"I can blend in with a lot of different crowds. I can be a Hip-Hop head, and a blue collar worker. I can hang out with multiple different cultures. I can go hang out with the military grunts. I want to be the person that bridges those two world together."
Briana Pritchard refuses to be pigeonholed. As SNAP 1, one of the most well-respected B-girls in the world, she is in the conversation about representing the United States in the Olympics in Paris in 2024 when breaking becomes an official event. As Staff Sergeant Pritchard, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter mechanic and crew chief from Anchorage, Alaska, she is both first female from her state to go to the instructor course, and the first to graduate with honors.
When I reach Pritchard in Iraq to speak about her breaking career, she makes it abundantly clear that her passion and profession can coexist without either suffering.
"The Army Timeswrote anarticleabout me, and a lot of people right off of the bat just assumed I probably sucked at my job or something," Pritchard says. "Or, that I spentallmy time spinning on my head and practicing breaking. I want to prove that I am very stellar at my job. I'mreallygood. I'm one of the best at my job. I've proven it time and time and time again. I want to prove that you can be good at your job, and be good at your passion. You don't have to suck at one to be good at the other. You can be phenomenal at both. But you have to be disciplined. You have to give it your all every day."
Dressed in an oversized beanie and a T-shirt, Pritchard settles onto her bed which is flanked by photos and a Pittsburgh Penguins flag. If I didn't know any better, I might assume this ,was a dorm room. But it's not. Pritchard is serving her first tour of duty after ten years in the Army— something that is equally important to her as graduating with honors was.
"I understand that the Olympics are starting to start up, and qualifiers are happening and whatnot, but this is still another goal of mine, too," she says. "I didn't want to serve my military career and not go on a deployment."
Pritchard's passion and profession both stem from her adolescence in Anchorage. She admits that she was a natural born athlete who dreamed of representing her country in either hockey or softball. However, when she was 17, she got her first glance of breaking — which ultimately won out over the sports she had played since she was a little girl.
"I was drawn to the moves," she says, "I was like, 'Oh man, this is a dance, yes. But there's also a physical aspect to it.' I was watching the moves and I was like, 'Man, I'm strong enough to do those.; So I learned the moves, and then once I started meeting more and more people who danced, is when I actually started being introduced to the Hip-Hop culture itself."
"My mind was more blown, because it was literally a whole new world to me."
Pritchard acknowledges that her, "I-suck-at-this phase" lasted quite a while because she had to understand how to blend her natural physicality with the actual dancing aspect of breaking. While this, of course, was hard for someone who seems like a perfectionist, Prichard embraced the challenge of segueing from "athlete" to "artist."
"I never thought myself [as a] creative until I [had] this dance and this culture."
While many see breaking for the physicality that it requires — twisting, spinning, and scoffing at the laws of gravity — Pritchard hard to learn that there was a lot more to just being, "hard hitting, and throwing moves." Without musicality, a groove, and a natural flow between the more physically demanding moves, there is no actual dance.
"I had a wack foundation," she admits. "It took me damn near 10 years to actually know the foundation of our dance."
As Pritchard tries to explain this idea of entering a flow state, we settle on something of a combination of Neo in The Matrix, and a chess grandmaster who can see multiple moves ahead.
"It's a phenomenal feeling that I am addicted to," she says. "So I played all the sports, right? And I've done all these things, even in the military, liked jumped out of planes, and this is that, and the other. I've had all these thrills, but that thrill of what you just talked about, like being in the zone and just hitting that music that you love with your body in these amazing different ways, it's such a good feeling. It's a great feeling of release, connectivity."
"It's a great feeling that we all as dancers are constantly chasing after."
While it's certainly hard enough to be a top-level breaker — one with Olympic aspirations — Pritchard's military career can be traced back to a childhood. She cites the character Vasquez (played by Janette Goldstein) from Aliens — the large gun toting bad ass — as an early role model who embodied strength and grit.
"I was going to go the route of being in infantry or something like that, but at the time they didn't have it open for females," she says. "So I was like, 'All right, well I'll do something else. I'll fix helicopters, that sounds pretty bad-ass.'"
When she was 19 she shipped off to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and then on to Virginia for helicopter maintenance school. As she was ascending to the top of her class, she too was becoming a better and better breaker. By 2016, she had won B-Girl City — something she cites as one of the defining moments in her breaking career. And yet, she seems to relish more in her ability to bridge the gap between her two worlds, rather than fighting to keep them separate.
"The military thinks that Hip-Hoppers are just thugs that can't speak proper grammar, or aren't educated," she says. "And then the Hip-Hop heads think that the military on't know anything about life, or are very closed-minded. So of course, the Olympics is the big dream. But in all reality, I want to be that bridge. I want to be the people's champ. The people's role model, that's what I want to be. Not just for females, either. For both. For all different cultures."
With the 2024 Olympics in Pritchard's sights, she admits — despite her tough facade — that the emotions representing her country on the inaugural breaking team might win out over her normal stoic state.
"My dad was a phenomenal hockey player and he wanted to go to the Olympics," Pritchard says. "He's the one who really instilled this drive into me. So to be able to see my dad, and just my country, and to walk into the stadium with Team USA, would bring me to tears."