One of the guiding principles of Next Level is that sharing your artistic skills with people from other cultures can be an important part of your own artistic development. In that light, one way to get a deeper sense of the value of Next Level is to look at how it affects the artists who participate in it. How does Next Level fit into the overall story of their lives – both before and after? Last month, we spoke to MC Dumi Right about this topic; this month we speak to b-boy Ken Fury.
Kenneth “Ken Fury” Marez, Jr. is a multi-talented artist and educator who represented the element of dance on the Next Level Zimbabwe residency in 2015. A major part of his personal preparation for the trip involved considering the way education and art can interact with each other. How does the learning environment affect the material being taught? How does that material change the environment? How do students integrate knowledge into their life in general? These questions are especially important when students and teachers are coming from diverse cultural perspectives. And, as a b-boy, they were already very much on Ken Fury’s mind.
Though he had studied the art of breaking with many b-boys over the years – including Wayne Blizz and D–Flex (The Executioners, The NYC Float Committee) Kwikstep (Full Circle Soul) and Bryant Davila (Incredible Breakers) – martial arts have also provided an important philosophical perspective for Ken Fury’s approach to b-boying. In that spirit, he has recently begun to study Shotokan Karate…with an instructor who is also a b-boy: Anthony “Karate Anthony” Colon. “I grew up studying different bits and pieces of different martial arts, but for the past year Karate Anthony has been teaching me privately. He’s been mentoring me and I’ve learned so much. I’m really thinking about how I can bring that influence into my breaking.”
“But I think the biggest influence is Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do,” he continues. “Taking different things. Because what we’re doing in breaking is taking different things and creating with that approach. It’s just about making sure that students keep an open mind. Because if they’re like ‘oh, it has to be like this, it has to be like that.’ Then they put a limit on it. And we don’t really like that.”
This attitude is clearly visible in many of the actual dance moves, but it also exerts a subtler philosophical influence on his cultural approach to education, on specific teaching techniques, and on the sense of community and responsibility that can develop among people who study together.
“When you go to institutions, no matter where it’s at, sometimes they’re molding people into being almost followers. So my whole approach to teaching – for many, many years – is teaching people to be themselves. Not teaching, but guiding them. And really encouraging them to explore their creativity.”
Next Level’s emphasis on sharing and collaboration was a valuable experience for Ken in developing this perspective, since its cross-cultural nature required him to be open not only to individual differences in personality but also collective cultural differences. “The Next Level project was really an eye opening experience for me because it made me really want to go out and do more cultural diplomacy work. Because I realized how powerful it is to really engage with a group of people and build with them and learn from each other,” he reflects. “It was huge learning experience.”
Upon his return to the United States, that experience led him to create his own school, The Breaking Institute of the Arts. Though the name obviously reflects the school’s foundation in hip-hop dance, it also has a deeper meaning: “The main concept is of actually ‘breaking’ the institutionalized mind,” he explains. “That’s why I chose the name ‘Breaking Institute’. It kind of goes with breaking free: breaking the limits of your mind.”
In that regard, he notes, hip-hop art forms are just pathways to a deeper hip-hop mentality. And what’s important is not where a teacher feels the path should lead, but that each student follows their own path. “Whether the students dance later, to me, it’s cool if they do or they don’t. All that matters to me is that they understand the philosophy and how to keep their mind open. How to create and how to be innovators and how to just be themselves. And no matter where they take that philosophy and mentality, they will do great. And they will influence people in a good way. “
“So that’s what it’s really instilling, you know? And the breaking aspect is just a physical expression of that mentality. And it’s a good way to learn that mentality. That’s how I learned it. I don’t know why, but it worked.”
Ken Fury is available to teach a variety of art forms. For contact information and more information about The Breaking Institute of the Arts, visit https://www.breakinginstitute.com.
More information about Ken Fury’s other activities can be found at: http://www.kenfury.com or http://nextlevel-usa.org/artists-teams/artists/kenneth-ken-fury-marez-jr/