his dance work. None of the b-boys want full-time jobs because it cuts into their dance rehearsal time, but they need the money to register for and travel to events. Romeo faces problems with judging the dance numbers at B-Boy City. Unfortunately, Inside the Circle tends to drag a little during some of the longer personal segments, like Josh trying to deal with legal entanglements when he wants to take a job in Florida. However, just when the movie seems to slow down, the dancing starts again and the energy leaps.
Inside the Circle truly shines during the dance competitions, and I don't mean simply the dance numbers, although those are great fun to watch. One oddly spiritual moment shows the b-boys from all teams as they crowd into a single circle after the competition and before the winners are announced. For Josh and other b-boys, their teams are like family. Another competition is halted and a team nearly disqualified after a fight on the dance floor. Although the movie is structured around the B-Boy City events in Austin, we also get to see Omar perform during international contests in Europe -- his dance talents give him the opportunity to travel the world. The animated map graphics that show the locations and travel for various teams and competitions fit the mood of the film perfectly -- they were designed by some of the b-boys.
Director Marcy Garriott followed around the b-boys in Inside the Circle for more than four years, and it's fascinating to see what ultimately happens to Josh, Omar and the other dancers. However, the main effect of the documentary was to make me want to catch one of the dance competitions live in person. B-Boy City XIV is in May in Austin -- and if you haven't seen Inside the Circle yet, it's being shown at the event. I don't have any temptations to become a b-girl, unlike the rollerderby temptations from Hell on Wheels, but I'd love to see more of these dance moves.