Arts Midwest (and Dance in general)

On Tuesday, I flew out to Austin with the Chicago Dance Crash family at Arts Midwest, a conference wherein various groups showcased their talents and tried to get bookings for the next calendar year. We were performing a 14 minute megapiece that featured all sorts of styles (including tricking – holla!). I was one of two guest artists. Even though I didn’t have much to remember to do during the performance, I was nervous. I was nervous being in a different state with a bunch of people I barely knew, to whom I owed my best performance. But I was also grateful for being given a chance.

The earliest video I have of myself tricking is a video from 2006. That was the year I did a backflip off the wall during an advertisement for the high school news network and forever doomed myself to being “the wallflip guy.” I have been tricking for a long time, since before I knew what it was called. Being able to bring those years of training, pain, and oftentimes injury and put it on display was deeply satisfying. Even if I am not the greatest dancer, there was a platform where I could represent all of that. For that, I am forever grateful to Chicago Dance Crash.

Aside: I feel like there are some aesthetics that only trickers will understand, like a gainer x-out full hook kick. Okay, that’s a little obscene, but I think it’s doable. It’s got all the hallmarks of tricking – single leg takeoff, inversion, twist, kick, being fucking awesome – but it’s really difficult to see all of that from any single angle. But trickers would understand.

Anyway, Austin was a blast. My nerves were unfounded. I had only ever felt welcomed by the Dance Crash family, and Austin was no different. We played in the fancy saltwater pool on the rooftop of the Hampton, walked around downtown, and generally goofed off the day before the performance. I met up with my cousin, Kin, for lunch right after we landed. He is currently in the Delta Program, a training course for Android development. I also had the chance to catch up with Adam Lupu and Nirav Amin, the directors of the program. Then on Wednesday, the Crash crew rehearsed and prepped for the actual performance. There were some nail-biting moments with the sound technicians not knowing what an iPod was (really), but in the end, the performance turned out well. I even snuck a kiyap into the performance after a particularly big corkscrew.

It feels like I have just had the biggest weekend ever. And it’s still not over.

Addendum: How did you get into dance? And Dance Crash in particular?

How I got involved with Crash is a bit of a convoluted story that begins in high school with my cousin, Sean, showing me a popper named Nam Hyun Joon. Pretty soon, I was practicing arm waves and popping, but I didn’t consider it to be “dance.” Much like tricking, I didn’t know there was a name for what I was doing. I didn’t really care, either, it was just so damn cool. Actually, that’s a lie. I did care. I still had a knee jerk reaction to shy away from the label of dance, a reaction that would stay with me for several more years. It was too alien to my conception of myself – I thought it was too feminine.

In college, I met Don Mach, the artistic director of Dance 2XS in Champaign at the time. He would choreograph for the Asian organizations and he was an insatiable alcoholic. It took a few years of being on the perimeters of each others’ radars, but we eventually started hanging out after bonding over Drunk Dance Revolution, or DDR with alcohol. He not only taught me how to dance and how to think about Dance, but also what a hangover is. One night Don invited me to Soundbar, a club in Chicago, and we danced the night away with a few friends. I was, and remain, at my element in loud clubs. It has something to do with the volume and the fact that no one there will ever see me again. But I was shocked when Don was impressed by my dance like nobody’s watching moves. “You are a true dancer,” he said. He was kind of drunk and exceptionally tired at the time, but I still took those words to heart. I felt like I had found my place as a dancer. Even if no one else thought I could dance, Don did, and that’s all that mattered. Since then, I’ve never shied away from calling myself a dancer, even if I could only consider myself to be a dancer in a nightclub, surrounded by strangers, listening to shitty music at ear-splitting volumes.

Fast forward to post-graduation. I’m contacted by an R&B artist who I eventually drop out of favor with, but thankfully I get to meet the wonderful soul that is Elisa Montalvo. Elisa is an incredibly skilled dancer, an incredibly disciplined and hard worker, and a brilliant person in general. She is an inspiration to anyone who actively chases their dreams. “Dance Crash!” she exclaimed at some point, “they would love you!” I followed her advice, went to a Crash audition, and eventually started attending Dance Crash’s Keeper of the Floor competitions. I got to know the crew a bit more, and eventually Jess asked if I was willing to guest artist at their showcase in Austin. And the rest, you’ve already heard about.

But where am I going to go from here? I have a lot to learn as a mover. I have been prepping for almost a year in order to start being able to trick regularly without destroying my ankle. To be honest, I haven’t gotten very far. I have to get double backs and double btwists before I consider myself finished with basic moves as a tricker, and I need to learn combos. As a dancer, I have so far to go it’s disheartening. But Jess urged me to take contemporary and ballet so she could put me in choreography pieces, and that encouragement helps. If she thinks I can do it, then perhaps I can.

Oh god, I just started thinking about popping, locking, hand-balancing, bboying, and all the other things I’ll never have time for 🙁