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Raw interview: Josh “Ace” Ventura

As I’ve mentioned before, the group “Elastic Illusion” and their youtube tutorials are what got me into dancing. I have interviewed the members Tyson Eberly and Otis Funkmeyer before, but there remained one person who I needed to interview: Josh “Ace” Ventura. Higly proficient in an astonishingly large number of styles, comfortable in front of the camera even when teaching complex moves, I wanted his views on practicing and dedication. His replies to my question did not disappoint; they are in-depth and provide some invaluable advice. You can buy his tutorial dvds at breakdancedvd.com. Be sure to also check out his website.

How did you get into dancing, and what made you specialize in popping, locking, and bboying?

I grew up in Atlanta GA and honestly, I didn’t have many white friends. I was exposed to hip hop at a young age thanks to my neighborhood friends and YO MTV Raps. In addition, my mom is a dancer. For the first 13 years of my life, while I lived with her, she always had funk, Lionel Richie, Prince, MJ, Madonna, 80s and 70’s, Motown, and Julio Iglesias (thats right before Enrique), the Gypsy Kings, and of course Gloria Estefan playing. She taught me how to moonwalk.

Growing up MC Hammer and Jim Carrey were my idols. I saw Hammer’s concert when I was just 13. He killed it as did all of his dancers. I spent hours in my room (usually grounded) practicing the running man. I watched every episode of In Living Color which meant hours of logged Fly Girl’s footage. I was really really into the 90’s as a kid but I hid from dance for so long to rebel against being like my mom. I said no to dance classes and gymnastics.

When I entered college, I was on my own and I began to realize how much I much I really enjoyed dancing. Around 19, I took my annual trip to visit my dad in Los Angeles, and saw Bboy Ivan and Mr. Animation doing a street show. Even though I had seen them many times prior to this encounter, something clicked. I said, “I wanna do that,” followed by an immediate, “OH CRAP i’m already 19 so if I wanna do this, I don’t have much time to get good and train my body.” For 5 years I trained like crazy in breaking (minus some down time due to a knee surgery).

At that time, I was aware of locking and I was practicing whatever I could with popping, BUT it wasn’t until I saw Bboy Storm’s short video tape (http://stormdance.de) that I really wanted to learn popping and locking. At the end of the tape he does a locking routine with his wife and he also does a long popping routine. He was really good and he made me want to learn those styles. It was seeing him that gave me validation as a bboy that it was ok to do other styles and not just break. During the time I was practicing bboying, I was already deep into dancing to funk and house music. After 5 years or so, I guess around 2003/4, I moved to Cali and joined Culture Shock LA and Tony Tee Dance Company. I learned Locking, refined my New Jack and teaching skills. Tony became my true sensei. He was absolutely incredible and the best locker I have ever seen to this day.

Fortunately, when I found his academy, Don “Campbellock” Campbell was teaching there so I was able to experience the creator of locking. I think around 2006 or 2007 or so is when I really started toying with robot and practicing my boogaloo more. That is around the time I was hanging with Brit and Tyson. Now I try and mix and match all of them together and do the best I can to always come back to my foundations.

How did your family and friends react to your dancing?


Both had a unique response.

Friends: Prior to becoming a “professional dancer,” my friends knew I had rhythm and was into dancing. During highschool pep rallies, I would get on the court and do some dancing. When I got into college, I made a new group of homies and kept a couple from prior years. That is when I suddenly became “the dancer.” None of my friends really danced until I started learning from my two bboy instructors in Atlanta, Amir Totem and Joy Prasavath. We also started the official breakin club at Georgia Tech called Metro Flow.

Of course, becoming “the dancer” of the group means every time we went out they would call me out, whether it was to battle someone or help them get girls! Of course, I was always happy to help! To this day, I think it surprises many friends from my past that I am a professional dancer. Hell, it often surprises me! They gave me names like ‘Mighty Whitey’ and I could never escape the nickname ACE since my last name is Ventura. Now my close friends really appreciate my ability to continue following my passion. I think it inspires them.

