Break dancing might have seemed like a fad, but not to its practitioners. Several early kings of the form appear in the lively documentary...

Break dancing might have seemed like a fad, but not to its practitioners. Several early kings of the form appear in the lively documentary “Planet B-Boy,” explaining what they knew all along: break dancing is serious art.

It’s certainly serious to today’s break-dancers. Part of a hip-hop culture that began in the ’70s, break dancing is both about self-expression and teamwork. “Planet B-Boy” follows the endeavors of many young men from around the world who join dance crews and compete in frenetic, international competitions. If they’re lucky, they can also make money performing for arena-size crowds.

At least, that is, they can do it for a while. One of the most striking themes in “Planet B-Boy” is that break dancing offers a narrow window of time for performers to hone their style and skills. The intense athleticism involved is peculiar to youth.

Also, as we learn from the dancers in this film, youth is often under pressure to give up dreams and conform to social expectations.

South Korean dancers, for instance, understand they will eventually face two years of mandatory military service during which dance will be prohibited. It’s no surprise that the two Korean teams in the film, the Gamblerz and Last for One, compete with everything they’ve got and do well in international tournaments.

Filmmaker Benson Lee spends a lot of time with each group, as well as Knucklehead Zoo from the United States, Ichigeki from Japan and Phase T from France. About half the film focuses on the backgrounds of team members and their unique aspirations.

In Japan, a fellow who works in his family’s tea shop yearns for his late father and appears deeply moved when his mother and brother express support for his dancing. Just outside of Paris, a young dancer grimaces as his mother makes racist remarks.

The rest of the film is an exhausting record of a tournament in Germany. The seemingly endless performances can be a bit much, but Lee’s sensitivity to the need of these dancers to say something about themselves through dazzling moves is memorable.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com