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Featuring: Otis Funkmeyer

There are some, who are a little interested in popping, that may try out one move before giving up. There are some who like it a lot and learn a small set of moves. There are those who get obsessed and practice hard every day. Then we have the zealots, the ones consumed by everything related to popping. These people have forgotten more about popping then most of us will ever know.

Otis Funkmeyer may be the number one zealot in popping. And he may not look like anything you would expect. The more you find out about Funkmeyer, the more you see how he breaks many preconceived expectations and conventions.

In his videos, he kids himself for being a stereotypical white guy born with little talent or rhythm. He had to work damn hard to get to his level, but he accumulated a giant body of knowledge in the process. His tutorials and articles go into deeper detail then other tutorials, often focusing on the points where most novices go wrong. Even more fascinating is his knowledge about the history of popping. I now know the names of a large set of poppers because they were mentioned by Funkmeyer.

I first heard of Funkmeyer when he wrote a touching article after Skeeter Rabbit’s suicide (written under his name Brit Wolfson). I later found out that he was one of the co-founders of Elastic Illusion, the dance company whose tutorials got me into popping. He now produces his own tutorials on youtube and frequently writes articles for westcoastpoppin.com.

I contacted him for an email interview. His response was true to his nature. He provided the most detailed reply I could have expected. While some of his answers confirmed what I knew or suspected, others caught me completely by surprise.

A short, skinny white guy is already unusual for a popper, but I never suspected how much of an outsider he was in his upbringing. He grew up in Arundel, Maine, in a city with only 2,000 inhabitants. His nearest neighbor was half a mile away, and his household didn’t even have a television until he turned thirteen. He pursued a math major in college (he had highly advanced mathematical skills, in his own words).

What got him to throw all of this away and enter a culture that is alien to his upbringing?

The answer is a little family unfriendly. A frequent raver in his later adolescence, an LSD experience at a rave inspired him to pursue dancing. He started with the liquid dances but later found a clip of Skeeter Rabbit of Electric Boogaloos (it’s Popin Pete in other versions) and became obsessed with the dance. He tried his hardest to find out more about it (this was in 1998, years before Youtube), eventually taking classes from the most prominent poppers: Popin Pete, Gorgeous Fon the Dapper Don, Jazzy J, Buddha Stretch, Boppin Andre, Brian Green, Popin Taco, Mr. Wiggles and Suga Pop. His greatest mentor became his Skeeter Rabbit, his initial influence, who continued to behis greatest influence. Perhaps just as important, Skeet became his friend and taught him how to accept all people for what they are, no matter how different.

All of this led him to move to Los Angeles and live in a house with PopnTod, J-Rock, and Madd Chadd. He also came into contact and befriended Tetris, Animatronix, Pandora, J-Smooth, Kid Boogie, Preying Mantas. Many of these are now attaining greater success (Madd Chadd, PopNTod and J-Smooth are part of The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers).

Funkmeyer cherishes that time where he knew these dancers before their success, times where they were often struggling, and now seeing them achieve success. “Think about how special it is that you knew that person way back when. And realize that if you are around them, then maybe it’s because you’re well on your way toward success as well.” To me, that’s a healthy way to deal with success of others in such a competitive field, but often an unrealistic expectation (envy is a powerful force). On competition itself, he says that “[t]he competitive nature is what makes the dance dope. A heated battle is like nothing else. Fuck the contests; a circle battle is where it really goes down. No politics, just show and prove. It’s primal. It’s real.”

Despite the great times hanging out with friends who shared his passion, the ugly side of the popping scene disillusioned him slowly. “A bunch of teenage boys basically–always beefing, always talking about drama… it was actually more like teenage GIRLS to be honest. I just lost interest. The culminating incident was when Suga Pop punched out my friend PopnTod for no reason. Basically, because Suga Pop’s whole mentality is based on dominating people. If they stand up to his intimidation, all he can do is fight. He is a sad man–at least he was when I knew him. And I’d say that to his face.”

Funkmeyer credits this disillusionment with the creation of Elastic Illusion. “I want to be involved in sharing the FUN of dance with people. I don’t want to tell you how to dance. I just want to show you HOW and let you make up your own mind.”

I’ve gone on record about how Elastic Illusion got me into dancing. Funkmeyer points out that their videos received 23 million views on Youtube as of May 2010, a success in his eyes. Regarding the break-up of the company and group, he replied “The breakup was a sort of “you reap what you sow” thing and we all learned a lot from it. It just happened… People change.” ¬†Nonetheless, it inspired him to appear and produce his own tutorials. He avoided this up to then because of his camera shyness.

I asked him what the most common mistake beginners make. He replied that many go too fast and try to run before they can walk. “Trying to freak beats before you can ride beats. Trying to boogaloo before you can pop. Ignoring the robot.” Related to that, he gave me perhaps his most interesting insight. “Our generation had to be DETECTIVES[,] man. I’m talking PRE-DVD era. We were mailing each other VHS cassettes back and forth across the country. Trying to find ANY SCRAP of footage we could possibly find. I always thought this sucked for us. But actually, it made us HUNGRY. We were forced to always be looking, always be grinding, always be searching. And I think for that reason our dance has more SOLIDNESS. The architecture of our dance has more of a foundation. There’s a basement and good scaffolding. You can’t BS that stuff.”

He noted that “[t]he youngsters don’t understand the importance of foundation. I always thought Youtube was gonna make an army of dope dancers and on one level it has, but on another level, there is so much eye candy to try to bite on Youtube that a lot of people are not historians.”

The idea of less being more fascinates me, particularly when I think about the beginnings of popping in poor urban areas. People were forced to be more creative and focus more on technique because they had less options. A greater set of options can sometimes hinder your progress. One of the best advice I gleaned from Funkmeyer’s article was the necessity to focus on one style at a time, and move on only after perfecting it.

There is a lot of biographical information I haven’t included because they weren’t the focus of my interview. Chris Bradley directed an 11 minute biography of him and his live-in partner, Jenny. His life may be unusual, but that’s just another set of expectations he has ignored.

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