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Michi Kasuga’s new website

June 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Our old friend Michi Kasuga has a new website and is now posting clips of his dancing again. This is a big deal because he hasn’t posted any for more than a year. I’ve seen his newest clips, and they don’t disappoint (although Michi is the last one to boast about his skills).

His actual blog posts deal mostly with his personal life and thoughts (which is a sharp turn from his old website). His candor and thoughtful approach to subjects impresses me deeply. I will make a habit of posting comments whenever I can.

While you’re at it, subscribe to his youtube channel so you can check out his newest performances. You could also read my interview feature with him (one of the first I ever wrote). You’ll then understand why he was an inspiration for me. Still is.

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Looking Elsewhere: Youtube is our friend and enemy

June 28, 2010 2 comments

This is the third entry in the David Elsewhere series where I analyse his training methods and philosophies. The quotes are derived from his myspace post.

Relying on my memory and not videos for reference – Like most people I have the natural tendency to subconsciously imitate movements I am frequently exposed to. I feel videos have the potential of doing more harm than good because multiple viewings make me more disposed to mimicry. Seeing Skywalker and Animation bust only on a few occasions prevented me from directly imitating them because all I had to go by was the memories in my head. Using memory alone as reference allows my creativity to manipulate external influence into something that is more of my own innovation.

This principle surprised me the most. If it weren’t for internet video clips, I never would have started dancing in the first place. For the first time in history, I have the ability to watch the greatest dancers in the world perform, no matter how remote i am from the hub of the dance community. I can receive expert tutorials without relying on dance teachers near my region. This is the first time that everyone in the world has access to this treasure trove of inspiring videos, and every dance style has the chance to spread like wild fire on a global scale. How could anyone denounce this?

But one issue nagged at me. Looking at the small selection of popping and bboy clips that survived from the late 70s and 80s, I am often in awe of the originality of the dancers. Granted, some elements of those dances may seem dated, even corny. But in other respects, the skill and creativity of the old school dancers overwhelmed me. The art of animation, vibration and floats/slides were more advanced in the 1980s then today.

And here’s the central question: How did the urban youth of the time, with almost no guidance from video clips or formal teachers, learn these incredible creative moves?

This question rose up again in my interview with Otis Funkmeyer. He wrote that having less access to footage proved to be an advantage for him and his fellow poppers. They were always “hungry”. Youtube offered too much eye-candy and didn’t produce the army of skilled dancers that he expected would come out of this trove of videos.

A few interviews with the OG poppers (from Westcoastpoppin.com) showed similar sentiments.

What do you think is the major differences between todays scene and before?

[…] We looked within our imagination. Many stylese came out in a short period of time, and those styles got flipped by the next person, you took the ball and ran with it your way. Today, many cats emulate thier dance from the sorce they are studing to learn it from. That, in my opinion, takes away some of the creative process that takes place when figuring out styles, moves, transitions, etc, yourself.

-Midnight, source

I think it’s all coo for videos and clips, but people have to remember to look at these clips for inspiration not for biting and copying verbatim. Peeps need to take from what they watch and twist it to there own sh^t. or if they are beginners, bite a lil until you are able to understand the dance better, and then change what you have bittin to your own sh&t.
Mr Wiggles, source.

We keep hearing that back in the day, no one danced like each other. Please explain.

First of all back then we didn’t have any video cameras to record different people we were lucky to ketch soul train so see the soul train line and watch the different dancers. […] everybody got there reps of there originality and being different.
-Shallow, source)

After long periods of reflection, I began to see some truth in these statements. I came up with a number of ways that people can abuse the dance clips that are meant to inspire us. I will come back to these and discuss them individually in later posts, but I will now focus on Elsewhere’s objection to mimicry. Elsewhere distrusts the ability to replay the clips over and over again, because it induces the viewer to mimic what he sees instead of inspiring them to take their style in a new direction. He elaborated on this in an interview with Oye Mag.

With all the people and dance styles that have come before you, how do you stay original?
That’s hard. I think that in the very beginning when most people start, it’s kind of necessary to copy people. But once your dancing matures I think videos can be a little unhelpful. You can watch them over and over again so you’re kind of brainwashing yourself into wanting to dance like that. I’m not saying that videos are a bad thing. I’m saying that they are good to some degree, but I just think that they are easily abused.

