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Raw interview: Poppin John (part 1)

July 3, 2010 Leave a comment

That’s right, that’s right. I was able to score a monster interview with Poppin John from Soulbotics crew. To understand why he’s one of my top influences in dancing, read my feature on him. The depth of his answers surprised me, and I am grateful to have had this opportunity.

The interview itself is divided into three separate parts. There is a link at the end of each post to the next section. I have added some links whenever he mentions a dancer, plus I added some video and my comments whenever appropriate.

1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a very small town called Farmington in the Northwest corner of New Mexico. My childhood was amazing there but when I started to creep my way into the entertainment side of life, it definitely was not the right place to be. But that being said, I do think I have come up with many moves and concepts because I was learning by myself with not a lot of influences in town.

2. What got you into dancing, and why did you specialize in popping?

Well, my very first dance experience was at a family reunion. We camped in a big campground in Colorado, I think. But anyway, there was a small like dance room in the main building of the campground and they had DJ get down on the weekends, so my dad took me and my cousins. I was about 11 years old. My cousin Jason could do a few new jack swing moves like top rock-ish. I was super amazed because I hadn’t even thought about dancing in my whole life until that moment. After that, I went to my 7 grade first school dance and BOOM girls and music….”That’s it, I need to learn how to dance”….

Everyone was just standing around, and then I saw a circle on the other side of the gym. There were 2 kids breakin in the circle. When I walked up, one was doing a backspin. The other answered with the worm. That moment I know that this was the type of dance I wanted to do.

So that night I went home and learned how to do the worm (haha, everybody starts somewhere). I laid my mirror down on the ground and watched myself attempt this move that I wanted to learn so bad. One night of practice: the next school dance I was worming my ass off. That was my first dance experience.

Me and a few friends started a crew and started battling other crews. It was crazy. There were 7 or 8 crews in my small town in like 99, and we would hash it out at the skating ring. It was so dope, we thought we were the shit, pulling out routines and all kinds of tricks. So one night at the ring one of my friends told me that I have the best arm waves, and he asked me to repeat it over and over…that moment really stuck in my mind.

I was breaking and poppin, but never at the same time! For some reason, thank God, I always treated the dances as completely different things. I was in a crew called Foundations of freedom and it was all bboys and one bgirl, and I was the one who could pop. After a couple of years of practicing both I decided to give bboying a break and focus on poppin. I have been addicted ever since.

3. What were the reaction of your parents and peers to your dancing passion?

Well, the first reaction of my peers was pretty much 50/50. One side was like “DOPE, I wanna learn”, and the other side was a bunch of haters. You know how it is, and in a small town everybody has an opinion. But my parents have been down since day one. For real, my parents are a big reason for me taking dance to the next level and perusing it as a career. But after I developed a pretty good skill level, it was rare when I got negative feed back from anybody, really.

4. How did you come to the conclusion to pursue dancing full-time and travel around the world?

Well, the first time I really thought about traveling the world was when I started to watch bboy battle videos. Seeing dancers from all over the globe come and compete in the same place was so dope to me. My pops started taking us to jams in the surrounding cities when they did go down. From those experiences, I turned into a battle cat, always ready to through down. To this day, I can’t seem to get rid of the desire to compete.

To take dancing as a career really started with my father. He made it known that he wanted me to pursue whatever I wanted to do in life and to not get stuck punching a clock and be unhappy. So then the idea of my website www.learn2bust.com started up, and a few years later, the plans became reality. Now I have students all over the globe learning form my videos. Its an amazing feeling, being able to teach the things I have picked up throughout my dance career.

Click here for part 2 of the interview.

Raw interview: Poppin John (part 2)

July 3, 2010 1 comment

5. Which dancers and teachers made the greatest impression on you at the beginning (and has this changed nowadays)?

So when I first started out poppin, I thought there were 5 poppers in the world (hahah). Salah, Mr.Wiggles, Poppin Pete, Bionic, and PopnTaco.

