Crazy Legs: On Real Hip-Hop Dance, Real Hip-Hop Crews, and Why Lil’ Mama Doesn’t Fit In the Mix

When it comes to the history of b-boying, the Rock Steady Crew is synonymous with pioneering the culture that has grown from its humble beginnings in the Bronx to worldwide acclaim. Originally started by Bronx b-boys Jimmy D and Joe Joe, the Rock Steady Crew has grown into a worldwide icon in the world of […]

When it comes to the history of b-boying, the Rock Steady Crew is synonymous with pioneering the culture that has grown from its humble beginnings in the Bronx to worldwide acclaim. Originally started by Bronx b-boys Jimmy D and Joe Joe, the Rock Steady Crew has grown into a worldwide icon in the world of Hip-Hop. The Rock Steady Crew has been a driving force in much of the choreography seen today in television and dance films. Boasting over 40 members, Rock Steady is truly a Hip-Hop force to be reckoned with.Crazy Legs, President of RSC, has been keeping the name strong in all facets of entertainment along with the many talented members of the Crew. Crazy Legs has been featured in numerous movies and documentaries over the years, including Flashdance, Beat Street, Wild Style, Style Wars, and the Peabody award-winning documentary Dance in America: Everybody Dance Now. Most recently, RSC has made impact on television with appearances on dance shows like Dancing With the Stars and MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. We got in some time with Crazy Legs to see what both he and the crew had in store for Hip-Hop fans in the You have been involved in some major movies and stage productions over the course of your career. What have been the biggest highlights thus far in performing for you personally and for the crew as a whole? Crazy Legs: The “stuff-I-did” part of me would say on a Hip-Hop culture level, the first time I met Afrika Bambaataa on stage at the Ritz Club in New York in 1981 was a huge thing. We opened up for him and a punk rock group called Bow Wow Wow. When we met Bambaataa on stage for the final bows, he brought me and Frosty Freeze (may he rest in peace) and the Rock Steady Crew on stage to become a part of the Zulu Kings. The Zulu Kings was the new generation of B-boys that were on the front line for the Zulu Nation at that time. I’m not a member of the Zulu Nation anymore, but that was definitely a big time for me. Another time would be when I danced with Jimmy Casta and the Casta Bunch at SOB’s in New York in 1991. SOB’s actually reached out to me and asked me to come out while he performed “It Has Just Begun” at SOB’s. We weren’t actually performing the song, but we really appreciated coming on stage to the song we used in the movie Flashdance. So we were like, “Hell yeah we’ll come perform!” Getting down to one of the DJ anthems while the artist is actually performing is pretty high on the list of experiences. The third thing for me would be meeting James Brown.  On a commercial level, doing Wild Style was the only movie that was a true representative of the culture of Hip-Hop. Even though it set out to become a documentary, but ended up becoming a cheesy movie in terms of the acting, the people that were in Wild Style were chosen because they were at the top of their game. It was based on their skill level and their ability to perform. There were no record labels behind the movie saying, “Well, use my artist and we’ll support you.” And you know that’s how you actually got in the movies. These people were rocking the crowds during b-boy jams. These were real ghetto celebrities holding it down. That was a really high point. Do you have any personal achievements that you are particularly proud of?Crazy Legs: All of the things that I have accomplished are all achievements to me. A personal achievement to me is being a good father to my child, which shouldn’t even be an achievement; it should be a natural ability. In this day and age, with so many absent fathers around, you should pat yourself on the back without getting gassed up over something you should be doing anyway. I know you and the crew has been putting it down for a while, especially with you just recently celebrating Rock Steady’s 31st Anniversary. When did it all start for you? When did you start b-boying?Crazy Legs: It started for me in 1977. That’s basically it. [laughs] I was whack at the beginning. But that’s anyone who’s going into any art form whether it’s turntables or breaking. Hopefully you have the ability to move past your wackness, you know? Find that glow inside you to be better at the turntables or whatever it is you want to do. Was there anything in particular that really made you want to get into the art form? Did you just see it one day and decide that’s what you wanted to do?Crazy Legs: The first time I saw it was in 1976. I saw Africa Islam and my brother doing it in the front of my building in the Bronx on Garfield Street. When I saw them doing it, there was no music, no jam or whatever; it was just two people throwing themselves on the floor. I was really embarrassed for my brother, and that