I like going to events and seeing someone dance, then going home and not being able to watch them again. When you don’t have the ability to watch something over and over again, your mind kind of manipulates the memory into something different. Then when you go home and have that vision in your head, it becomes your own interpretation.

Not being able to rewatch video clips therefore has advantages. It means that you may remember a cool move, but you can’t remember every aspect of the illusion. These gaps in your memory means that you have to stay inventive and come up with your own ways to achieve the illusion. In the process, you stay hungry and attentive. Your mind isn’t allowed to remain lazy because it can’t rely on mimicry. This process is more valuable then actually learning the move itself. It will feed into your originality, and give you the impetus to create your own moves and style.

Let’s look at an example that illustrates this. Mr Wiggles accidentally created his famous knee slide because of a misunderstanding. He heard that Popin Pete performed a moved called the knee slide. Mr Wiggles hadn’t seen Pete do it, but he assumed it was a back-slide (now called the moonwalk) performed on the knees. He practiced so long until he figured a way to pull it off. He did the move in the movie Beat Street and in a performance for the president.

It was only much later that he found out that Popin Pete’s knee slide was nothing like a knee moonwalk (it was more like the ET walk). Not being able to see the move even once, he used his imagination and created a completely new move.

I’m not saying to stop watching video clips altogether. They expand your understanding and can lead you into something new and exciting. Watch as many different clips of different styles for inspiration (I’ll come back to this point in Looking Elsewhere: Mixing Styles). But the clips can make you dependent and decouple you from your own imagination. Refrain from rewatching the same clips over and over again, because it will do you little good.

If you’d like to read all of the Looking Elsewhere entries, click here. If you’d like to receive automatic updates on all entries, click here for RSS feeds.

Featuring: Eric from Liquid Pop Collective

June 19, 2010 3 comments

When I first saw a dancer do handflows, I thought the hands looked like two fish chasing each other. I didn’t even understand properly what I had seen. I found out what the move was called (much later) after stumbling upon a tutorial for liquid and digitz made by a group called Liquid Pop Collective. The most impressive handflow was contours. The way your one hand flowed over the surface of your other immovable hand, like water over a rock. Then your flowing hand became solid, and the cycle would repeat. The true expression of the liquid metal approach.

At the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in dancing or electronic music (the German scene back then was terrible), but I rediscovered the video a few weeks back and payed more attention to it. Contours caught my eye again. I searched around and found the following clip. It was unused footage for the tutorial, starring crew member Eric. This took the finger flow to a new level.

I recently contacted Eric and interviewed him for this feature. He answered my questions and provided some additional literature on the electro scene (you can read the email correspondence in my previous, separate post below.

Eric was born in New Jersey, about 25 minutes from New York. He went with his older cousin to his first NYC party in 1993 and fell in with the electronic party scene. He explained that there were two separate dance cultures for electronic music in NY, the club scene and the rave scene. The clubs included the Tunnel, Lime Light, Sound Factory, Twilo, Shelter and Outback Jacks. The raves could be held anywhere, sometimes at abandoned buildings without any permits. The scene gained momentum, and club owners started to pursue the rave crowd. Sometimes they would contact the authorities and make them shut down the illegal parties, then have promoters stand outside the rave and distribute promotional fliers for their clubs to the exiting crowd. Thus, the two scenes began to mingle.

Two years later, Eric came in contact with liquid dancing.

The first time I seen a style of liquid that really moved me was in 1995 at a club north of Philly
called Outback Jacks. They had a small Sunday night party that I found when I first moved to Philly. This is here I met a girl named Chrissie who absolutely had the most unique style of liquid I had ever seen up until that point. She incorporated her whole body into her flow. She is the genesis for what my style is today and part of her still lives in my flow. She totally changed my perspective on what liquid could be.

Unlike the popping scene, competition didn’t play a big part in the evolution of the dance.

There were a million of casual dancers who happily rave skipped the night away. I would say between the serious folks like myself it was a matter a pride and respect. When someone had dope liquid it was more of a respect thing because no one was forcing you to be good at liquid but you. There are dancing jerks in every dance scene, who sole purpose in life was to make themselves feel better by belittling the person next to them.