That soon changed when I started traveling and meeting poppers from nowhere and everywhere. I felt so small. I thought I was a beast and then realized that I was just a kid that had a few good waves. Salah was a big influence when I was beginning. I was amazed by his battle attitude and how he always had the crowd wrapped around his finger….I still feel the same about Salah, and after teaming up with him to battle in Juste Debout, I have so much respect and love for him. He definitely is super humble and very professional. A very good person all around and a good friend of mine now. It was a dream come true dancing with him…

Wigz was the first popper I ever know existed and I would say he was the biggest influence of mine…I watched a wigz tape over and over and over trying to learn moves and techniques. Now wigz is the person I go to for advice on my dance and business. He always has the time to answer me, and he was and always will be a huge influence of mine.

During the first 5 years of my dance, I decided I wanted to be a boogaloo popper…all the poppin jams were full of them and I really didn’t fit in with any of them. So that was a big focus of mine. I wanted to boog sooooo bad, so I bought a Poppin Pete tape and he broke down a lot of boog positions, and I started to boog in this period of my dance career. I was learning very slow. I really couldn’t find the feel of boog and the positions were foreign to me. But I stuck with it. A couple years went by and I had been to a few more big jams freestyle session. I saw J-Rock win freestyle session 8 and that’s what I wanted my dance to look like. But it wasn’t happening so I still kept pushing it…

I just couldn’t feel it one day, and I said “Fuck it, bro. I’m gonna do me.” I started looking in the mirror, seeing what I liked. I always loved it when I saw a popper get really “clean”… isolated, animated, clean waves. Popn Taco’s a beast in my book and always will be.

[Liquid Metal: I second that opinion on PopNTaco]

So Poppin Pete was an influence of mine when I really wanted to fit in with the boog world, but not so much now. I think he is amazing and a legend, but not really what I’m going for in my dance. Nowadays, I get influenced by everyday students of mine and my crew Soulbotics . But I try to influence myself and learn new things by myself. Its easy to watch videos on youtube now and really pick up that persons feel without knowing it, so I try to stay conscience of that and try to keep my own feel.

[Liquid Metal: This echoes my post Youtube is our friend and enemy]

6. What does your daily practice session consist of (including any supplementary conditioning and flexibility training)?

Daily practice consists of a studio solo session for 1 to 2 hours. Then I have choreo practice for 1 hour. I put a wall up for myself a few years ago and said I was not good a choreo. Now im trying to break that mental block, so I jam out with a crew in El Paso. I have been getting pretty good.

Then after that studio session I head home and change, go off to the club to really session. When I’m in the studio I “practice”, and when I go out I “session”. They are very different in my book. When I practice, I practice styles. When I session, I transition in and out of different styles, flip styles, and really connect with the music.

As far as warm up and flexibility goes, I really don’t focus too much on those. I just GET DOWN as hard as I can.

7. What is the most common mistake beginning poppers make, and what advice should all new poppers know?

I think a big mistake beginning poppers make is trying to cut corners. I feel there are no short cuts in this dance . You have to learn the techniques of poppin and the styles of poppin before you can execute “moves”. I see many beginners just jumping from move to move to move, but they don’t have the control or technique to execute them…but I can also say that’s not a mistake, its just how it is today. I feel that those dancers are doing all they can with the skill level they have. If they stick with it, they will eventually learn the techniques and control. So I would say the mistake is not knowing that there is a lot of technique to learn before you can make moves look good.

And that brings me to my advice. You have to practice as much as possible to get better. This dance is a life long dance, meaning it takes YEARS to learn many of the techniques that are in poppin. So my advice is to never take a break. Always practice and try to find motivation in every situation to train more. When I lose, I train. When I win, I train. When I feel that I’m not as good as this guy, I train. When I feel I have a high skill level than this guy, I train. I find that fire in every situation to practice more.

8. What are your thoughts on the competitive nature of popping, and how should one deal with the success of others?

Well, when I started dancing that’s what it was all about. In battling, I was sooo hungry and I wanted to prove myself in every circle. I learned so much about winning losing and using it all for motivation.

But there are a few things that I would like to say about the competitive nature of poppin. Be careful not to get too caught up in the drama of this dance. We can forget that it is a positive thing and we do it because we love the dance and the music. If you cant take losing very well then you should not battle. You are putting your dance in front of someone to judge it and critique it. If that is something that will hurt you don’t put your self in that position.

