STRAIGHT OUTTA SUDBURY: Elizabeth Bernstein (at left) and her Hip-Hop Mamas have been popping, locking, and breaking for the past five years.
As a prepubescent thug, I often complained about the audio rotation on my father's car stereo, which primarily consisted of a steady mix of Moody Blues and books on tape. In return, he'd ask how I would feel if he wore Starter jackets and picked me up at school with bass lines blaring out his windows: "Yo, Chris: get in the motherfucking whip, fool." He was right: I didn't want a hip-hop pops. The only thing worse would be a mom who sported door-knocker earrings and loose overalls with airbrushed backsides.
Now that I'm on the cusp of 30, though, I'm beginning to see things differently, as my enthusiasm for rap music is beyond latent; this past week I got a Wu-Tang Clan logo tattooed on my right forearm. All those jokes about us Gen-X dudes someday telling our grandchildren about how we met their nanas while "We Want Some Pussy" played in the background — that's going to be me. If I ever settle down, I'll be a white hip-hop parent — blunts, curse words, Timberlands, and all. In short: I'll be an embarrassment to all who bear my last name, which I'll have embroidered on my oversize Celtics jersey. But at least I won't be alone.
Just outside of Boston — and as far away as Long Island, California, and even China — an integral part of hip-hop culture is being kept alive by an unexpected demographic: mom posses. These ladies aren't rapping, scratching records, or writing graffiti (not yet, at least), but are preserving the art of — no shit, really — breakdancing.
In Sudbury (yes, you read that right, Sudbury), the responsibility of carrying on one of hip-hop's most precious traditions — indeed, one of its four basic elements — has fallen to Elizabeth Bernstein and her Hip-Hop Mamas. For the past half-decade, Bernstein has coached a squad of about 20 women with an average age of 43 at the Dancers Workshop on Boston Post Road, where interest in hip-hop dance has ballooned since she first put out feelers. "When I started teaching this class, I only had three people," says Bernstein. "And at that time, a lot of women were afraid to try something different. These days, I teach two different level classes (with an average of 15 to 18 heads in each) every week, because a lot of the women were getting so good that the new people coming in were getting frustrated."
While some of her devotees prefer to play the sidelines, just using the class for exercise, Bernstein has, out of obscurity, cultivated a group of aspiring hardcore b-women who are actually beginning to perform around Greater Boston. In addition to their Dancers Workshop recital, this past year the Hip-Hop Mamas flashed their skills at the Charles River Dance Festival, their local HOPE Sudbury Telethon, and a score of galas for nonprofits in the MetroWest area.