Eric wrote to me that he never practiced at home or took lessons to improve his liquid (although he did take some classes for popping). Instead, he went to the clubs five days a night and danced up to eight hours for a period of ten years. Regarding advice he would give to novice dancers, he answered in the same vein as David Elsewhere.

BE YOURSELF. YOU DONT NEED TO LOOK LIKE ANYONE ELSE. If you like something take it and make it your own. Find you own flavor be unique LISTEN to the music and let it move you.

Drugs became ubiquitous in this scene, and a substantial part of the crowd were young middle class people with income to spare on Ecstacy or whatever else. This attracted criminal gangs to the scene, and violence became a huge risk. The most infamous gang was the BTS crew It was a loosely organised gang with no formal initiation rites, ethnic boundaries, or any particular rules of conduct (except not stealing from fellow crew members). They would often sell fake drugs by selling mints or spray painting pills. At clubs, they pick-pocketed the clubgoers on the dance floor, or scouted for other drug dealers so they could steal the drugs from that dealer. For more information, read this article

This slowly led to people avoiding the scene, which was the beginning of the end. In 2002, the US senate passed the RAVE Act to counter youth drug use. The penalties for organizing such raves were so stiff they killed off the scene. NY mayor Rudolf Guilani took a hard stance against the clubs in his effort to clean up the city from undesirable elements, and many of the most prominent clubs could not sustain themselves after the 9/11 attacks paralysed the club scene in NY.

Before the scene died out, Eric recorded a short clip of him dancing in the Philadelphia club Space in 1999. He posted it on Napster, which was in its prime as a file-sharing medium. The clip became one of the viral videos of the pre-Youtube era.

In 2000, he met the dancers who later form the Liquid Pop Collective crew. The response of the clip overwhelmed the LPC crew, and they started discussing the idea to produce a tutorial on the dance. Eric eventually took out a ten grand loan to do so and involved a core team of LPC dancers. Ricardo Rivera (aka VJ Kaboom) directed the video (he now owns klip.tv) and Imri Meritt did the sleeve art and music soundtrack (he now runs reflective.net).


The tutorial was a success, but the LPC broke up soon after. I asked Eric why. He wrote me a three word reply: money and ego.

As to other dancers who continue the tradition of liquid and digits, he pointed to the floasis.net community. He also made sure to mention the Liquid Lights crew, particularly crew member Tiny Love, who predated the LPC by a few years.

I ended the interview by asking him to describe his most memorable moment in dancing.

Wow, that is hard. I would have to say a yearly party called Starscape thrown by Ultra world down in Baltimore. I think the party was in 2003. I was with my future wife and all the LPC guys. We watched the sun come up out on the dock over the water ( this dock was destroyed during a hurricane in 2004) to the sound track of MOS DEF’S UMI says. It was surreal after a full night of dancing together. Those are the moments I miss the most now a days…

More interviews to follow, plus another entry in the Looking Elsewhere series coming up. If you’d like to receive updates, click on the RSS feed button.

Raw interview: Eric from Liquid Pop Collective

June 19, 2010 3 comments

This is the email interview I had with Eric from LPC. My actual article on Eric can be read in the post above.

Where were you born? Describe your upbringing.
*I was born in Northern NJ about 25 minutes from NYC. I was brought up in a blue collar working class family.

How did you end up in the NY electro scene?
*Even since I was small I can remember being attracted to electronic influenced music. When MTV first started out I used to wait for bands like Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Pet Shop boys, Michel Jackson, Genesis ECT. So when in my early teens I was listening to freestyle music along with house .When I got my chance to go to my first party in NYC with my older cousin it was on. The whole evolution for me just seemed to make sense like someone was holding my hand guiding me where to go. One i had my first taste in 1993 there was no turning back.

