From ritual performer to gang member, Taiwanese break dancer Chen Bo-jin (陳柏均) has defied the odds over the years, turning from a life of fighting to dancing, which led to him being named one of five winners at Taiwan’s 11th Presidential Culture Awards on Sept. 10.
For Chen, who is also known as Bboy Bojin, the award — which is given to people for long-term dedication to and success in the nation’s cultural scene — is the culmination of a long journey to turn his life around.
“This is big recognition for me,” the 39-year-old said. “While there are a lot of people involved in the art of break dancing, we are still not the mainstream.”
Photo courtesy of Chen Bo-jin via CNA
Before becoming an influential figure in Taiwan’s break dancing scene, he was a ba jiajiang (“eight generals,” 八家將) troupe member — temple performers said to be responsible for the capture of evil spirits and bringing good luck — and a gang member.
When Chen was young, he was drawn to martial arts, as he liked to watch Bruce Lee (李小龍) films and read Japanese manga such as Dragon Ball.
The agile movements of Lee called to the already nimble Chen, who was raised in Yilan County.
At about age 10, Chen made his foray into break dancing when he was exposed to LA Boyz, Taiwan’s first hip-hop group.
The performances of the now-disbanded trio introduced Chen to street athletics and urban clothing, and he was motivated to start break dancing and skateboarding.
Soon after discovering break dancing, Chen — under the Bboy Bojin persona — took his first steps into the world of throw downs. The endless hours of practice made Chen feel alive, doing what he felt born to do.
Unfortunately, bullying ended his passion for the art form. Browbeating from older kids who did not understand break dancing snuffed out his passion, and for a while, Bboy Bojin ceased to exist, Chen said.
The emotional and physical torment he endured led him to seek out violence in his teens, when he believed that “power meant everything.”
A life of fighting and troublemaking followed, and Chen often found himself in police custody, as he had joined a gang when he was in junior-high school, he said.
Following years fighting and havoc, Chen enrolled at Taipei Municipal Heping High School. He was still an angry youth, believing that his fists should do the talking. It was not until he joined an urban dance club at the school that he found his anchor in life.
He was saved from a life of crime thanks to the friends he made in the dance club, Chen said.
When Chen’s passion for dance reignited, he vowed never to stop dancing.
However, it was not a decision that his family supported.
“To practice my headspin, I had to hide a helmet in my schoolbag,” he said. “One day, my dad saw the helmet and he grabbed it and beat me with it. When I came to, I was in a hospital bed.”
The lack of support from his family did not stop Chen, who persevered and developed his signature dance style, which incorporates breaking and his martial arts skills.
In 2006, Bboy Bojin represented Taiwan at the Battle of the Year, the world’s top annual break dancing competition.
The sheer strength of his performance garnered him recognition as the ninth-best break dancer in the world, and he returned in 2011 to place third.
Chen took home gold in 2016, leading a Taiwanese troupe to win the Battle in Shanghai, a separate competition.
His achievements led to a consultancy role and a place on the judges’ panel at the World DanceSport Federation.
Since then, Chen has been dedicated to promoting and fostering a new generation of Taiwanese break dancers.
Chen has also helped boost Taiwan’s international visibility by advocating for the inclusion of break dancing at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
At age 39, Chen said he understands that Bboy Bojin can no longer dominate the stage. Instead, he has been giving small performances and coaching young dancers.
He has also regained his passion for martial arts and has been learning Muay Thai and jujutsu. He is involved in mixed martial arts, moving his impressive physique from the stage to the cage.
Chen was named winner of the Presidential Culture Awards for Creativity and Innovation in recognition of his contribution to break dancing and his efforts to nurture young Taiwanese talent.
On hearing the news, Chen said that young people should not give up in the face of adversity.
“As long as you have great determination, you can accomplish your wildest of dreams,” he said.
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