did nothing for me. A year later, my cousin Lenny brought me to a jam that was going on in the Bronx. He was telling me that people were b-boying and doing graffiti, so I checked it out. I didn’t even know what b-boying was and the term “break dancing” didn’t even exist. But when he brought me to the jam and I saw everything going on in full blast with B-boys battling and b-girls battling, graffiti artists comparing tags on the walls in the park, MCs comparing their black books and DJs rocking the mic, I became engulfed in that world. The rest is history. Since b-boying is really the foundation of Hip-Hop dance, do you feel that people need that foundation in their repertoire to truly call themselves “Hip-Hop” dancers?Crazy Legs: The term “Hip-Hop” is used very loosely these days. I feel like a lot of things shouldn’t qualify you to be a Hip-Hop dancer. I think people may not have the appreciation for this dance the way they should. They call themselves Hip-Hop dancers because the foundation of Hip-Hop dance is what we do. [Breaking] is the first Hip-Hop dance. It’s the only one that has lasted this long without having to borrow styles. You’ve had the Wop, the Cabbage Patch, the Smurf, the Jiggalo you’ve had all of these dances that have come and gone. B-boying is the only dance that has remained constant; it stood the test of time. Do you feel that movies like Step It Up or You Got Served have the same credibility for Hip-Hop dance as movies like Beat Street or Breakin’ did in the ’80s?Crazy Legs: Breakin’ wasn’t even a breaking movie, so the title was completely wrong anyway. I feel like pop-lockers from the West Coast should be the people to judge that movie. It was called Breakin’ but it wasn’t about breaking. [laughs] I feel like the newer movies have a different kind of impact. Beat Street and the small appearances we had in Flashdance were ground-breaking and pioneering movies. I was in a car with a friend of mine that told me he went to see Flashdance 20 times to see a scene that was three minutes long. He went to a theater and paid to see a movie 20 times just for one scene. I don’t think anyone is going out to the movies and checking out Step It Up 2 20 times. A lot of these movies, the dancing is cool and all, but the acting is horrible man! Let’s be real! I’m the type of person that goes to a movie to see it in its entirety, dancing and all, not just one scene. I can sit here and tell you Beat Street for me was wack in terms of acting. There were great moments that kept building Hip-Hop commercially, but the acting was wack.They’re all relative to their time. Now we’re showing the evolution of Hip-Hop dance. We’re seeing all of these movies coming out now, but in terms of the choreography, it’s all been done before. We did a documentary called Jam on the Groove that was a dance musical. It featured about 12 pieces of Hip-Hop choreography. It featured popping, locking and even martial arts. It still gives Hip-Hop it’s time to shine, and that’s a good thing. I’m definitely not hating on anyone trying to get their hustle on. Rock Steady Crew has performed overseas, even for the Queen of England. Do you find that Europe or other countries are more receptive to b-boying than the U.S. even though it did originate here?Crazy Legs: I would say that when it comes to appreciating this dance as an art form and the fact that this came from the United States’ own back yard, the U.S. has the least respect for what we do. If you go to Korea, the government funds programs that actually let their youth learn and perfect this dance that started in the South Bronx. In the U.S., it’s hard enough to get a sponsor to go to a competition, let alone have a training facility. It’s crazy Why do you feel like that’s the current start of affairs?Crazy Legs: It’s not a feeling, it’s a fact! [laughs] Why is the climate like that though? It doesn’t make any sense that it originated in the U.S. but we aren’t supporting it.Crazy Legs: I don’t know. I would hope it’s not because it was something started by Black and Latino people, you know? Maybe it doesn’t say to the powers that be that this is an American art form. I don’t think America sees it that way to where it can be funded and become a part of the American institution like ballet. What steps needed to be taken to get that accomplished?Crazy Legs: We need some real love from our own government. Like I said, Korea’s government got behind their youth. Other than that, everyone’s trying to make their connections. We don’t have one organization that’s working across the board like Korea does, which is a damn Especially with it being around as long as it has.Crazy Legs: Right. All I can do is continue to do what I do and hope that that has an effect on a protégé or someone that is taking my class when I do teach. Hopefully some person that grew up around my age that has a kid now will take them and show them that, “Hey, this is what I used to do.” Hopefully they’ll take their kids to a Rock Steady anniversary and show them that, “Hey, this is a young man’s dance. This is for me