That being said, competing is a huge part of my life and I cant seem to get away from it. It is tough at times to take a loss and also to take a big win. You can’t let either of them get to your head too much. And about the success of others: the way I look at it, the better other poppers do, the better it is for the whole dance. I believe that we have the most talented people in this culture and we should all get exposure and the fruits of hard work. This dance is hard to learn, and when that much time is put into anything, I think there should be rewards greater than personal expression. But that just is my view. There are many people who view that subject differently… But to be successful in this industry you have to work hard and go get it you can’t just stand around and wait for the opportunities to knock at your door.

Click here for part 3 of the interview.

Raw interview: Poppin John (part 3)

July 3, 2010 3 comments

9. Can you remember instances where your creativity helped you through a troubling period?

To be honest, I cant really say there were instances, but I can say that every time I step on the dance floor all troubles all doubts worries just disappear and all I can feel is music. This fact has made this dance a addiction rather than a hobby. I use it for expression and the more I do it the more I need it. It gets to the point where I can’t go 2 days with out getting down for real.

10. You mentioned on your Myspace page that you believe in God. Can your remember an example where your spirituality strengthened your creativity? Can your remember an example where your creativity strengthened your spirituality?

Yes, I do believe in God and I would like to say I give God all the credit for the things I have, and that I have done. I see more and more of God in this dance and in the experiences I have with other dancers. It’s crazy, the people he has put in my life through this dance.

11. How did you join Soulbotics Crew?

SoulBotics was a joining of 2 crews. First there was me, RandmRok, and Sweet feet. We decided to team up and make a crew. We didn’t really have any names set, but then we swooped up Dnoi and it was us 4 for a few months. Then we met John Doe and his crew Diverse Souls out of Dallas (John Doe, 747, and Press Play). We had such a good click with them and their personalities that we just joined forces as a crew. We put down Breeze lee and PopNtod, so that makes 9 and we have been family ever since

12. How did you and Soulbotics Crew start producing your own tutorials?

Well, Learn2bust.com is my baby, so to speak. Me and my father came up with the idea for a website and planned it out. I went through a few web designers and finally got hooked up with a guy named Jason Daynger out of Albuquerque NM, and this gave life to our idea. I was teaching a lot of lessons alone for the first year and then I started asking members of SBK to help me with different styles for the site. I am planning on getting many other dancers the get down on Learn2bust in the near future.

13. What changes do you see in popping now then when you started?

The changes… Well, a big change for me was me deciding that I didn’t need to fit into the boogaloo world and that I could just do me and what I thought looked good. That was a big change and I feel that Gstyle has a lot to do with that fact. Aside from all the shit talk there are many great things that have come from that drama war….and another change for me is that poppin is much more serious for me. Its not a game anymore. I treat poppin like a sport. I stay in shape for it, I practice mentally. Before I was just having a good time with my friends.

14, What are your current projects and future plans?

Learn2bust.com is one of my main projects, but I have also just signed with a manager out of LA, as well as an agent from Clear talent Group. I’m trying to get more into the mainstream industry to get more work. Music videos, commercials, things like that. So hopefully that will be in the near future…I am also planning some competitions in the next couple of years so just trying to stay busy and grind out as much as possible!

15. Finally, can you describe your most memorable battle or moment in dancing (doesn’t necessarily have to involve you).

That’s a hard one! Well, here is a big one for me. Freestyle session, I think 10, maybe 11, before HTWWW joined in to cater for the popper and lockers. Cross one had us set in the lobby for the poppin battles. It was a 2 day jam, and we made it to the second day. This was our first battle as a crew Soulbotics. So the night after the first day, we ended up staying in Englewood at some random hotel, and there was a walled in parking lot with 2 cars in it. We sessioned as a crew for like 4 hours, making up 2 and 3 man routines. The next day we have to battle MGF. Me and John Doe went first, with a dope routine. The battle was the best battle I have ever been apart of.

MGF went on the take it and unfortunately Cross One didn’t have a camera in the room for that battle (and of course they were not letting cameras in the door). So that one went down live, just like it used to be: no second look, nada…there were many people who told us we won that battle. Members of MGF and the judges told us we lost because we didn’t have a full crew routine and they did.

It was a great battle and it created a very strong bond for us as a crew. I feel that that was the real moment when we officially became SBK.

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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.