London’s oldest breakdancer dies at 91
Tributes are paid to Ralf Gey, inspirational pensioner and community activist
16 February, 2018 — By Helen Chapman
Ralf busting some moves at Pineapple Studios
THE oldest breakdancer in London has died, leaving friends fondly recalling how he was still busting street-wise dance moves in his nineties.
While others in their silver-haired years took up more sedate hobbies, Ralf Gey, 91, would spend his time showing off his dance mat spins. One tutorial he recorded in his 80s has been viewed thousands of times on the video-sharing site.
“The floor has got to be right, what you’re wearing has got to be right, and you’ve got to keep the whole thing right,” Mr Gey said in his advice to new starters. “It’s easy to tip over if you’re not exactly balanced. You have a lot of freezes and a lot of these freezes are one-armed freezes where you have to jump up into some sort of position. I got my biceps from doing these freezes.”
Watch Ralf Gey break-dancing in a video shared on YouTube
His friends said he passed away at the end of December after suffering from leukaemia.
Mr Gey, who lived in Betterton Street, was treasurer of the Covent Garden Community Association in his home neighbourhood.
He initially took up dance lessons to help his recovery after suffering injuries to his face in a car crash in his native Canada in the 1950s. Friend Jackie Welbourne said: “It was between ballet or judo, so he got into dancing to try and find some strength but also to be dancing around beautiful women.”
And that was indeed how he met his wife Edith, a professional ballet dancer, who he moved to England to be with. Tragedy struck when Edith was killed in 1973, aged 40, in a taxi taking dancers back to London from a show in Brighton; it collided with a police car.
Ms Welbourne said this led to Mr Gey “becoming a recluse for six months”. She was 18 when she met him at the Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden. “He would talk in the class and I would tell him to shut up,” she said. “I lost my father when I was 18. Ralf stepped in and supported a lot.”
When Ms Welbourne performed in a circus, Mr Gey tagged along and learned trapeze – by this time in his 60s. When it came to breakdancing, Ms Welbourne said her friend would say he did it “so he wouldn’t have to get up off the floor”. He kept it up until falling ill. In the Covent Garden Community Association, Mr Gey campaigned to protect the old market against high-rise development.
Fellow activist Alan Spence said: “We had a victory in stopping it being transformed into something like Canary Wharf.”
Ms Welbourne added: “Ralf was a humanist who cared about people. He was very open-minded and always loved meeting new people of all ages and backgrounds and striking up new conversations. He really was an inspiration to everyone – how we should keep our minds and bodies active and not ‘grow old’.”