Breaking the mould

Raphael Natan aims to convert youths to the world of hip-hop.

By BRIAN BLONDY
March 16, 2010 21:27
4 minute read.
4Eyes.

4Eyes Hip hop 311good. (photo credit: .)

 
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Like a tiger prowling his domain, Raphael “4Eyes” Natan enters the three-meter square area looking like he’s going to knock someone flat.

With each swagger-filled step towards the makeshift dance floor at Ra’anana’s Moadon Hamartef youth club, Natan makes the white-lined boxed area almost feel like a wild animal’s cage.

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He doesn’t ask permission to enter from the ten other breakdancers standing around – he just strolls in, the hop in his steps and the power of his eyes easily validating the legitimacy of his entrance.

If attitude could kill, Natan would be an assassin.

Natan, however, is not a killer – he’s only a gifted b-boy, or breakdancer. A 20-year-old religiously observant son of South African immigrants who live in Ra’anana, his superior hip-hop and breakdancing abilities are well-known both in Israel and the US. He has competed in competitions in New York, Los Angeles and in Atlanta – with much success.

After his “Kosher Flava” crew came third in an international event in New York in September 2009, Natan says, people were absolutely shocked by the dynamic Israeli style of breakdancing they were performing.

“We just had our own flavor,” he recalls, smiling. “We were not New York, we were not Korean, and when we were called out, the DJ introduced us as Kosher Flava. Since then, that’s who we are.”

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Nowadays, when Natan isn’t away in the army, he helps to run the Ra’anana youth club, which has become the nation’s breakdancing center and the official headquarters of Kosher Flava.

Born in Johannesburg in 1990, Natan made aliya with his family in 1998.

Although he is the grandson of a circus trapeze artist and the son of a musician, it wasn’t until age 15 that Natan that he discovered that he, too, was a natural acrobat of sorts. Both schooled in the musical classroom and breakdancing in the street, he was almost bred to be an artist.

When he arrived in Israel as “a shy and skinny kid,” he says, he was just waiting for the right musical outlet to express the undercurrent of tribal rhythm that existed within himself.

AND THAT opportunity came when Natan witnessed a breakdancing performance on the kitchen floor of a close friend’s Ra’anana home. The moment he saw the moves, Natan recalls, he said, “Wow, I have to do that!” He was hooked.

That was also when Natan’s b-boy alter-ego, 4Eyes – a stereotypical geek moniker that effectively brings an element of surprise to his dancing – entered his psyche.

“I’m called 4Eyes because I’ve always been this skinny little guy,” he says, “though one day I just realized that my size is not going to stop me, and from then on I just went forward and ignored any criticism.” Natan attributes the ensuing rapid development of his skills, confidence and flair to Elie “PolyRock” Haddad, the founder and head of Kosher Flava, who pushed Natan to foster his talents.

“I remember that in the beginning, breaking was really difficult for me,” Natan says, recalling that he initially lacked coordination, rhythm and strength – all of the most important ingredients of breakdancing. “So PolyRock told me to just practice my style, and then, to start making up my own moves. By practicing the moves both faster and slower, I eventually came up with my own style.”

When he begins something, Natan says, he goes all the way. He estimates that he has spent over 10,000 hours practicing his moves in five years of dancing, often spending all of his after-school time dancing and coming up with new moves.

NOW, OTHERS stop dancing to watch Natan and bop with him as he moves elastically in front of the audience, with astonishing grace and hypnotic fluidity. For 15-second intervals, Natan enters another world, spinning, kicking and balancing on his arms and legs in ways most people can only dream of.

Breakdancing is one of the hardest dances to learn, Natan believes.

“You have to have coordination with all your body movements,” he says. “You have to be very fit, really. It is very hard, but once you have the basic foundations in place, your mind begins taking over and the creativity starts to come in.”

Breakdancing as a modern performance art emerged among African-American and Latino youths in the streets of New York City during the 1970s and continues to evolve to this day.

According to the 2002 breakdancing documentary The Freshest Kids, hip-hop and its connection to breakdancing can be traced back to DJ Kool Herc, who threw parties on Sedwick Avenue in the Bronx for local hip-hop enthusiasts.

Breakdance “battles,” ritualistic dance showdowns, emerged when DJ Kool Herc would spin rhythmic “breakdowns” from the records (known as “breaks”) and loop them over and over so dancers could dance over them. These loops provided the space for the dancers to creatively improvise and “battle” each other to gain notoriety and street cred.

Natan believes that breakdancing first appeared in Israel in 1999, when small groups of enthusiasts began performing and teaching the moves to their friends. A decade later, walking into the club from Ra’anana’s Rehov Ahuza is like being transported into a boxing gym, where each person steadily focuses on building up  stamina and diversifying routines.

Natan, almost always at center stage, is constantly creating new truths with his body. Gazing into space, he seems to move with complete focus and purpose. And then, in the blink of an eye, the routine is finished, and Natan walks over to his friends, a huge grin on his face. After sharing a few laughs with his fellow b-boys, he jumps into the disc-jockey booth to spin some old Eric B & Rakim for the kids.

4Eyes describes himself as “a nerd,” embracing this reality as fact rather than looking to change it. But he’s a nerd who happens to be super-cool – at least, to any who have seen him dance.

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