When not wrenching on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for 40 hours a week, one Alaska Army National Guardsman trades in her flight suit for a pair of sneakers and the dance floor.
Sgt. Brianna McMillen is a crew chief with 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, and has served five years in the Alaska Army National Guard. The crew chief seat however, takes a backseat to her true passion: break dancing.
Break dancing, or breaking, is a musical art form that incorporates a style of street dance typically danced to certain ranges of tempo and beat patterns like hip-hop and funk music.
McMillen, an Anchorage native and 2010 graduate of South Anchorage High School, said she became interested in breaking about eight years ago. “I saw a couple kids break dancing at my high school and I thought that the moves they were doing were really cool and crazy,” she said.
When she started, McMillen practiced alone in her garage. “I was shy about it at first,” she said. “I’ve always been athletic and liked music, but never really had any natural groove.”
There is depth, culture and thrill to the break dancing scene which encompasses graffiti, DJ-iing, rapping and dancing, McMillen explained. The terms b-boy, b-girl and breaker are used to describe the performers, who usually use nicknames or performance names.
“I go by B-Girl Snap One,” she said. “Snap because I’m actually double jointed and one was added because I am the only b-girl up in Alaska.”
The style of acrobatic dancing has been around since the mid-1970s, growing in popularity as it made its appearances in countries like the United Kingdom and Japan. However, McMillen explained that there are few break dancers in Alaska.
“The hip-hop scene in Anchorage is very small. We are so very far away from the rest of the hip-hop scene in the United States and in the world,” she said, who hopes to one day represent the U.S. at an international competition.
Breaking, Soldiering Require Discipline
McMillen believes anyone can do incredible things if they put enough time and passion into their craft.
“Some people do it on their own, but 90 percent of break dancers have a group or crew that they’re with,” she said. “You train, travel, practice and ultimately, grow up with them. When it gets hard and you want to quit, you’re with all these people that you’ve been through so much with and you don’t want to leave.”
McMillen explained that the close relationships in her break-dancing crew are not the only parallel with Army life. Self-discipline is the key to success both in break dancing and the military, she said, crediting the Army with helping her become disciplined.
“We are all athletes and need to treat our bodies right,” McMillen said. “I think break dancing helps with my [Army] physical training.”
McMillen often exceeds a perfect score on the Army physical fitness test. “A lot of females have difficulties lifting their own body weight and ... all that I do when break dancing is lift my own body weight,” she said.
“The Army National Guard gives great opportunities for those who are seeking to better themselves in their own way,” McMillen said.
McMillen joined the military with a deep admiration for family members that had gone before her. An added bonus was the help in paying for her education, which she puts into use as a part-time college student at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“I am pursuing a degree in health and physical fitness to be a personal trainer and later a physical therapist,” she said.
The self-discipline she acquired through breaking and her military training has set McMillen on a path toward success. She graduated with honors from basic combat and advanced individual training and from the Warrior Leader Course -- the Army’s first step on the professional leader development ladder.
And her physical and mental toughness were continually tested as she attended the Basic Airborne School and took part in the Alaska Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.
McMillen said she has made it her goal to show women that they are both physically and mentally capable.
“Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t become the best that you can be at something. If that means that I’m not going to be a world champion, then that’s fine. I just want to know that I’m the best that I can be at that one thing.”
“A person should always strive for something; if you’re not, then what are you living for?” McMillen added.