How did liquid and digitz evolve in the early electro scene, and how did you come into contact with it?
*With liquid it was very basic and only in the hands. The whole thing about liquid was the “bug out” . Making someone go WOW did I just see that? It was a social thing and everyone seemed to have their own version of it. There where other people like myself that it was a obsession something that had to be figured out at any cost. It was something very free form on the early years and the one common thing is that it had to “flow” to be liquid and however you got that done it was ok.
The first time I seen a style of liquid that really moved me was in 1995 at a club north of Philly called Outback Jacks. They had a small Sunday night party that I found when I first moved to Philly. This is where I met a girl named Chrissie who absolutely had the most unique style of liquid I had ever seen up until that point. She incorporated her whole body into her flow. She is the genesis for what my style is today and part of her still lives in my flow. She totally changed my perspective on what liquid could be.

Which dancers and teachers made the greatest impression on you at the beginning?
Yikes… with liquid its different no one back then was pushing you forward with it but you. Now with Popping and Waving there were a few guys who came to electronic music parties. I don’t want to name anyone because I might forget someone but you know who you are if you are reading this! BOSTON, NYC, DC, BALT,PHILLY and last but not least DIRTY JEEEEEEEZE RESPECT!

Did ego and competition play a significant role in this dancing culture?
Well not on the surface. There were a million of casual dancers who happily rave skipped the night away. I would say between the serious folks like myself it was a matter a pride and respect. When someone had dope liquid it was more of a respect thing because no one was forcing you to be good at liquid but you. There are dancing jerks in every dance scene, who sole purpose in life was to make themselves feel better by belittling the person next to them .
They can eat a dick. 😛
Dance is about bringing people together from all cultures and nations. Every culture on this planet dances since the days of banging on animal skin drums in Africa.

What is it about liquid and digitz that drove you to perfect it?
To me it was like magic and in a was its sleight of hand that kept me coming back. I don’t think I have perfected anything to date. Every time I do liquid I learn something new about the dance.
Always a student.

What is the most common mistake beginning liquid dancers make, and what advice should all new dancers know?
BE YOURSELF. YOU DONT NEED TO LOOK LIKE ANYONE ELSE. If you like something take it and make it your own. Find you own flavor be unique LISTEN to the music and let it move you.

What did your daily practice sessions consist of?
Going out and dancing 5 nights a week for 10 years. I never really practiced at home but, when you are at a party for 8 + hours and dancing the majority of the time you will get good.

Describe how you and your fellow dancers created LPC crew and started producing videos and tutorials.
I put out my first video clip of liquid in 1999 via Napster and this is how it all started. I got such a positive response from the video that when LPC got together we made a few promo clips and let them fly. I am amazed they are still on the internet given it’s been 10+ years my original liquid clip I believe is 12.
The video talked about it for awhile after we would come back from parties. One day I finally said screw it and took out a 10 grand loan in my name to make it happen. We had a core group of very talented friends who without their help and guidance the video never would of happened. Especially Ricardo Rivera who filmed our video who now owns http://www.klip.tv and Imri Meritt who runs reflective.net. Imri did the sleeve art and music soundtrack.

Describe the reaction of the LPC members to the success of these videos.
We actually where very very surprised. We knew people wanted to learn but had no idea it was on the scale it was. We also caught a sweet time in the rise of rave culture when it crossed over to all the main stream kids who were coming to check out the parties.

What factors led to the break up of LPC?
EGO’s and MONEY.

How do you compare the electro scene of today to the one in the 90s?
Is it true that the Federal US government effectively banned such events so that they died out?
Right now what little of it is left in the states is a far cry from the murder we were getting away with in the 90’s. Ask anyone who has was a regular to the Tunnel, Lime Light, Sound Factory, Twilo, Shelter in the hay day how absolutely bonkers it was. That was the club scene, the rave scene in NYC was just as crazy if not more so because there were no permits . Kids would be wandering around some abandon warehouse in Brooklyn raving out.. Think about it!?
There was the club scene and the rave scene. Two different cultures with a similar vein. When the club owners found out how much money the rave promoters where making they basically when to L&I to snitch on the rave parties and get them busted. They had promoters outside the busted parties handing out flyers to their clubs… ahhh capitalism at its finest. That when the mingling of the rave scene and the club kids mixed.
If you want a good idea of the NYC party scene and its genesis and evolution read the book Generation Ecstasy. There even have some references to liquid in the book.
Through the RAVE act the federal government made the penalties so stiff for throwing a party
that it basically killed off the entire scene. The British government did the same thing in the 80’s to stop the culture there.
In NYC Rudi Guallini basically muscled all the clubs and “undesirable” establishments shut down during his crusade to clean up Manhattan. This coupled with the rave act and 911 killed off all the best clubs in NYC. RIP……..