Family:
Family thinks of dance as a hobby. It is especially cool at family gatherings, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc. My cousins who were my age loved having me show off. However, once I moved to California and decided NOT to continue my path towards marketing executive, tension definitely grew in the family. They didn’t see dance as a career to begin with. When you add in the fact that I was already too old to technically be pursuing a career in dance, my parents (aunt and uncle) were definitely concerned for me. Family will always try and steer me towards a more stable career but on the flip side, they certainly love boasting about the famous people I have worked with and the commercial gigs I have booked.

What was the most frustrating challenge or obstacle you had to overcome in your dancing, and how did you do it?

Aside from my knee surgery, the greatest challenge for me was figuring out how to make a living doing what I love to do. I was not going to give up training hard at dance until I reached a certain level. This meant not having a normal 9-5 job which in turn meant I had to hustle for gigs and find various jobs that would allow my lifestyle as a “dancer in training” to continue. Despite my age and onset of a few lasting injuries, I persevered through sheer will and determination. What made it increasingly difficult in the industry was the fact that I was a freestyle dancer. I was just so-so at choreo. I could eventually kill a piece, but not in the time required at an audition where you get just a few minutes to learn 12 8 counts of choreo.

I look back and I wonder how I did it and still do it. Where there is a will there is a way?! Right?!

Who were your initial influences, and how did this change over time?


My influences changed over time as my dance styles progressed and priority that I gave to each particular style changed.

My initial influences were just the musicians. The music I listened to gave me joy and made me wanna move. I briefly touched on the origin of my dancing background above, so I’ll try and just list out specific names and how they influenced me. For the most part, these are listed in chronological order.

Michael Jackson – definitely don’t need to say much here
MC Hammer – nor here.
Rosie Perez – choreographer for the fly girls.
MTV- exposed me to it all!
Ivan and Style Elements Crew – (Remind, Super Dave, Crumbs) bboying
Totem (Burn Unit) -Nicole, Adrienne, Dang – bboying lifestyle and style / foundation
Joy (groove monkeez) – bboying and especially power moves (he showed me the storm video)
The Jones Brothers (Kahlil and Jamal) – first locking exposure
Rhythm – house and hip hop groove
Storm – bboying / and all styles dancing
EZ roc – bboying
Mr. Wiggles – all styles dancing and of course popping
Victor and Noel – locking
Don Campbellock Campbell – locking
Tony Tee Sama – locking, living, 90’s, groove, wacking, teaching
Jade – bboying
Tammy and Joey – they just inspire me (children of Tony Tee)
Donna and Tiffany – locking / whacking / hip hop
Tyson and Brit – mime / boogaloo
Cristina Benedetti – house house house (she is incredible)
Madd Chadd – robotix / transformer style

What did you, Tyson, Funkmeyer, and Madd Chadd learn from each other in the time you spent together?

I learned foundation boogaloo technique from Otis Funkmeyer. He is like a knowledge base for boogaloo style dancing and knows every individual move. I didn’t really learn much from Tyson but he definitely opened my mind up to the possibilities of what you can achieve with illusions especially in the art of MIME. I always feel this is his strongest asset. Madd Chadd and I got closer after Elastic Illusion and it wasn’t as if he necessarily spent class time with me showing me moves. It was more that I would ask the right questions and he was really good at explaining things. He has a keen eye for detail and observation, which is sort of mandatory for such a detail oriented dance / art form (robot). I took what I learned from him and just practice the $hit out of it.

What does your daily practice consist of (including supplementary training like flexibility or strength). Has this changed significantly over the years?

During my years of strictly breaking Training:
I initially learned for a good 1.5 years strictly from the style elements vs korea video!! I would play that thing over and over and over in slow motion.

I would practice 4 or 5 times a week. Each practice was at least two hours long. 3 of those days a week were committed to twice a day at 4 hour intervals. I was really serious and I know that is how I ended tearing my meniscus. I didn’t strength train enough or allow my body to rest. However, I was always really disciplined at stretching. I always warmed up sufficiently and stretched like crazy.