too.” We have seen some b-boys on shows like America’s Best Dance Crew, So You Think You Can Dance and other mainstream shows recently. How do you feel about Hip-Hop choreography being integrated into popular dance, and what do these shows do for the genre?Crazy Legs: America’s Best Dance Crew isn’t what its name suggests. A lot of those groups aren’t crews; they’re dance companies. That in itself is a big lie. People are going to think that’s what crews do when that isn’t the case. People that come from street crews take on this art form because they don’t have a lot going on in their lives and they need a form of expression because they live in the hood. That’s not saying that you have to be from the hood to be in a crew, but that’s just what it is. Real crews are extended families. A lot of groups on ABDC aren’t from that background. It’s almost like that’s a hobby for them. From the ones that I’ve met, many of them have more than just dancing; in real crews, all they have is dancing. That’s just the Do you feel like shows are detrimental to the art form?Crazy Legs: It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, it provides an opportunity, and on the other hand, the judges don’t know the vocabulary of what they’re judging. I don’t think they’re coming in as legitimate dancers. They probably learn about it as they go along. They’re probably being consulted by these kids that aren’t being paid for their I was wondering why Lil’ Mama was sitting up there.Crazy Legs: What does she know about being in a crew? She comes across as being very scripted. From what I heard about what goes on during the show, a lot of it is actually scripted. People are actually chosen before a lot of it goes down. But it does create opportunities for workshops and things like that. There are good things and there are bad things. If they’re going to have people judging b-boying, at least have a b-boy on the panel. What do you have ahead of you in terms of events? Crazy Legs: I consult on a lot of things. I do a lot of work with Red Bull. We have some things happening that I can’t really elaborate on, but it’s an international thing. A lot of people in Rock Steady have their own projects going on, but I would like for all of us to get together and start a dance studio together. We could school them on where it comes from historically as well as how to do it correctly. More and more you’re seeing entertainers go back to their housing projects to donate money and give back to their communities. I know you give back quite a bit to your community, but what are some of the initiatives in New York that you do to help out? Crazy Legs: A lot. I’m the type of person that doesn’t do press releases. I don’t give back because I think it’s going to be a good press angle. I’m totally against that. I’ve been hired to teach at a Peace Academy, and I taught for a semester. At the end they gave me a check for it. The stage where the children perform was really damaged. I gave the money right back to them and told them to go fix their stage. I throw food drives for City Harvest, development councils, and they give it back to the communities. I also do basketball tournaments. Red Bull sent me to Uganda to work on a documentary that promotes awareness about displacement camps due to the war. They told me I couldn’t get paid, and I said. “Let’s do it.” That trip was the most heart-breaking experience in my life. I’ve been to Third World countries before, but never anything like There are a lot of people that look up to you, whether it be b-boys, artists, people in the entertainment industry or whomever. With a lot of exposure comes a lot of pressure. How do you stay under composure? What do you do to ensure that you’re a good role model to follow?Crazy Legs: When it’s time to get down and do your thing, never let them see you sweat. I know people see me as a leader. If I fall apart as a leader, people will fall apart around me. If you chop off the head, the rest of the body will follow. I feel like if I’m the head of what I have going on, everyone else has to see everything is alright, even when it’s not. When it comes to complaining, I’m at the top.I can’t complain downwards. You’re a role model whether you like it or not. What you do affects the decisions other people make. I encourage people to stay in school. If young people want to be in the Rock Steady Crew, their grades have to be right. I tell them that some of us messed up, and we don’t need more Hip-Hop Any advice for our readers who are aspiring to get into the culture?Crazy Legs: I would like to tell people that life isn’t Beat Street. If you want to get involved in Hip-Hop, there’s more than just b-boying. If you develop a knack for something and your skills are on point, go for it. Stay in school, take care of the family, and as corny as it sounds, keep it real. There are too many fake internet thugs. Flavor and style comes from your style, not just acting. It comes from being yourself. Allow your character to shine. That allows you to be set aside from the average person out there.