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Community hip-hop project to hit TV

Amanda Vaughan
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 14, 2008

NUNAVUT - Stephen Leafloor has a master's degree in social work and 25 years of experience in the field, and the most effective tool in his arsenal of skills is the ability to breakdance.

"I am doing the most powerful social work I have ever done in my life," he told Nunavut News/North last week.

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During the filming of a documentary in Cambridge Bay, Sandi Vincent and Sarah Jancke throat sing while Ben Jammin from BluePrint For Life adds some beatbox accompaniment. - photo courtesy of Stephen Leafloor

Leafloor is the founder of the group Blueprint for Life, a travelling crew of youth workers and hip-hop instructors who have visited many Nunavut communities to reach out to youth with life skills and counselling. The group communicates life lessons using the medium of hip-hop music and "b-boying" or "b-girling," as he describes their breakdance style.

An hour-long documentary on their project in Cambridge Bay will be airing on Global TV April 19, and Leafloor can hardly wait for the national audience. He said they have been featured in various news media before, however he is eager to see more of their story hit the airwaves than can be told in a five-minute news clip.

"How do you tell a person's story in that period of time?" he said, adding the film was able to take a more comprehensive look at his work and even follow some of the kids into their homes.

The soul of Leafloor's work involves bringing a part of pop culture to youth which they are already enjoying, but showing it to them in a different light, and teaching them how to make it their own.

He said many kids in the isolated communities of Nunavut are seeing hip-hop culture on television and emulating the worst parts of it, without realizing the true meaning of its origins.

"Hip hop is all about finding your own voice," he said, explaining that the style of music, dress, dance and life sprang from a desire to express one's self and overcome hardship.

"It's a survival toolkit and it works the same in Cambridge Bay as it does in the South Bronx," he said.

In Nunavut, the genre takes on a new light entirely, as Leafloor said it is easy to mesh with many aspects of traditional Inuit culture, allowing him to teach the kids he works with to enjoy their own heritage, and most importantly, make it their own.

"If you tell kids to be just like their parents, they will rebel in any part of the world," he said.

Instead, Blueprint for Life teaches Inuit youth how throat singing is similar to beat-boxing and can set the stage for an energetic dance competition just the same, and how "bling" carved from caribou antler can be just as significant as gold or diamonds.

Leafloor said the group comes into a community for no less than a week, sometimes taking over all school instruction as well, involving parents, teachers and elders in the community in an effort to bridge generation and social gaps.

"I have pictures of little old ladies on the decks doing some scratching," he said.

In addition to the TV slot, the documentary was screened on Parliament Hill last week, and Leafloor said he just found out last Wednesday that Canadian North was flying director Randy Kelly up to Cambridge Bay for a private screening of the documentary with the participants the day before it airs on Global TV.

The TV slot is on a show called Global Currents, and there is a synopsis and photos on the Global TV website.

Leafloor said his group's website also has videos and photos of their many other projects, as well as information about their mission and origins.