After my knee surgery the importance of rest became VERY clear to me. I returned to breaking for a while and then moved to LA. I started really practicing other styles. Locking took over and then robot and during that entire time I was always practicing New Jack and House Grooves. As responsibilities grew and I had to really stay focused to practice. I would devote each training session to a particular style or one particular goal. Breaking then became a maintenance as opposed to trying to get better. In other words, I decided instead of trying to get airfares or flare 90s, I would just simply do my best to maintain mills, swipes, turtles, heads, flares etc.

During the all styles years of training, I would practice about 5 times a week technically but I would find myself dancing all the time. The practice sessions were only about 2 hours each. Two days a week usually Tuesday and Thursday, I would manage a 4 hour practice (which would get me super sore.)

Over the last 3 years or so Yoga, weightlifting, cross-training with plyometrics, running, stadiums, and workouts outside of dance grew in priority and importance. I found it harder to allocate as much time to training so I would at least stay in shape.

At the moment, I am not training dance as much. I am focused on acting. I stay in very good shape and will practice robot and breaking strength training while my focus has shifted. I will come back to dance training after I reach a few goals I have set for myself in 2011.

What mistake do beginners typically make, and what one advice would you give them?

If you are in it for Instant Gratification, then get out NOW! All of these disciplines take years to achieve a high level of competency in. You have to be willing to commit years of sacrifice in order to achieve greatness in anything whether it be for money, hobby, or pure love. This is totally not to say that you can’t just tinker with it. I will NOT judge you. That statement was for those that wish for instantly being able to learn art forms that take years to master.

The problem I have with a lot of dancers these days is that they dance for one year and can do a couple tricks or mimic a bunch of videos they’ve watched on youtube and they immediately consider themselves good enough to be professional dancers. They are completely oblivious to the difference in level between a refined dancer and themselves. I will say there are many gems in the rough out there as well and that is always a pleasure to see. LIL DEMON!

More advice:
Cross Train:
Prepare your body to be beat up and take care of it. It is your temple for longevity in this career and really in life. Weights (with proper form), Rest, proper diet (young or not), did I mention Rest and sleep, Stretch and be willing to stretch through the pain. A mistake often made is trying a windmill before you can backspin or a windmill before you can even turtle freeze!! WRONG Trying airfares before you can flare. Trying 90’s before you can do a handstand. This is unacceptable.

Do your homework:
Learn about the different styles when they were created, where they were developed, by whom, what music caused these styles to develop.

Biting:
You can copy but please make it your own and if you copy then acknowledge the individuals you took from. Everyone takes from everyone and every dance style has influenced others, but without personal expression you might be dancing but you ARE NOT a dancer. A dancer feels from the heart and you can’t do that if you are simply mimicking another’s heartfelt movements.

LEARN TO GROOVE:
Please, for the love of the dance gods, learn foundational hip hop groove before you go take some random choreo classes and while you learn breaking, locking, popping foundation and tricks ALWAYS go back to groove basics and practice them until they are natural and you look like you could kill a soultrain line in the 70’s! Often times, dancers take my hip hop classes and wonder why they don’t look like me. I tell them that it’s the in-between movements. They all get the move but they don’t get the glue between the moves which is the ….. drum roll please…. GROOVE!

When Injuries occur:
This is the hardest thing for a dancer for obvious reasons. Staying positive is sooo difficult. One thing that definitely kept me going when the injuries occurred was shifting focus around. For instance, when I had knee surgery, I shifted focus to my upper body and I got really good at planches, flares, and turtles. If one body part is injured do your best to workout whatever other body parts are not. This helps in such exponential way, especially because we tend to compensate with other parts which leads me to my final bit of 2 cents.

Health Care:
I mentioned diet, stretching etc. These are key as is Massage and Chiropractic. In my opinion these two elements are priceless in the long run. Do your research before choosing a chiro. Many of them suck and are creepsters. Also, by massage I mean deep tissue only. In my opinion, it is the only way to truly benefit from massage. Your muscles will become very tight and very strong and you have to be able to break down the build up of lactic acid, scar tissue and just stiffness or overly exerted and spasmed areas.

