Franklin Gin on founding Wondrous, NYC’s first dedicated breaking studio
© Jerm Photos @jermgonzalo
Inside The Studio with Franklin Gin, who’s paying back the heritage of hip hop and breaking in New York City with Wondrous.
The birthplace of hip hop didn’t have a dedicated breaking studio until Franklin Gin had the magic idea a few years ago. Despite growing up in the mecca for breaking, the Long Islander and his friends would often struggle to find space off the streets to practice their art. It wasn’t until he’d visited Taiwan a few times and gone to dedicated breaking studios there that Gin realized this was something that was sorely missing from his home city.
Gin opened Wondrous in 2016 and has been providing that space for his fellow breakers ever since. Along with passing on his skills as an experienced Bboy to young and old alike, he also dances professionally with the Brooklyn Nets Team Hype. Now in its third location, in Brooklyn, Wondrous is still home to many of the city’s best up-and-coming Bboys and Bgirls.
Step inside the studio with Gin as he shares how he built New York City’s first breaking studio, how he’s adapting to the changing times and what Wondrous is doing next.
Red Bull: You have a long and productive history with breaking that spans 17 years. How did you get started with it?
Franklin Gin: I always had music in my life, such as playing the piano and violin for 10-plus years, and also dabbling in sport—swimming, soccer, football. In freshman year, I met my friend Jason, he goes by Bboy Chem, and we started breaking in our high school cafeteria after school. It was a giant group of friends that slowly dwindled to a couple of dedicated dancers, but we kept practicing, maybe two hours every day.
Is that who you started your crew, Floor Obsession, with?
No, I joined the crew later on, when I was 16. The person I started with, his older brother was a member of that crew. He helped teach us and gave us a connect with the New York City breakers.
When did you get the idea to start your own studio? Was it always in the back of your mind, or was there someone or something that inspired you?
It’s hard to pinpoint! I’m Taiwanese-American, and I would visit Taiwan maybe every three years and visit studios over there such as TBC (The Best Crew) and HRC (Hyper Rush Crew). The studio scene over there is more developed, and seeing what was possible with breaking was so inspiring. Rather than just having a dance studio with a breaking segment, it was flipped around: breaking was the main focus, and they branched out to other dances.
Had you been visiting dance studios in New York City?
Yeah, I actually didn’t practice in a dance studio until maybe three or four years down the line. It was generally pretty hard to practice in a studio. We were always fighting to find and keep practice spots. Back then, the respect that I saw for the Bboy culture in New York City was not as great as what I saw from the international scene.
So you realized it would be really helpful to have a dedicated space in New York City?
Yeah, I created Wondrous in 2016, but around 2015 I was at a big crossroads in my life. I knew that I wanted to pursue dance further on, and there were a couple different paths I could take: moving to LA and trying to do the commercial dance scene, trying to join a dance company and tour with them, or stay in New York City and try to build something that maybe wasn’t there before I thought of it.
You obviously made the right move, because you created the first studio of its kind in the city, which is amazing considering New York City is the birthplace of hip hop. Do you feel like starting the studio was a way to keep that culture and legacy going?
Of course! I definitely saw there was a lack of things that should have been in place for New York City. It was confusing. Why wasn’t there a studio like this before? Why wasn’t there an entity that was continually fighting for the culture? Also, promoters or organizers weren’t so synchronized, so we didn’t really work with each other as we do now. Back then, when I went to a jam, basic things like having a ground to dance on that was clean and safe was sometimes overlooked. I understand that there’s an underground aspect to this dance and we’ll do it anywhere, anytime, but at the same time we’ve got to look out for ourselves and our fellow dancers and their wellbeing.
Connecting with the community is an important part of it, too. Obviously you’re paying back to the culture by passing on your skills through the teaching. But you’re also paying tribute to Bboy and Bgirl legends on the Wondrous Instagram by sharing what you call “history lessons!”
I think it’s just knowledge and it should be shared. For someone who’s been dancing for one or two years, just finding one clip that will inspire them can be huge. I also do it as an ode to the people who are still in it, but who maybe don’t get the shine they deserve. There are so many amazing dancers who are either moving away or they stopped dancing because they’re injured, or they’re still grinding away but not getting that same shine. I don’t want them to be forgotten.
Is there a particular story behind the name Wondrous?
I didn’t want to name it something like “breaking studio” or “break”-something; I wanted to separate it a bit. I think Wondrous encapsulates the moment when someone first watches breaking, and that amazement, like, ‘Holy moly! Is this guy really doing what he’s doing?’ or ‘Is this girl really doing that?’ They have that spark. That’s kinda wondrous.
Who’s been coming through Wondrous? Do you find your students have a really broad range of ages and backgrounds?
Yeah, it’s amazing! I teach equally boys and girls, young to old. I have regulars that are 30, 40, maybe pushing 50! I threw an event for the studio’s one-year anniversary, and my mom and my sister came by, and they pulled me aside and were like, ‘I’ve never seen such a diverse group just hanging out having a great time.’ Maybe I don’t see it because I’ve been in the scene for so long, but that was a moment I was like, ‘Wow, this is normal for us, but maybe for an outsider they don’t get as much of a melting pot, on a normal basis.’
That’s New York City. Obviously this year has been really challenging, but you’ve been keeping busy hosting classes on Zoom, as well as private lessons and one-minute tutorials on Instagram.
It’s like my ADD is really hitting and I’m trying to do everything! I’m just trying to navigate the space and see what works and what doesn’t. With COVID, it saddens me, because I have this space where usually 20 to 50 dancers come in every day and there’s this energy that always flows, but obviously now they can’t come in like that. I still want to bring the energy out somehow, because I think it’s important that everyone has that connection. So I’m trying to find a way.
What’s the situation now? Is the studio still closed for in-person sessions?
So in New York City, for dance studios, they’ve been super strict. You don’t get the okay to open up unless you get a health inspector come through. And even when that happens you can only operate at certain capacities. So I’m just doing private and zoom classes with maybe one or two students in-studio. I recently announced an Artist Residency, so hopefully we can get some dancers in the space on their own time, privately, and they can work on their stuff. I’m also trying to put dates in the future for people to look forward to. Obviously that’s always pending, but I think it’s important to keep planning.
You’ve been a great motivator through this time, and this residency seems like another great idea and an exciting opportunity for people. That’s due to start next month, right?
Yeah, hopefully. November 15th is the deadline, and then we’ll start November 20, and it’ll be a good five months that they can work on stuff. It’s funny though, I’ve been getting a lot of responses, but most of them are contemporary dancers, not that many street dancers. They’re new to that area [residencies], so maybe they’re shy or just taking a bit longer to apply. We’ll see how it goes.
People are slowly adapting and becoming more flexible—we’ve all been forced to do that. On that note, you’ve been posting videos of people breaking in some unusual places, like skate parks, concrete parking lots, on grass… Have you also found yourself breaking in different spots?
Of course! I think every Bboy and Bgirl, when they go to a new location, the first thing they notice is the floor. I remember walking around a mall thinking ‘this floor would be so good to practice on!’ But yeah, dance is just about connecting, and art is about connecting. The scene where I grew up, in the beginning, was a bit more enclosed; breaking culture was breaking culture only. Now, I think people want to celebrate the connection by breaking at a skatepark, connecting the two different things; reaching with a wider net.
That’s awesome. What’s your favorite part of Wondrous? Passing on your skills, getting to know other breakers, developing new techniques together?
It’s definitely all of the above. Seeing the moment when your student just gets something they’ve been working so hard on—that moment is priceless. And working on my own craft and seeing where that grows, or even practice sessions and seeing that people are getting better and they’re taking on the world.