You described the party life in NY as harsh, so harsh that some of your friends got lost in it. How much of a problem were violence (you mentioned the BTS crew) and drugs?
Very, You would see fights and people getting mugged at parties for their money and drugs. I have attached a document to the email that basically breaks down the whole BTS. This is the best explanation I could share.

Which new dancers do you see today that uphold and help develop liquid and digitz as a dance form?
Well right now the biggest cache of dedicated dancers are on FLOASIS.net. They are a bunch of guys who got involved with LPC when we first started out. The currently are carrying the torch for Liquid and Digitz.

What are your current projects and future plans?
I would like in the future to get out and teach liquid formally in a work shop fashion.

Finally, describe your most memorable moment in dancing.
Wow, that is hard. I would have to say a yearly party called Starscape thrown by Ultra world down in Baltimore. I think the party was in 2003. I was with my future wife and all the LPC guys. We watched the sun come up out on the dock over the water ( this dock was destroyed during a hurricane in 2004) to the sound track of MOS DEF’S UMI says. It was surreal after a full night of dancing together. Those are the moments I miss the most now a days…

I just want to shout out,
TIny Love , and the rest of the Liquid Lights crew repping NYC. You can’t talk about liquid in its infancy and not mention them. They predate LPC by a few years and where defiantly holding it down for the Liquid and Rave heads.
REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESPECT!

Categories: Interviews, Uncategorized

The Tao of dancing – the no-mind flow

June 13, 2010 2 comments

Michael Jackson: Thinking is the biggest mistake a dancer could make. You need to feel. You become the bass, you become the fanfare, you become the clarinet and the flute and the strings and the drums.
Martin Bashir: So you almost become the physical embodiment of the music.
Michael Jackson: Yeah.
-Michael Jackson in Martin Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson. source

Can you imagine the following: You dance, feeling elated. Slowly, you realise that your surroundings dissolve into nothingness. You begin to move without any directions from your mind. You perform moves that you never performed before. All of your fear, self doubt, your ego, even your thoughts melt away. You dance like a person possessed.

Meaning of “Elsewhere”: 1) The direction I attempt to push my style. 2) The Zone – the state of disconnection I experience while dancing. When I focus on my movements to the point that I am oblivious to my physical setting, I am mentally elsewhere.”

David Bernal on his dancing name. source

This may sound like hyperbole, or a romantic notion meant to enhance the mystic aura of the performer. Perhaps, but there is truth to it. It remains one of the great goals in any creative activity. A scientific explanation exists for this quasi-religious experience. Our minds can only process a certain amount of information. When one performs an activity with extreme concentration, your mind dispenses nearly every other sensory sensation. It feels like having an out-of-body experience.

How can you attain this extreme concentration? Definitely not by trying to focus really hard, as it seems. The type of mental relaxation can occur only after performing the techniques thousands of times. How long, how often? In the above clip, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi mentions a study that puts the number at ten years. The non-fiction journalist Malcolm Gladwell mentioned the same studies in his book Outliers. More precisely, he puts the time at roughly ten thousand hours of purpose-driven practice.

Some types of philosophic systems deal with this mental state. Take the concept of wu hsing (aka Mushin) in martial arts. Your reactions and actions come in battle should not from conscious decisions and strategies, but reflect the “correct” response to the situation. These natural reactions come only after extensive training and the repetition of drills thousands of times. You have learned the drills and the moves so often that you don’t even think about them. They have ingrained themselves into your memory, and they manifest themselves without effort. You perform the necessary movements with minimum of thought and effort.

This is connected to the more general concept of wu wei in chinese taoism (the religion of the “correct path”). Wu wei is the concept of not interfering with the natural flow and dispensing only the minimal amount of effort in your actions. Your actions are the “correct” reactions to the flow of the universe, and they are not tainted by your own intentions, wants, or ego.