You produced the tutorials Breakdance DVD and Learn to Groove. Does teaching the dance to others improve your own understanding of the dance?

YES YES and YES

Private lessons are really where I have learned the most about my own dancing. One on one, it has been easier to experiment with different teaching methods. You really learn the best way to explain how each move works, how to explain each grooves and break each style down to its foundation. When you teach, you truly learn how important foundation is.

A mastery of pedagogy takes as many years as practicing the dance itself. Through teaching you learn so much about how you interpret, other people’s perspectives, and it is a venue for providing others with something that I didn’t have access to when I was growing up.

I have seen many your videos, and you are highly skilled in a large number of completely separate dances (popping, robot, locking, bboying and others). Weren’t you concerned that you were attempting too many dances, and end up not excelling in any of them?

YES! I was and have always been concerned about the fact that I was determined to learn so many dance styles. I believe it has hurt me in certain areas and helped me in many. Nowadays, all styles battles are popping up, and there is an overall deeper respect for a dancer that can perform all styles at a high level.

Having so many styles in my bank makes it difficult to audition. I never know what to do. Should I break? Should I pop? Should I just wave, robot, house, ahhhhhhh!!! Of course you only get 30 seconds and the casting people are never knowledgeable enough to answer you on specifics of what they are looking for. The answer is always the same; Just do your thing. When they look for a freestyler, they look for the best in that particular area. The best roboter, bboy, headspinner, tricker, locker, flexer, etc. I was just really good at all of them but way difficult to compete against bboy specialists such as cloud, nasty ray, venom, flips etc. at least from an auditioning perspective.

The hardest part was again the fact that I started so late. Another thing to keep in mind is that one or two or three styles will always have to take a backseat when you focus on another style.

On the positive side, I feel extremely accomplished as a street dancer given all of the above. I love so many different types of music. Music is the reason that I dance and that we all dance. We are moved by it. I want to be able to move how different types of music makes me. I don’t wanna just uprock and break to house. I don’t wanna just do locking when a banging popping track comes on. I wanna be able to move freely within all of those styles.

My advice to those attempting to master many styles is again do your homework. Or simply:
1) Know the root of the style. KNOW the difference in music
2) Know the heck outta the foundation for that style. Practice the foundation so much that it is 2nd nature so when you get creative within that style it just flows.

Otis Funkmeyer mentioned in our interview how disillusioned he became of the envy and petty bickering in the popping community. Did you experience examples of this in the popping scene?

NO. I will say that the tension within the popping scene can be SUPER MEGA outta control DOUBLE RAINBOW INTENSE. Poppers are more intense and gangster than BBOYS!!! And bboying is the ultimate G …. I don’t care what anybody says.

The foundation of Street Dance is super competitive like any sport, but certain dancers in the popping scene can have extremely negative attitudes. I just steer clear of it. This dance is for me. It is a personal goal and passion for myself and therefore NO ONE can take that away. Sometimes when there is a super intense circle, I’ll just go in it and start dancing like a fool and practice straight funk / groove dancing to break the ice. People take themselves way too seriously in life hence the silly slogan, “Breakdance with a smile.”

The other side of it, which is really an answer to the question below, is that streetdancers have a lot of pride. During a battle, you put your pride, your rep, your life on the line and it is the ultimate test of strength, will, judgement. How will you react in that situation. One side must lose and a lot of dancers who are super nice will turn completely different when its battle time.

The interesting part about the tension in the younger dancers is that the real GEEES are the old poppers. The real Gees are the pioneers of this dance that started it all. It was created out of mixture of party outlets, staying off the street, celebrating what little you actually did have, preventing gang fighting via battling, an alternative to gangbanging and drug use or just slanging. The initial push was getting off the street by expressing yourself through music (djing), art (graffiti), rap (mcing), and the dance.

