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Three questions with David Elsewhere

March 5, 2011 Leave a comment

David Elsewhere’s dancing style and training philosophy have provided the greatest source of influence on this site. It is only natural that I contacted him so that he could represent himself in his own words. Here are three replies he sent to me.

Your practice methods and philosophies are a great inspiration to me. The principles require an incredible sense of self-reliance. Dance the way you want, trust your judgement, practice alone, transgress labels and catagories if necessary, rely on your memory and your own originality. Has this self-reliance always been a trait of your personality, or did you gradually learn the importance of it for your dance?

My self-reliance was mostly something I had to train myself to do.

It is only natural to be influenced by others especially when you believe someone else has a greater ability than you. I admit that I was influenced by and imitated a lot of people, but I eventually realized that it was more rewarding to be as independently thinking as possible.

I remember when I was a very young child I used to paint and draw really creative, extraordinary things. Of course my scribbly artwork as a child didn’t have the craftsmanship of a trained illustrator which I would later go to school for, but they did have a certain quality of creative freedom and innocence. I wasn’t afraid to draw a picture wrong because I didn’t know what wrong was.

Similarly with dancing I try to go about it in the same free spirit that I had as a child, before I was taught there is a right and wrong way.

Describe how Skywalker, Squid, and Salty influenced you. Are there any other dancers who played a significant part?

I was Squid’s friend since 8th grade. We both got into dancing around the same time in High School. He already knew how to do a few basic robot moves, and the backslide. He also seemed to naturally learn the basics a lot faster than I did. So I was really influenced by his style throughout the first few years I danced since I practiced with him so much.

Salty I saw in a breaking contest video within the first year that I started dancing. My mind was blown the first time I saw him dance and I became totally infatuated with learning his particular style. I would watch his footage over and over and then try to mimic his moves. I did this for many months, until I realized that it was almost impossible to copy his moves exactly. I would video tape myself and I would always be disappointed that I could never quite replicated his style. However my dancing wasn’t bad at all and it had my own unique personal flavor. Eventually I gave up trying to mimic him and stopped watching his footage altogether. This was very liberating and probably my biggest breakthrough because it was when I really started on my own path.

Skywalker I saw at Rave once probably a year or two after I had started dancing. Again I was amazed by his skills, mostly his uncanny waving ability. I started waving a lot more after I saw him. Since I didn’t have any footage of him to watch, I was only able to see him again in my memory. This definitely forced me to put my own spin on his style.

Other dancers which really influenced me would have to be: Mr. Animation for his popping ability, Bam Bam for his ground moves, Flattop for his isolations, Kujo for his philosophical outlook, and Midas for his style mixing.

You said in an interview that before the Kollab2001 clip went viral, that you thought that your dancing wasn’t really going to go anywhere. Did it really seem that unlikely at the time that a unique style like yours wasn’t going to lead to some kind of attention or success?

I could imagine my dancing getting some attention, but at the time it didn’t seem likely that my career as a dancer would suddenly take off the way that it did.

I was no stranger to the web before Kollab2001. The Detours video had been out for a while already and none of the video clips of me that where already on the internet got a lot of attention. Up to my kollab2001 performance I had been trying to make money off dancing for a long time doing various small gigs, street performing and selling the Detours video, yet the money I made wasn’t enough to support myself. Shortly after the Kollab2001 I had a falling out with my manager which prompted me to put dancing aside so that I could concentrate on my college courses. A year later the Kollab2001 clip appeared on the net and I had already graduated college and was working full time as a video editor. I hadn’t done paying dance gig in months and suddenly I was getting more offers than I could imagine.

Part 2 coming soon.

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Looking Elsewhere: The Road Less Travelled

July 24, 2010 2 comments

This is an entry in the David Elsewhere series where I analyse his training methods and philosophies. The quotes are derived from his myspace post. In this entry, I discuss the following quote.