Another relevant body of philosophy are the teachings of Indian philosopher Krishnamurti. He stressed the importance of stripping your prejudices, ideologies, habits and preconceived notions. Only then can you assess each situation according to its own merits. Your ego and beliefs only hinder you from attaining truth. They reduce your concentration, or as he put it, your higher intelligence. Any organised thought is useless, truth can only be found by the individual in each situation. Truth is a “pathless road”. Read this three page (summary) by Aldous Huxley, if you are interested.

There is a specific reason why I mention Wu Hsing and Krishnamurti. Both influenced the philosophy of Bruce Lee. His most memorable anecdote explains the origin of his belief that one should empty one’s mind before the actual activity and adopt the formless characteristics of water.

After four years of training Wing Chun with the famous instructor Yip Man, he grew frustrated that he could not attain the relaxed mental state and minimise your effort in battle (the wu wei concept of minimal effort). Yip Man told him to abstain from training for a week and reflect on the need to “[f]orget about yourself and follow the opponent’s movement. Let your mind, the basic reality, do the counter-movement without any interfering deliberation. Above all, learn the art of detachment.” Bruce Lee retired and meditated on this, but got nowhere. He sailed to the nearby lake, but not feeling any relief, he punched the water in anger.

Right there, he marveled about the qualities of the water. It was struck, but not wounded. You could try to grasp it, but that was impossible. Water only seemed to be weakest, softest substance. In reality, it could be the hardest substance in the world.
In that moment, a bird flew past and cast its reflection in the water. Lee began to reflect further.

[S]hould not the thoughts and emotions I had in front of an opponent pass like reflection of a bird flying over water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached – not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.
I lay on my boat and felt that I had united with Tao; I had become one with nature.

Bruce Lee (1997), Ed. John Little, The Tao of Gung Fu, p. 137

He believed strongly in Taoism, but started incorporating eclectic schools of philosophies and methods of practice, true to the principle that truth must be found individually along a pathless road. He thereby revolutionised mixed martial arts and became the most known martial arts icon in the world.

Don’t believe that these methods apply to dancing? Well, did you know that Lee won competition prizes as a cha-cha dancer?

Featuring: Poppin John

June 5, 2010 4 comments

Being asked to choose my favourite dancer makes me uncomfortable, because I feel that I am disrespecting all of the dancers who have influenced me in their own different ways. But I can answer the question if it is posed a little differently. “Which dancer has the strength and qualities that you want to attain?” or “If you could only watch and learn from one dancer, who might that one be?”

In these cases, my answer comes without reservations: Poppin John. Isolations, dime stops, speed control, variety of styles. He excels in all of them. He happens to incorporate my favourite styles (what luck!), and his moves are always spot-on perfect.

Me stringing a line of praise and superlatives may come off as unconvincing, even disingenuous. So let me provide video footage of John’s dancing and point out why they blow me away like no other dancer. I embedded the videos so that they cut immediately to the part I want to discuss. That means that I’m going to post a lot of videos, but you don’t have to watch the entire clip (that’s your own choice afterwards).

My favourite moves involve head-and-chest isolations. I learned them first before attempting anything else.  A small number of dancers do it, but I have never seen anyone pull it off like Poppin John. Below you can see what I like to call “chicken head”

and here you can see what I like to call “head swipe” or “madd headd” (after Madd Chadd).

Note how isolated his head is from his neck and chest, and that it remains so even when he takes steps (not just standing around).

How about arm and body waves? No worries, that’s his specialty.

His footwork is varied and original. Look at his floating and gliding skills.

This clip below forced me to learn liquid hand waves.

Strobing is perhaps my greatest love, and there’s so little of it around (thank God for David Elsewhere, Tyson Eberly, Madd Chadd, and Flat Top). The best strobers are those that strobe more than just their arms.

I’m not the biggest fan of finger tutting, but tell me if this doesn’t bring a smile to your face.

Speed control. Moving your body real fast, then incredibly slow, perhaps even stopping on a dime, then going into overdrive again. Often overlooked, but it’s real important to build up contrasts in your dancing. That will make your dancing stand out. Check out his shoulders in this clip.

Too bad there’s no interview planned. That’d be too crazy, right?
You’d be surprised. Stay tuned for more.