We live in a different time. America till has racism, poverty, ghetto, drugs, but the availability of outreach programs, technology and access to dance is at an all time high (and still not enough). The pioneers of this dance did not have that. Now you have kids who feel like they have to act all hard and pretend like they were raised in the ghetto to be a street dancer. Which moves into the next answer…

What role do ego, competition, and aggression play in streetdance and the streetdance community?

As mentioned above, Streetdance is just that… STREET, RAW, ROUGH, UNREFINED DIAMOND. It was formed from aggression, frustration, poverty struck neighborhoods who found dance as an outlet and alternative form of expression. However times have changed.

Don’t misunderstand, there are still many dancers out there who only have dance to turn to. If they didn’t dance they would be dead, in a gang, doing drugs, and up to no good. BUT now you also have trust fund kids who grow up with access to classes, dance studios, athletics, private lessons and they completely misunderstand the root of this art form.

Ego, competition, aggression. These three play a part because as you dance your pride grows thick. You become proud but uncertain if you are worthy. More than anything you demand respect from your peers. You care more about what a small handful of very high level dancers think of you than you even care about yourself or how the rest of the 6 billion people on the planet may value your existence. It is really quite fascinating.

The real street dancer doesn’t care about money. The ultimate goal is to make a name for yourself, to gain respect from those you respect. To battle the best and beat them or at least be able to compete with them.

The affect on the community can be pretty profound. For instance, when you have an older (og) dancer who insults the way you dance it can be devastating. That happens far too often. A lot of the older dancers and pioneers of this art from feel walked on and betrayed and stolen from. So it becomes a trickle down affect where the attitude of the second and third generation becomes even more aggressive than the first generation of dancers. People just start shitting on each other verbally because they aren’t dancing a certain way or doing it the way it was supposed to be done.

Not a lot of real street dancers cross into the commercial side of the industry. That side is extremely competitive and egos can be way outta control. There is an unfortunate gap that remains between street dancers and studio dancers and commercial hip hop choreographers who make the money and use streetdancers or just their moves on their jobs. The dance community is quite divided in fact and there is no SAG or AFTRA established just for dancers that stands up for our rights. The main problem comes from the fact that dancers will always lowball each other for work. This however, is a separate topic on its own.

Are there any dancers you would like to give a shout out to?

Definitely shout out to all my influences above.
The dancers that really inspire me as I write this are:
Nasty Ray – bboy
Slim Boogie – popper
Madd Chadd – bopper/ robot
BBoy Storm – bboy / locking / popping
Anthony Thomas – locking / pure soul dancing
Donna and Tiff – all styles dance and known for whacking and locking

Final question, hardest question: What was your most memorable moment in dancing?


This one took a while, but when I think about what moment brought me the most joy, I have to go with a tie between the following four and they one upped each other every time:
1) The first time I did continuos windmills.
2) The first time I did over two 90’s
3) The time I finally took my jacket off while headspinning
4) The first time I did a CLEAN flare to handstand…. never got a clean flare 90 but i got up to handstand and then i could turn the 90s. I worked so hard though to get it ahhhhhh.

If I had to go with one, then I would probably just go with the first time I did continuous windmills. That was a huge benchmark for me. It was the proof that I needed to keep going. It taught me that if you don’t try, you have already failed.

These are simply achieved goals and they meant so much to me because I had spent years training for them. NOT because I wanted to battle or be the best. I wanted to be better than I was. To prove to MYSELF that I could achieve these objectives. Even when I am successful and wealthy, I’ll look back on my life and consider the above goals some of the greatest achievements of my life. I wonder how that will change in 10 years….

The new memories that I enjoy the most NOW are when I am teaching what I have learned and I witness that moment / spark in a young dancer where they realize they figured it out! It’s a priceless moment. The other day one of my students went to a sweet 16 and he didn’t know anyone except the birthday girl. He started shuffling (or the running man as I taught him) and everyone gave him props including this one girl he thought was super cute. His excitement when he told me the story was priceless.

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