Breaking the mould

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

4Eyes Hip hop 311good (photo credit: .)
4Eyes Hip hop 311good
(photo credit: .)
Like a tiger prowling his domain, Raphael “4Eyes” Natan enters thethree-meter square area looking like he’s going to knock someone flat.
With each swagger-filled step towards the makeshift dance floor atRa’anana’s Moadon Hamartef youth club, Natan makes the white-linedboxed area almost feel like a wild animal’s cage.
He doesn’t ask permission to enter from the ten other breakdancersstanding around – he just strolls in, the hop in his steps and thepower 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, orbreakdancer. A 20-year-old religiously observant son of South Africanimmigrants who live in Ra’anana, his superior hip-hop and breakdancingabilities are well-known both in Israel and the US. He has competed incompetitions in New York, Los Angeles and in Atlanta – with muchsuccess.
After his “Kosher Flava” crew came third in an international event inNew York in September 2009, Natan says, people were absolutely shockedby the dynamic Israeli style of breakdancing they were performing.
“We just had our own flavor,” he recalls, smiling. “We were not NewYork, we were not Korean, and when we were called out, the DJintroduced us as Kosher Flava. Since then, that’s who we are.”
Nowadays, when Natan isn’t away in the army, he helps to run theRa’anana youth club, which has become the nation’s breakdancing centerand 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 amusician, it wasn’t until age 15 that Natan that he discovered that he,too, was a natural acrobat of sorts. Both schooled in the musicalclassroom and breakdancing in the street, he was almost bred to be anartist.
When he arrived in Israel as “a shy and skinny kid,” he says, he wasjust waiting for the right musical outlet to express the undercurrentof tribal rhythm that existed within himself.
AND THAT opportunity came when Natan witnessed a breakdancingperformance on the kitchen floor of a close friend’s Ra’anana home. Themoment he saw the moves, Natan recalls, he said, “Wow, I have to dothat!” He was hooked.
That was also when Natan’s b-boy alter-ego, 4Eyes – a stereotypicalgeek moniker that effectively brings an element of surprise to hisdancing – entered his psyche.
“I’m called 4Eyes because I’ve always been this skinny little guy,” hesays, “though one day I just realized that my size is not going to stopme, 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 ofKosher Flava, who pushed Natan to foster his talents.
“I remember that in the beginning, breaking was really difficult forme,” Natan says, recalling that he initially lacked coordination,rhythm and strength – all of the most important ingredients ofbreakdancing. “So PolyRock told me to just practice my style, and then,to start making up my own moves. By practicing the moves both fasterand slower, I eventually came up with my own style.”
When he begins something, Natan says, he goes all the way. He estimatesthat he has spent over 10,000 hours practicing his moves in five yearsof dancing, often spending all of his after-school time dancing andcoming up with new moves.
NOW, OTHERS stop dancing to watch Natan and bop with him as he moveselastically in front of the audience, with astonishing grace andhypnotic fluidity. For 15-second intervals, Natan enters another world,spinning, kicking and balancing on his arms and legs in ways mostpeople 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 havethe basic foundations in place, your mind begins taking over and thecreativity starts to come in.”
Breakdancing as a modern performance art emerged among African-Americanand Latino youths in the streets of New York City during the 1970s andcontinues 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 DJKool Herc, who threw parties on Sedwick Avenue in the Bronx for localhip-hop enthusiasts.
Breakdance “battles,” ritualistic dance showdowns, emerged when DJ KoolHerc 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 improviseand “battle” each other to gain notoriety and street cred.
Natan believes that breakdancing first appeared in Israel in 1999, whensmall groups of enthusiasts began performing and teaching the moves totheir friends. A decade later, walking into the club from Ra’anana’sRehov Ahuza is like being transported into a boxing gym, where eachperson steadily focuses on building up  stamina and diversifyingroutines.
Natan, almost always at center stage, is constantly creating new truthswith his body. Gazing into space, he seems to move with complete focusand 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. Aftersharing a few laughs with his fellow b-boys, he jumps into thedisc-jockey booth to spin some old Eric B & Rakim for the kids.
4Eyes describes himself as “a nerd,” embracing this reality as factrather than looking to change it. But he’s a nerd who happens to besuper-cool – at least, to any who have seen him dance.