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The big break

In hip-hop, there's lots of talk about "back in the day." But for 3 DOT Productions' Ernesto D, a more appropriate motto might be "seize the day."

Along with partner Van Truong, Ernesto organized the b-boy-battle/hip-hop-culture series Breaklanta. Ernesto, 26, has been throwing events in Atlanta for two years, but he's been organizing parties for much longer. Ernesto was throwing house parties in his hometown of Flint, Mich., back in ninth grade. He and friend DJ Rolando (a Breaklanta participant who lives in New York) even organized a high-school freestyle event, rapping about books studied in English class.

"I used to break back in the day, and still do — though I'm not one of those OG's who's been breaking nonstop," Ernesto says. "But I like to consider myself a b-boy for life. And I've always wanted to do more than throw a well-organized party, but also celebrate hip-hop culture."

The result was Breaklanta, which is now in its third installment. The first event featured a DJ scratch battle, pop-n-lock competition and crew battle. A subsequent event, Beat-Roca, proved an effective testing ground for an MC battle, and graffiti and literary competitions. These elements were eased into Breaklanta II, along with a b-girl solo battle and a strictly poppin' battle (poppin' and lockin', though often referred to together, are separate West Coast styles).

Breaklanta III features the same elements broken into two days. A hundred MCs battle Friday night; all other events happen Saturday, allowing the few-thousand attendees to dance and bond after battling for cash and prizes.

B-boy culture emerged in '70s New York as a nonviolent means to channel inner-city tensions and earn and express mutual respect. The origins of the b-boying form of dance, however, have been traced by some to late-'60s James Brown. Depending on who you ask, the "b" in b-boy(girl) stands for "break," "boogie," "Bronx" or the African word boioing, which means to "hop, jump." The most appropriate of those is "break," as breakdancing is the catchall for the styles of dance that evolved around record "breaks," the percussion breakdown loops on which hip-hop was formed. And while aerosol art and MCing also would come to be associated with b-boy culture, it originally encompassed only dance.

Totem, of Burn Unit crew, is a first-generation Atlanta b-boy, and he teaches breakin' at Georgia Tech and Emory. One of Breaklanta III's judges, he sees Breaklanta as an extension of the city's harmonious scene. But he does emphasize the difference between a partygoer and a b-boy.

"I don't like people watching and taking moves without learning the foundations and philosophies," he says. "It's like learning how to run before learning how to stand — and you end up hurting yourself. Dancing at a rave and breakin' is like the difference between jumping and performing martial arts."

But Totem is open to helping people discover b-boyin'.

"What's good about battlers in Atlanta is it seems respect is never lost — it can only be gained," he says. "People sometimes wonder why I'd hand a fortysomething guy a flyer. But hip-hop is for everybody. It's a real positive thing; it's not an ethnicity thing. With Atlanta so centrally located, we're trying to make this a national thing."

Breaklanta III takes place Fri.-Sat., Jan. 31-Feb. 1, at the Atrium. www.breaklanta.com. 404-505-9599.