Dancer and choreographer Crazy Smooth knows a thing or two about the demands imposed by street dance, a discipline he has been practising for over 20 years, and the numerous styles that flow from it. Spins, jumps, contortions: the physical feats are numerous and sometimes defy the laws of gravity. This discipline, which is only 50 years old, is still championed primarily by the dancers of the first generation, the pioneers who introduced it. Because street dance and hip hop culture capitalizes on skill and body strength as a form of invincibility, the question arises: can b-boys/b-girls continue to perfect their art as they age?
Crazy Smooth wanted to look into this question and dare to talk about aging in the field of dance, and more particularly street dance, through a brand new creation entitled In My Body. We caught up with him to learn more about his artistic approach and his own discoveries during the creative process.
Q: The premise of your show is the aging of performers of street dance, a discipline that is extremely demanding on the human body. Has your relationship with your own body changed during your creative process?
Yes and no. Yes, since I was surprised by the experience it gave me. I came out of it with a more solid idea of my own body, my experiences, my four knee operations, etc. But the show features a collective of nine dancers with nine different experiences, people from all generations of street dance. The oldest member of the troupe is 57 and the youngest members are in their early twenties. All of their experiences shine on stage. What surprised me was how much I appreciate and honour the experiences of everyone, of all generations. The title at the beginning of the show is In My Body, and at the end it becomes In Our Body.
And no, in the sense that I had the idea that the timeline of the body and the timeline of the spirit were two different things. The hypothesis I had at the start turned out to be my conclusion. The body’s timeline is very determined. We can do many things to take care of our body, but at the end of the day, nature wins out. On the other hand, the spirit can stay young for a very long time.
Q.: What is your intention with this show? What would you like people to take away from it?
In this show, we form a micro-society. No one will escape aging. I would like each person to recognize themselves, even if only in one aspect of the show, and see where they fit on the timeline and then come away with the notion that we are nothing without each other.
In the world of street dance, if the elders aren’t there, it turns into a circus: we don’t know where we’re going, we don’t have a guide. If the youngest aren’t there, there’s no energy: it turns into a long-term care facility!!! We need their energy and their desire to always push the envelope. Without my generation, the one in the middle—the bridge, as I call it—, communication isn’t as efficient. We’re still very, very close to the younger generation, but we know that we’re on our way to joining the elders. Basically, it’s about realizing that we can’t exist without each other. In our community it’s especially important to communicate well, because we interact regularly. If there’s a break jam, our form of social gathering, all generations will be there. That’s something that’s relatively unique to our community. There are other dance communities where the elders are there, but they’re more isolated. Our community is more along the lines of African or Indigenous culture.
Q.: What advice would you give to a young street dancer who aspires to a professional career?
When you want to pursue a career in dance, there are certain things you can’t overlook. Like it or not, we become entrepreneurs in a certain way. Some people join dance companies, but they are still, at some level, entrepreneurs.
My first piece of advice would be to learn the finance dance! In Canada, we have a subsidy system. We have to learn how we can finance our projects. Even if we hire a company to help us write the grant applications, we still have to understand how it all works.
My second piece of advice would be to have an open mind and expose yourself to as many different dance styles as possible. Today, those who succeed in making a career of it are those who have mastered several styles. Being a specialist is well and good, but as a general rule, when you can do several styles, it’s an asset.
My last piece of advice: There are things that remain universal. We live in a world that is influenced by social media. Some dance companies will look at how many followers you have on different platforms. I can have a résumé that shows that I’ve danced for the Grands Ballets, for Bboyizm, and for many other companies, but I have only ten followers on Instagram. If someone has less experience but comes with hundreds of thousands of followers, their chances of being chosen are slightly better than mine. I would tell people to be super careful about that. There’s no substitute for experience. Sooner or later, people will realize that you covered things up with your images and that you don’t have the necessary experience. Your hundreds of thousands of followers can’t replace experience! So that’s an important piece of advice that I would give to the next generation of dancers.
Q.: The show is accompanied by the music of DJ Shash’U, the poetry of Alejandro Rodriguez and different projection mediums. Why this unusual combination?
DJ Shash’U is definitely the best composer in the world of street dance, and he’s still a dancer, so he understands our requirements. When we chat together during the creative process, I don’t need to say much; he understands the vibe I’m looking for. And it’s the same for the writer Alejandro Rodriguez. I’ve been working with him for eight years now, and he’s also a fan of hip hop culture. It was really interesting to work with him: he’d take the words I said in a discussion and compose a text with them. His poetry is rhythmic. When I read the texts, I hear a rhythm. The visceral side of dance speaks in a way that the written word cannot, and vice versa—writing can take us somewhere dancing cannot. The music, the poems and the projection technology used in the show form the perfect combination. The right proportion of each medium ensures that the experience is complete. I’m really happy to have combined all these elements to support the premise of the show. This is the first time all the members of the In My Body team have worked together. To me, the people who agreed to embark on this project are my dream team!