This must be what atoms look like just before they split: tiny, clustered together, quivering with barely contained energy, ready to explode.
Then a shout: "Rock it out!"
And the dance studio comes alive with jumping, spinning bodies. They drop, they roll, they strut, they pose. On their backs, on their heads, on their butts, they pretzel up and whirl madly.
As the pulsing music booms through the narrow studio, they move in a controlled frenzy — bouncing, dropping, popping back up again.
Suddenly, another shout from Jake Riley: "Criss-cross applesauce!"
The session dribbles to a close as the tiny dancers grudgingly fold themselves up and sit, cross-legged, ready to learn from the tall, muscular studio owner who's bringing South Bronx street moves to Twin Cities suburbia.
The first time Riley saw break dancing, he didn't know what it was. But he knew he wanted to do it.
It was at a junior high talent show in Brooklyn Center. Riley, now 23, was 13 when a crew of Hmong breakers took the stage and spun his life into a new orbit.
"They were on their hands, flipping and tumbling," he said. "I saw how explosive it was, how exciting it was. People were going crazy."
He found a VHS copy of "You Got Served" at a video store — a hip-hop tale of two friends who must win a street dance contest to realize their dream of opening a dance studio. With a 16 percent rating on RottenTomatoes.com, the movie wasn't a critical darling. But to Riley, it might as well have been "Citizen Kane."
He watched it over and over, mimicking the moves — a painful process of self-instruction that included a hernia, a broken elbow and a case of arthritis.
In his mom's basement between surgeries, he transformed himself into Boogie B, a regular at local break battles. Within five years, he joined the 1st Avenue Breakers crew, which performs at Timberwolves games.
Just like the B-boys in "You Got Served," Riley dreamed of opening his own studio. So, with a business degree from North Hennepin Community College and $5,000 from a GoFundMe campaign, he opened House of Dance in 2014 with his wife, Bao Lee, and a partner, Jason Yang.
Since its opening, House of Dance has grown from nine students to more than 100. Riley tries to keep the prices affordable; a typical eight-lesson course costs about $150. And although classes are offered for all ages, including adults, the studio focuses on young kids.
"That's our target," Riley said. "At 13, 14, 15, the kids start to get self-critical, and it's not as much fun."
From street to studio
Hip-hop and break dancing began on the streets of the South Bronx in the 1970s and grew with rap music. Now, decades later, the dance world is accepting this street art as a serious genre worthy of study.
Hip-hop, an umbrella term that includes break dancing, "is being seen as a very important dance form and dance style. It's becoming something to learn about," said Ashley Selmer, a Minneapolis dance professional and creative director for the Shapeshift dance company. "It's seen as this awesome art form that kids absolutely should be learning about and doing."
And if you think break dancing disappeared with MC Hammer's parachute pants, think again.
"Breaking never went away," Selmer said. "It's always been here in the community, on the sidewalks and the streets."
In the Twin Cities area, breaking has thrived in the Hmong community. Jay Vue, an instructor at House of Dance, learned it from his uncles.
"They used to practice in the kitchen," said Vue, aka Malvin X. Now Vue's younger cousins are learning from him. "They don't know what I do for a job, but they know I break dance," he said.
Mainstream recognition of the community came last month, when Tou SaiKo Lee, a Hmong hip-hop artist and DJ from St. Paul, was named a Bush fellow. The prestigious award is worth up to $100,000; Lee will travel to Thailand and explore traditional cultural themes to translate for a hip-hop audience.
'It's like flying'
Back at the studio, Riley's class is wrapping up. The parents are gathering up their little dancers and heading for the parking lot.
LaTasha Crandall has a long way to go. She drives 90 minutes from Spring Valley, Wis., with her 6-year-old twins, Tegan and Jax. Her boys picked up break dancing from TV and started doing it at home. She found House of Dance on the Web and signed them up for lessons, and not just to study the dance.
"They're building relationships, learning to follow instructions, working as a team," she said. "They're learning things without even knowing. And, of course, it's a good way to burn off energy."
Don Johnson, a Robbinsdale wrestling coach, sees similarities between wrestling and breaking for his 8-year-old son, Donny.
"A lot of it is using your momentum," Johnson said, adding that Riley is "an exceptional coach."
Seven-year-old Paxton Mueller "was always bopping around the house," said his mother, Molly Morton of Bloomington. "And we noticed that he was actually pretty good."
Paxton is among the wiggliest of the students when the teacher calls for order. When Riley sets them loose to dance, he's like a racehorse let off the halter.
"It's like flying and spinning on a ride," Paxton said. "I wish I could do it every day."
John Reinan • 612-673-7402