Exploring where others haven’t – In dancing I have found that particular areas are easier to be original in than others. I think that certain styles are less explored than others and this leaves more room for innovation. From the artistic perspective, the less traveled path is usually always the more rewarding one and the one I have tried to stay on.

David Elsewhere. source

Without leaving their own art, the ingenious leave the common path and take, even in professions grey with age, new steps towards eminence.

Baltasar Gracian. A Pocket Mirror for Heroes. Trans. by Christopher Maurer. In Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, p. 349.

Wonders never amaze the second time around. How many looked in awe when the first bboys started doing windmills? Remember when the audience gasped when Michael Jackson debuted the moonwalk at the 25th anniversary celebration of Motown? Now both of these moves are often seen as nostalgic throwbacks to the 80s.

Quickly losing amazement of the familiar represents one of the great tragedies of the human mind. Audiences quickly feel jaded by any spectacle. If you want to survive as a dancer in a certain field, you need to perform the moves better then the dancer before you. I’m new to the bboy world (just as an observer), and I’m in shock how well the foundations of today’s bboys are. You face a lot of competition as a bboy. There are thousands of others who practice the same moves you want to practice. They may be stronger, more talented, have more experience.

Creativity plays a very large part in streetdancing. We have the ability to throw off competition by dancing on our own terms, not the terms others put on us.

I haven’t seen any evidence that Elsewhere can boogaloo. I’ve not seen him perform most of the basic popping routines most poppers judge each other by. In all likelihood, he’d have to spend years learning these type of dance. And then he’d be an average boogaloo popper.

Elsewhere took a smarter route. Instead of competing in the same fields as the other poppers, he focused all his energy on developing his own moves and taking them further then other people would take them. Look at the first two dancers in the Kollaboration clip.

Although it’s hard to tell with only a few seconds of their performance, they have a solid foundation in their popping routine. But they look very bad in comparison with Elsewhere. He performed moves that nobody in the room had seen before. Perhaps some had seen strobing, but not the way Elsewhere strobed his hands crawling across his chest, his head twitching from side to side in rhythm. Liquid dancing and abstract waving was known to some degree (though it was a very underground movement). How many had seen a person melt into a puddle, though?

It was no contest. Elsewhere was fighting on his own terms, not the traditional popping battle field. I’ve watched the clip more often then I should have, but not once have any of the commenters said that the first two deserved to win.

Breaking away from the traditional path may frighten most dancers. You may feel left behind if you don’t train the same way other people do. How can you call yourself a bboy if you don’t train the same moves all the other bboys train? At some level, most of us want to be told what to do. If we follow these guidelines, we will develop the skills that we need, then we can call ourselves dancers, or bboys, or poppers. God knows that I have these thoughts many times, often severely.

The problem is, everybody else is doing the same routines you would if you followed this type of logic. You’ve spent a lot of time training for something that others do much better then you. It is easier to innovate in fields that other people neglect.

In a way this represents a god send for most streetdancers. Streetdancers often feel attracted to the bizarre, to the amazing, to the weird. Perhaps poppers in particular feel this way, because most movements are calculated to be “unreal” in some way. It seems natural that these dancers would start looking into the most obscure fields for inspiration. The more obscure the inspiration, the more bizarre the styles and moves, as logic dictates.

There are other benefits. Tutorials and workshops teach the most basic, well-known moves. The Youtube age has provided us with a lot more diversity and access, and you’d be amazed how easily you can find obscure footage. Sometimes you can only find one video clip, with only a few minutes (or a few seconds) of relevant footage, but that’s enough to get you on your way.

I spent a lot of time searching for strobing tutorials (forget about finding workshops teaching this stuff). The only helpful one I found was from Tyson Eberly. This represented perhaps five minutes of tutorial footage (Strobing tutorial begins at 11:45 of the clip below).

