SO WEE Super Stevie comes pelting into the room, sweat on his forehead, rain on his glasses, hip hop on his mind. He's carrying a half-drunk pint of milk and has a big damp patch on the back of his hoodie.
"Man, I'm pure sweatin'." He's run and walked for an hour to save the bus fare, money tending to be in short supply among Glaswegian b-boys. Shaking hands with me, he gives the customary palm-slap and fist-bump to his pal Sideshow Maule, then takes his ease on the cold concrete floor of this large rehearsal space in a crumbling warehouse by the Clyde.
The two friends - Steven Sinclair, 31, and Chris Maule, 29 - are founder members of the Flyin' Jalapenos, Glasgow's premier breaking crew. They are, to use a word which both loathe, "breakdancers" -and practice their art with as much monotheistic devotion as any zealot. "It's my life," says Maule, an East Kilbride native, named for his dreadlocks, reminiscent of Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons.
Names are important in b-boy culture. You get given it; making up something cool for yourself is not the done thing. Hence, in the Flyin' Jalapenos, there is a Tesko and Irn-Dru. Elsewhere on the Scottish scene, there is an Iain Bru. There is not, to my knowledge, anyone known as Dun-DMC, which seems a great shame. The scene is strongest in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but there are b-boys on Tayside and in Fife. Crews include Random Aspektz, Psycho Stylez and Heavy Smokers.
The Flyin' Jalapenos are based in a former Customs warehouse in the west end of Glasgow, a cavernous space used by artists, photographers, up-and-coming bands and even an evangelical church. It's exceptionally cold and there is rain pouring in through the skylights. "This is our sixth winter here," says Maule, wrapped in a maroon bodywarmer. "Last year we were training and it was minus ten."
Their space has plain walls, black and white lino, a CD player, a couch, and a fold-out chair with a saltire design. They come here at least six days each week, training for five hours at a time. Each man bears the scars which testify to his passion. Sinclair has burns on his arms; Maule's palms are mountainous with callouses. Sinclair has a bald spot caused by spinning on his crown; Maule, who can slide 8ft on the floor on his head, has been rewarded with a sizeable skelf. They are stoic about all this. Pain, they say, is part of the deal. Discomfort and time are what it takes to excel. "I've been breakin' for 12 years," says Maule. "Lockin' for five, poppin' four, rockin' for three."
B-boys tend to dislike the term "street dance" which has become so much part of the mainstream in recent years thanks to the popularity of Britain's Got Talent contestants Diversity, Flawless et al. Street Dance has been the title and subject of a number of popular films, and there are dance schools all over Britain offering tuition. Yet, for b-boys, street dance is a mere mish-mash and they feel aggrieved the styles they hold sacred are being co-opted and diluted for commercial gain. "It aggravates you in a way," says Sinclair, "because a lot of people are getting into the dance for the women and money and attention. It's never been about that."
To the uninitiated, these terms seem meaningless, even risible. But to b-boys, each describes a specific style of dance, within which are the individual moves - windmills, air flares, jazz splits, freezes and so on.There can be no doubt, however, that the television coverage given to "street dance" by various talent shows has grown a huge and excitable young audience desperate for live performance. On Tuesday evening at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, several hundred people screamed in delight and amazement as a mix of Scottish and international crews performed at the Breakin' Convention event. The decibel and adrenaline levels would have been the envy of many rock stars.
It has been said the appeal of street dance lies in the way it mirrors the speed and dynamics of young people's thought patterns; the fidgety, jittery dance moves are the perfect physical expression of a short-attention-span generation forever flicking between Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. That theory seemed sound as the audience waved Nokias and iPhones in the air, illuminating the darkened old theatre with a pale, cool, contemporary glow; limelight courtesy of LCD.
