Alaska’s only b-girl claims her place on the world stage
Alaska is not what you might imagine when you think of breaking. But it was the backdrop for b-boys and b-girls who took the art form from recreation centers to global stages.
Bri Pritchard is a b-girl from Anchorage. Also known as Snap1, she started snapping when she was 17. She is now 30 years old and an Olympic hopeful.
Pritchard says she typically wakes up at 4 a.m. every day and works out by herself on a mat in a spare room in her house. It’s similar to how she started.
“I used to watch the kids when I was 17 in high school and then I would come home and practice in my garage or watch YouTube videos,” she said.
Eventually, she joined other dancers at the Center récréatif Spenard. There was a charge to use the facilities, but the informal peer-to-peer classes were essentially free.
At that time, Pritchard says teenagers were fascinated by MTV’s top American dance crew and imitated dance routines they saw online.
“There would be kids there — younger, older, just dancing, practicing for hours on end,” Pritchard said.
She says the group she trained with spent entire days at the rec center, often back-to-back. They cleaned the dance hall when the facilities closed, went out to play basketball in the evening, then returned when the recreation center opened in the morning.
In Anchorage, dance groups, or crews, were mostly separated by high school. They would visit each other’s schools during lunchtime to compare skills, and an audience would gather in a common area to watch. But the rec was where they could delineate the competition.
“So every time you went to the recreation center, it was kind of like you had something to prove all the time,” she said.
At the time, Pritchard was the only woman in his crew, Elements of Rhythm. She was also the only competitive b-girl in Anchorage’s predominantly male hip-hop and dance community.
“So I had to get the power moves. I had to inflate myself. I had to freeze because that’s what they were doing,’ she said.
His crew participated in competitions, called jams, in Anchorage and Fairbanks. For many people, that was where the real competition was. It included a group of Anchorage b-boys from the scene’s first generation, the Illaskan Assassins.
“They were our heroes,” Pritchard said. “And then we started training, and then we were there to beat them.”
The Illaskan Assassins were known for cultivating the hip-hop community in Anchorage. They traveled to national events and became quite well known outside of Alaska. It was a course that Pritchard and his crew would eventually follow.
She competed regularly in Alaska, but Pritchard says it didn’t click for her that she could do anything by breaking until she got out of state. She says she wanted to use dancing as a way to meet new people and see new places.
“Because if you’ve lived here long enough, you know we’re isolated here in Alaska,” she said. “And it’s a great place to live, but there’s so much more to the rest of the world.”
Now it’s taken her all over the map – winning competitions in Nevada, Florida and Arizona, and jams in Europe.
When Pritchard isn’t competing, she’s a helicopter mechanic with the Alaska National Guard. She was deployed to Iraq last year, with her husband.
If breaking and military life sound like opposites, that’s because they are. And she says when she first met her husband in the military, she had to dismantle the images he had of hip-hop culture through stereotypical and sometimes violent portrayals in popular media.
“And eventually when I brought him in, and then he got to meet the people, then he got to see the culture for what it was, it really changed him,” she said.
Pritchard says there are different lessons to be learned from each part of his life. On the military side, she says people can learn discipline and that can be applied to her work ethic as an athlete. And through hip-hop, people can learn to be open-minded and free-spirited. She wants to be a bridge between the two ways of life.
“My job doesn’t suffer just because I devote so much time to my passion,” she said. “Nor does my passion suffer from the time I work.”
When she was deployed, she practiced her sets in a practice room and shared her progress on social media. She even participated in two virtual competitions. She returned to Alaska after a year of deployment but soon got back on the road and won first place in her first competition back on the circuit. It was a step towards his ultimate dream: the Olympic Games.
Pritchard played hockey and softball growing up. She thought about going to the Olympics with these sports, but as she got more involved in breaking, she let go of her childhood ambitions.
“Needless to say, when they announced breaking was going to be in the Olympics, I was obviously over the moon because one of my dreams that was practically non-existent – dead, if you will, because it wasn’t not possible – is now possible again,” she said.
The 2024 Olympics will take place in Paris. This is the first time that athletes will compete in breaking games. To make Team USA, Breakers must rack up enough points or earn first or second place at the Nationals. Pritchard has a real chance; she is ranked No. 2 in the nation for her division.
It was not easy to pursue his goal of making the national team. She still works full time and competes on the weekends. She has sponsorship, but she funds most of her trips herself. She is also a full-time student and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
Beyond an Olympic medal, she hopes being part of Team USA will inspire a new generation of b-girls and b-boys in Alaska. The scene she grew up with has diminished. People have moved on, jams are now rare, and the rec center doesn’t have the same groups of kids fighting.
But Pritchard and his original crew tried to revive the community. They organized events on their own, and they spent time teaching kids how to smash. And one of his former crew members — fellow consummate breaker, Jeremy “B-Boy Ives” Viray — recently took over a dance studio in Anchorage.
Pritchard sits on her mat at home talking about her plans beyond the Olympics. The sun enters through the window and illuminates the room. There is an auspicious glow around her. It is as if the light emanates its energy. She says she is not afraid of growing old. B-boys and b-girls are still in their prime well into their 30s, and sometimes even into their 40s. The older they get, the more they understand their bodies and thrive.
In 2018, she joined a new team called Flooristas, an all-female team. And she says that while she’s grateful to have started with b-boys, she’s thrilled to finally be around other b-girls who understand the female body and its movements.
It’s a new era in his life, and there’s fire, excitement. She and her husband are preparing to leave Alaska. She intends to continue competing for at least 15 years, and after that she will be a coach. And though she’s dubbed “Alaska’s only b-girl,” there’s hope she won’t be the last.