I took that and tried the best I could, but it represented an enormous amount of trial-and-error on my part to figure out what to do. I had to stay attentive to what I was doing and provide myself with constant feedback. My hands and fingers were not doing what they were supposed to do, and I had to figure out why by myself.

I felt frustration many times over, but at the same time, I felt great satisfaction. I was achieving results by relying on my own wits and ingenuity instead of practising the same drills without thought. It felt more like a creative process, and this translated into further passion, into more practice, and better dancing. I try to take this attitude now whenever I try something new. I will attempt to emulate the anti-gravity moonwalk (not the Michael Jackson moonwalk) that I once saw a dancer from Street Scape perform. It’s less than three seconds of footage from the 80s, but that’s enough to get me going on my way.


(I advise you to watch the entire clip. You’ll thank me for it.)

Yes, this approach requires you to trust your passion and judgement, practice on your own, and endure people resenting you for taking a new path. I believe it is worth the effort many times over.

We forget how free we can define our streetdance. We have work shops, judged battles, and dancers who consider themselves authorities on what popping, bboying, locking, or liquid “is”. But essentially, we can take the dance in any direction that we want, and how far we want. Nobody has the power to tell you where your passion should take you.

It is an uncommon skill to find a new path of excellence, a modern route to celebrity. There are many roads to singularity, not all of them well-travelled. The newest ones can be ardous, but they are often short-cuts to greatness.

Balthasar Gracian. In Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, p. 356

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Looking Elsewhere: Beyond the impossible

May 31, 2010 1 comment

This represents the introductory entry in the Looking Elsewhere series. In each post, I will discuss David Elsewhere’s dancing, but more importantly, discuss how he trained and practiced to become such an unique dancer. To do this, I will analyse and comment on Elsewhere’s own writings about this subject. These insights are meant to help anyone who desires to truly express themselves in ways people haven’t even imagined possible.

I first saw David Elsewhere the same way millions of others saw him. His appearance on The Asian-American dance contest Kollaboration in the year 2001.

I saw it late, around 2006, after it had been posted on Youtube. My first reaction to this clip is interesting in hindsight. I was amazed at this form of dancing because I had never seen anything like it in my life. It was one of the first videos where I realized that the internet could present amazing talents who would have otherwise received very little mainstream attention.

But it was only a freak curiosity, something that vanished just as quickly as it appeared. The thought of me imitating this dance never entered my head. How could it? Traditional breakdance (I hadn’t even heard of popping by that point) was too outlandish and advanced. Elsewhere was a step beyond this, beyond the impossible. Rumours spread that that the dancer must have been born double-jointed or with some kind of rare physical abnormality that gave him superpowers. I never thought I could be a contortionist, so why would I try to imitate Elsewhere? You needed to be born with this flexibility, and practice every waking hour since you reached age five. With expert tutors.

It was only years later, after I had just started dancing as a hobby, that I found out the truth. It came from Elsewhere himself. “I’m not double-jointed at all. The only place where I am double-jointed is my thumbs, which doesn’t even matter. I would say I’m probably a little more flexible than most people in certain areas, mainly my shoulders and my ankles, but I wasn’t born that way. Those areas became flexible because of years of practicing.” And he didn’t start dancing seriously at the age of five like Michael Jackson. No, only seriously around age 17 (but then every day). Constant lessons and hours of professional tutorship? Nope. He mostly practiced alone, in his parents’ garage. There were a couple of dancers who influenced him (like Squid, Salty and Skywalker), but they were never his tutors and he only met them on a few occasions.

I reasoned that if my preconceptions about practicing and training were so wrong, then I must find out more about his methods and see if they could apply to me. I found a small blog post on Myspace written by David himself where he summarised his philosophies and practices on dancing.

These insights were so illuminating that I printed them out and posted them on my wall so that I can read them during a lull in my practice session. They deserve deeper discussion and analysis, so I will post regular features on this subject, focusing on a specific point at a time. For the next post, I will probably take on his principles of being yourself and trusting your own judgement.