In the foyer, before the show and during the interval, members of the audience were invited to demonstrate their skills on the polished parquet. By 6.30pm, children in baggy tracksuits were performing impressive spins while Edinburgh parents in sensible knits smiled over their red wine rims with proud mystification. So young were some of the dancers that the hip hop term "crib" - meaning one's home - seemed highly appropriate. Tony Mills, the MC, gave shout-outs to Scotmid, the convenience store chain which was providing free water and cereal bars, and kept everyone's energy levels high with his patter. "Who is that masked man?" he enquired about a teen in a balaclava. "Telford in tha house!"
The Scottish crews on the bill were the all-female Jackin' The Box, the Flyin' Jalapenos, and Moving In Circles who combined a traditional sword dance with back flips and spins. What struck me was how impossible much of it seemed, more like an optical illusion or magic trick rather than dance steps that a human might possibly memorise.
It took me back to primary school in the Eighties, when what we all learned to call breakdance finally completed the long journey to Clackmannanshire from the Bronx. One day, all of a sudden, some of the less academic kids, the ones who didn't care if they never learned long division, were spinning like drills in the lunch hall.
It wasn't clear why they were doing it or how they had learned, but it gave them a certain social cachet that those of us who understood dividends and remainders could never hope to attain.
I now recognise that breaking, like arithmetic, can be mastered by a fairly straightforward approach - lots of practice from a young age. The Flyin' Jalapenos endorse writer Malcolm Gladwell's rule-of-thumb that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. Sinclair says he spent a year teaching himself how to spin three times during a 1990 - a sort of one-handed handstand - then spent another year adding two further turns. There is a great deal of oneupmanship in breaking, much vying to set new records in particular moves, which can make it seem more like a branch of athletics than an art form. The competitive edge is most evident during "battles" - tournaments of varying degrees of formality during which b-boys pit their skills against one another in a bid for dancefloor supermacy, tilting at each other's windmills. Battles include Castle Rocks and the forthcoming Steps Of Style, both in Edinburgh. Arguably, it is these testosterone-fuelled, pseudo-aggressive dance-offs which ensure that breaking, in Scotland as elsewhere, is male-dominated.Physical strength and agility is not everything, though. You need a quick brain, too. "Breakin' at the speed of thought," as they say. It is, at root, improvisational. A useful comparison might be free jazz in which the artist applies his formal technique unconsciously. Breaking, similarly, is about emotion and sensation. The Flyin' Jalapenos, never knowingly unenthusiastic, really come alive when asked what it feels like when they dance.
"With some of these dynamic moves, you are using gravity and momentum, and if you concentrate you can feel the pull through your whole body," says Sinclair. "And the things you can see when you're spinning... It's like a halo of light. A lot of people say it's better than sex. There's no other feeling like it in the world."
Given this level of passion and pleasure, it feels daft to suggest that breaking - with its roots in black America - is an alien and artificial culture in peely-wally Scotland. Anyway, it was a dance form invented by people who had nothing but the ground beneath their feet, and is, therefore, suited to Scottish towns and cities where poverty, violence and social decay are hardly unknown. The Flyin' Jalapenos teach breaking to kids in Easterhouse and Greenock, and number among their crew people who have had problems with alcohol and drugs and been in and out of children's homes.
"It's gave me a direction in life," says Sinclair, who grew up in Garrowhill in the east of Glasgow and used to work as a tiler. "A lot of our crew, if we didn't have the dance, I don't know where we'd be. All my friends were into drink, ecstasy, speed, coke. I used to smoke a lot of weed. It was a way of getting through depression.
I'm not wanting to get into it, but I tried to end my life when I was younger.
"But when you dance, you kind of throw off everything, and you don't think of the troubles. It's just you and that floor."
We have a look at the floor on the way out. They laid it themselves but it's getting a little worn. That'll cost more money that they don't have. If they could afford it, Sinclair and Maule would visit America, where they've never been, and breathe the sacred Bronx air. In the meantime, till the Lottery comes good, they'll content themselves with Glasgow.
Where they live doesn't really matter, though; it's the music and the movement that makes them feel alive. "The drums," says Wee Super Stevie, "is oor heartbeat." x