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Devan "Freedom" Rode, shown doing a nontraditional freeze on a bridge in East L.A., grew up in the punk scene without knowledge of hip hop culture. She experienced a taste of breaking when some other dancers invited her to a b-boy/b-girl jam. "I didn't know why I wanted to dance. ... I just know that I did and there was this invisible force that kept calling me and calling me until I met those b-boys and that was just it," Freedom says.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Asia "Asia One" Yu has been a prominent influence in the b-boy/b-girl scene internationally. Asia was a previous member of the Rock Steady Crew and is currently a member of the Lordz of Finesse crew and Mighty Zulu Qweenz crew, one of the oldest b-boy/b-girl crews. She has traveled around the world to compete and judge battle competitions. Asia started B-boy Summit, a hip hop lifestyle event paying homage to b-boys and b-girls, in the Los Angeles area. She also founded an after-school program, Hip Hop 101, in which she teaches breaking to students in Los Angeles. This picture was taken when I brought Asia underneath one of the bridges near downtown Los Angeles. It was actually Asia's idea to pose with the dismantled chairs and position herself in a "chair freeze" for the picture. I met Asia through another b-girl, Lucy. It has always been the connections that I've made in the past that brought me to meet the b-girls in the L.A. area.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Bonita Lovett, shown dancing outside a building in Chinatown, is a member of the Rock Steady Crew, a crew established in 1977 in New York City.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Stella "Stellz" Fernandez, shown near 2nd and Figueroa streets in downtown Los Angeles, is a member of the Heartbreakers Crew. "I am a b-girl," Stella says. "It's like carried within me. I do it because it's this passion within me, which I feel like I have to let out, that is my light, that is my outlet to the world. This is what I feel most passionate about."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Lucile "Lucy" Chouard is a member of the Mighty Zulu Qweenz, one of the oldest b-boy/b-girl crews. She lived in Southern California before moving back to France last year. In this photo, I captured Lucy doing some of the original movements that breaking came from -- footwork. Before head spins and tricks that you see now in commercials and movies, uprocking ("toprock") and footwork ("downrock") were the original forms of breaking.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Lauryn "Ill Boogie" Speights prepares herself for downrock, or footwork, movements near the 7th Street bridge in downtown Los Angeles. Lauryn is a member of the Mighty Zulu Qweenz and X-MOB crews.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Eri Inoue catches a freeze in the air during a shoot in Venice. Eri was an exchange student from Japan and lived in the Los Angeles area for a year before heading back to Japan.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Paulina "React" Laurant recently moved to Los Angeles from Portland, Ore., and was inspired to start breaking when she saw the Rock Steady Crew battling. "I fell in love with the culture," Paulina says. "I fell in love with the music and it really taught me about myself. Breaking is so difficult because once you start learning, you're learning your foundation. I love breaking because when I dance, I forget about everything that is stressing me out, I feel like I'm just free. There's no stress, there's nothing to worry about and it just makes me so happy."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

I took Peipei "Peppa" Yuan to the Santa Monica area for her shoot. Peipei used to compete in battle competitions and is heavily involved in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. She is a choreographer and stuntwoman. She has appeared in "Step Up," has choreographed Rihanna and Coldplay music videos and has appeared in commercials for American Apparel and Honda.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Lacy "Keiko" Omon, shown breaking, is affiliated with the Stylistic Kings and Soul to Soul crews. "When I hear a really good beat, I never really knew how to fully express it, so when it came to breaking, when it came to that funk, it really just captured my attention," Lacy says. "It's a sense of freedom to be able to do whatever I wanna do without anybody telling me what to do." The original breakbeats came from funk and rock. Artists such as James Brown were major influences during the birth of hip hop.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Devan "Freedom" Rode catches some air as she performs footwork movements near Mateo Street in downtown Los Angeles.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