Looking Elsewhere – Mirrors and shadows

May 4, 2010 1 comment

This is an entry in the David Elsewhere series where I analyse his training methods and philosophies. The quotes are derived from his myspace post. In this entry, I discuss the following quote.

Using a Mirror – I have found that using a mirror is extremely helpful when practicing because it gives instantaneous feedback. I know exactly how my moves look and can immediately critique myself. The only thing I would advise against would be getting so used to the mirror that you can’t perform well without one. To prevent this I try to practice just as much without a mirror.

Videotaping myself – I try videotaping myself once and in a while. It is just as helpful as using a mirror to me. The only drawback is that it’s not instantaneous feedback; you don’t see what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Videotaping has several advantages over a mirror. You don’t have to pay attention to your reflection thus allowing your mind to concentrate on just dancing. By recording yourself you, are able to observe things that are difficult to see in the mirror, like spins and ground moves. Videotaping yourself also gives you the opportunity to see what your moves look like from a variety of angles.

David Elsewhere, source

Many of the illusionary tricks of popping require a lot of practice and trial-and error. Most of the movements required to perform such tricks are unusual and essentially unnatural. Your body requires a lot of time and repetition to memorize these movements.

Take waving, for example. It requires you to isolate certain parts of your hands, wrist, shoulders, and chest, but to do so in a rapid and smooth fashion. Or take strobing, where you need to perform a rapid series of stop-and-go movements that have to be performed at a constant rhythm, every movement equal in distance from the previous one.

While there are many dance teachers and friends who can provide you with invaluable tips, you need to rely on yourself to criticize your performance and judge what you need to do so as to get where you want. That’s why it is necessary to perform in front of mirror. You can gain immediate feedback by watching yourself perform an arm wave and being unsatisfied with the result. This is particularly important when you first start practicing. Most likely you misunderstand how to perform an isolation or a dime stop, and only seeing yourself in the mirror will point that out. This allows you to try something different, find out what you misunderstood, what you need to work on.

Be aware of the drawbacks, though. Looking at the mirror means you are not fully concentrating on executing a move. It’s difficult to perform a move and concentrate on how it feels if you are looking at a mirror. Another possible drawback is that you may get used to performing in front of a mirror but are unsure how to dance without the aid of one.

Then we have the most simple negative effect: It can be disheartening for anyone to try to execute a move and failing hundreds of times, particularly in the beginning where you will almost certainly fail at everything you attempt.

Therefore, it’s necessary to divide your individual sessions into separate blocks. In the first half, you will practice your moves without a mirror, simply focusing on the sensations in your body as you perform them. Then you can practice in front of the mirror to see where you have improved and what you still need to work on. Spend more time performing without a mirror, but check your progress  with a mirror in every session.

At some stage your own shadow can replace the mirror as your toughest critic. First pointed out to me by Otis Funkmeyer (who learned it from Tyson Eberly), you can detect the effectiveness of your isolations and dime-stops more clearly with your shadow then your mirror reflection. I suppose it’s easier to focus on the movements of a simple silhouette than a distracting mirror reflection, and I guess that the blown-up size of your shadow helps you detect every unwanted movement, no matter how small. In fact, it’s infuriating to see how clearly your silhouette reflects the imperfections in your dime-stop or in your wave. That’s why I’m advising you to switch to your shadow only after achieving some success in your training (let’s be easy on ourselves at the beginning, after all). But I was surprised at how quickly it helps me to improve technique. After you convince your shadow, you’ll convince everybody else.

What about taping yourself? There are drawbacks here also. It isn’t instantaneous feedback, and you can feel even more self conscious with a camera than a mirror. Nonetheless, it helps you see focus on more than just one move, allowing you to judge your dancing as a whole. It also allows you to see the effect of your dancing from different angles. Better to tape yourself dancing once in a while so as to judge your dancing from a fresh perspective.

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