Ken Swift

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Ken Swift
Born Kenneth James Gabbert
Nationality Puerto Rican
Known for B-boying
Movement Hip hop

Ken Swift (born Kenneth James Gabbert) is a second generation B-boy, or breakdancer, and former Vice President of the Rock Steady Crew of which he was a longtime member and key figure. He is now President of the Breaklife and VII Gems Hip Hop movement in NYC. Widely known in the B-Boy world as "the Epitome of a B-Boy," Ken Swift is credited with the creation of many dance moves. Ken Swift is nearly universally considered by B-Boys to be the individual who has had the greatest influence on break dancing.[1] Ken Swift began B-Boying in 1978 at the age of twelve when he was inspired by dancers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Ken Swift has several film credits to his name, including "Style Wars", the first Hip Hop documentary, and the first hip-hop major motion picture, "Wild Style". His most famous movie was 1983's hit "Flashdance", where his two-minute dance with several members of the Rock Steady Crew launched the Hip-Hop scene into national attention. Ken Swift also danced in the motion picture "Beat Street".


Ken Swift's exposure to breaking first began in Manhattan where he encountered dancers participating in a then-popular street dance known as Uprocking. In 1978, an affiliate of Ken Swift's, referred to as Dante, was the first person he claimed to have seen do the floor moves that made up breakdancing.[2] Frosty Freeze, an original member of the Rock Steady Crew, had approached Swift and later cultivated him to become a fellow member of the crew. As a B-Boy, Ken Swift's name originally was "Kid Zoom," and had gone through consistent changes that include, "Ken Rok," "Ken Ski," " and "Prince Ken Swift" before finally being settled as just "Ken Swift". The Village Voice published the article "Breaking is Hard To Do," which influenced a greater audience to garner an interest in Hip Hop and B-Boying. Along with several other members of Rock Steady Crew, Ken Swift performed regularly in local clubs at events such as Negril, Danceteria, the Kitchen and the Roxy, and he participated in the world’s very first International Hip Hop tour "New York City Rap".[1]

Present Day[edit]

As of today, Ken Swift is heralded as one of the greatest influences on Hip Hop culture, and a legend in the breakdancing community. He has participated in and judged dance competitions throughout the world in countries such as France, Switzerland, Sweden, China, South Africa, Finland, Italy, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Venezuela, Norway, Germany, Canada, Japan, Belgium, Russia, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the throughout the U.S.[3] Because of his skill and reputation in the B-Boy scene, Ken became a member of the 1999 U.S. Team “1st Platoon,” which took first place out of six other countries in a dance competition known as "The Korea World Cup".[1] Although he is currently not an active member of Rock Steady Crew, he still considers himself to be a credible representation of the group. In 2004, Ken Swift is working on various projects with Inferno & Premo Entertainment, run by his affiliates Dante and Premo. Swift's office resides above their club in Williamsburg known as Brooklyn Sole, and the downstairs club is used for training and teaching classes.[2] At a local Manhattan elementary school, P.S. 84, with a grant from the New York Historical Society, Ken organized a course for 7-11 year olds entitled “The History of Hip Hop Culture in New York: Focusing on Dance” and in 2004, Ken founded “The Ken Swift School of Hip Hop Fundamentals” at Breaklife Studios in Brooklyn, New York, to allow for an environment for others to learn the art and history of Hip Hop.[1]

Influence and Legacy[edit]

During the period in which Hip Hop and breaking were gaining national attention, Ken's original footwork and overall style became an integral part of B-Boying and is recognized as a blueprint for the dance. As a dancer, he continues to innovate and improve upon original foundation moves; though his style was viewed as “new school” in the past, today, it is considered fundamental for breaking.[1] In August, 1996, Ken Swift was on the cover of “Rap Pages,” making him the first B-Boy ever to be on the cover of a major Hip Hop. The popular article, "Past, Present, Future: Ken Swift The Quintessential B-Boy" portrayed and Ken Swift as pioneer of B-Boying and reaffirmed him as a fundamental figure in the Hip Hop community. He choreographed and performed in a world premiere dance piece for the ceremony entitled "Super Disco Breaks,” which also premiered its first B-Boy battle, hosted and co-judged by Ken Swift himself.[1] In 1999, Hip Hop Culture was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for which Ken was asked to produce an installation. He founded a dance company in 1996, known as VII Gems, which aims to spread the knowledge and preservation of New York City traditional dances such as Breaking and Rocking.[3] Due to his contributions in the B-Boy and Hip Hop culture, Ken Swift has received two Lifetime Achievement Awards, both from credible members and groups within the Hip Hop community. In addition to these major awards, Ken Swift has received other awards including an Appreciation Award from Seoul Arts College, a Hall of Fame Living Legend Award from the Korean Tourism Agency, the Award of Recognition at the Coffey Park Old School Reunion, a Zulu Nation Achievement Award in Belgium, an Appreciation Award in Brazil, and most recently, a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ultimate B-Boy Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also in 2010, Ken was awarded the National Endowment for the Art's American Masterpieces in Dance award to reconstruct his choreography with Olive Dance Theatre in a show titled "Swift Solos: The Re-Construction of KEN SWIFT’s 20th Century Breakin’," which tours cities in the United States throughout 2010.[3]




  1. ^ a b c d e f Hip Hop Elements article. Retrieved November 10, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Dumas, Lisa. Shine Magazine article. Retrieved November 10, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Red Bull BC One website. Retrieved November 10, 2010.