B-girl Kena "Wonda" Prado is originally from Oxnard and travels to the Los Angeles area a few times a week to practice with the Battlesnakes Crew. Kena talks about growing up in a poor neighborhood and how she always dreamed of being a dancer or "battle girl." "When you're dancing, the music takes you to another realm of life," Kena says. "When you break, it's like a language. You're talking with your dance."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Kena "Wonda" Prado jumps for air as she mimics shooting a gun while dancing on Fourth Street in downtown Los Angeles. The art of uprocking is to show a b-girl's character and style before hitting the ground and doing footwork. If Kena were battling someone, she would be doing something similar. The uprock form of dance often looks like a battle or fight.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Bonita Lovett is a member of the Rock Steady Crew, a crew that was established in 1977 in New York City. Bonita is photographed underneath a bridge near downtown Los Angeles and is performing an element of breaking called footwork or downrock.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Crissy "Crissy B" Silva was one of the first b-girls I met when I started this project. Crissy talked to me about cyphering and how it's completely different from battle competitions. "For me," she says, "battling is an adrenaline rush, especially when it happens in a cypher... When you get called out or when you call somebody out, the energy is amazing. ... You just don't know what's gonna happen, you don't know what the other person is gonna throw out at you. You have a really tight space to work with, you're feeding off the energy of the people that are around the cypher." She added: "For me, battling is exciting and scary at the same time because all these emotions are wrapped into one little circle." A lot of b-girls prefer cyphering to battle competitions because a b-girl or b-boy has the freedom to dance in a circle, where there are no judges to say who the winner is.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

Stella "Stellz" Fernandez poses in a "chair" freeze, which is often used during set combinations. A b-girl or b-boy will dance up top first, then on the ground and then end the combination with a freeze, as Stella is doing.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

I first met Stella "Stellz" Fernandez in Florida while documenting the breaking scene for the Miami Herald. I found out that she had moved to Southern California and immediately contacted her for my project. This picture was taken near 2nd and Figueroa streets in downtown Los Angeles. Stella is a member of the Heartbreakers Crew.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times

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B-girls: portraits of women in hip hop

By Cheryl A. Guerrero, Los Angeles Times

I grew up listening to hip hop because of my aunt and sister. They introduced me to the music of 2Pac, Too Short, Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube and N.W.A. But it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I was introduced to “underground” and East Coast hip hop. I started going to house parties and would see my guy friends have MC battles. My high school boyfriend also introduced me to Bay Area hip hop artists such as Zion I, Del the Funky Homosapien and Souls of Mischief, and East Coast hip hop artists such as Mobb Deep, The Roots, Talib Kweli and Mos Def. I was around it constantly and developed an interest in photographing it.

While I was an intern at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, I pitched a story on graffiti. The paper went for it, so I began making connections with young graffiti artists who would paint murals throughout the city. I developed an interest in documenting the underground culture of artists who felt hip hop was their only way of life.

As I moved onto other internships in other cities, I shifted my focus to documenting breaking (also known as breakdancing, a term the media created in the 1980s) and b-boys (also known as break boys or Bronx boys). I photographed the Cleveland b-boys while interning at the Plain Dealer; I produced an audio slide show about b-boys at the Palm Beach Post and worked on a multi-part video project documenting the Florida break scene while at the Miami Herald.

When I arrived in Southern California, I decided to do portraiture. It had been very challenging working in the break scene, especially with the b-boys. Many subjects assumed I wanted a relationship with them when I contacted them to arrange to shoot a portrait or ask to document their practice sessions or battles. So I began shooting portraits of b-girls instead. Stella, a b-girl who moved to the Los Angeles area from Florida, and Crissy, a b-girl from Los Angeles, connected me to the local breaking scene. The girls were easier to work with than the b-boys and were more excited to take part in my project.

With each of my subjects, I find my locations at least a week before the photo shoot. I drive around for several hours and take iPhone photos of locations I like. I then send the pictures to my subjects so they have an idea of where I would be taking them and so they can coordinate their outfit for the shoot.

I plan to continue with this project and progress into shooting other women in hip hop, including DJs, MCs, rappers, graffiti writers, beatboxers, poppers & lockers and hip hop clothing designers.

See more of Guerrero’s work


  1. November 5, 2013, 6:26 am

    i love break dance 😀

  2. November 7, 2013, 6:40 am

    Interesting article, thanks. For what it's worth, though (probably not much), neither of the pictures of Stella 'Stellz' Fernandez (4th and 16th pics) were taken near Figueroa and 2nd. This is the 1st Street viaduct at N. Toluca Street (also spans Glendale Boulevard).

    By: passingthroughthemoment

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