CreeAsian B-boy

y Michael MacDonald

On Saturday afternoon, December 2nd, 2006, I attended a hip hop jam at the Argyll Community Centre in Edmonton, Alberta. It was hosted by the Aboriginality Crew from Saddle Lake Reserve. Hip hop crews from Vancouver, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Prince Albert, Medicine Hat, Seattle, and Edmonton gathered in the dance studio. I had learned about the competition a few days earlier when I first called Matt about doing this interview. We decided that meeting after the competition would be best for the interview.

Two days later I made my way into the crowded studio in Edmonton’s South End. After paying admission I asked where I could find Matt. One of the organizers went into the studio to let him know that I was there. While I waited I watch four people playing hacky-sack just inside the entrance.

Matt came to the door to meet me and said that the one-on-one competitions had just ended and there was going to be a small break while the guest disc jockey from Calgary, DJ Pump, was setting up for the crew battle.

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Very soon DJ Pump started spinning a heavy and very loud groove while the judges explained the battle rules and put on a brief demonstration of their skills. The main judge announced that, “ OK, no one wants to judge your skills like this and we’re only doing this because there needs to be a judge ‘cause this is a competition so be good about this whole thing. Now we’re going to show you what the judges can do so you can be sure that we’re qualified to do this!” Each judge was introduced and put on a demonstration of their skills. The sizeable crowd was organized in a large circle with the dancers in the centre and enthusiastically cheered for each judge. Then the crew battle began.

Each crew was introduced, and when DJ Pump started spinning each member of the crews danced at the opposing crew. The point of the battle was to show which crew would outdo the other. One dancer, then a dancer from the next crew, and then back. Sometimes various members of one crew would break into a choreographed series of moves trying to intimidate their opponents. The crowd loudly cheered the unique breaks, incredible acrobatics, and tight choreography.

Three hours later, Matt (CreeAsian) sat down with me and explained what the jam was all about.

Matt, what’s your hip hop name about?

I go by CreeAsian, like creation, a creation on the floor, like the Creator’s creation, he created the grass, he created the trees for humans to breathe, plus I’m half Cree and half Vietnamese, plus it’s got some impact.

Who put on this competition?

Aboriginality put on this competition; it’s called a jam. It’s a crew from Saddle Lake; I’m from Good Fish Lake but our band is Saddle Lake; that’s the reserve where I’m from. This jam used to be on the reserve but it was a long time to come out there and we figured it would be easier for people to come here to the community centre. So we moved it here. It is way easier for the crews to get together here in the city than out at the reserve.

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What’s a crew?

A crew is a group of dancers that organize themselves together. That’s how most people learn their moves. People start learning on their own and then meet other people around them that are into B-boying or B-girling and then they start their own crew. My crew is called Freshly Squeezed780. The number represents the city; it’s our area code here in Edmonton. So it’s like we represent the city. You see crews all over the place using their area code. It says where you’re from, who you represent.

How do these jams get organized and why are they so important?

The competitions happen everywhere, everybody loves jammin’, and so people get together to do that. The crews get together and compete for braggin’ rights. . . get rid of judge matches, ’cause sometimes if people don’t like one another they can take it out in the circle instead of fighting. If you’re really mad that day and things aren’t really happening for you, you can use it for healing. Dancing is good for you. I mean you have to be really practising your moves when you’re doing this and that’s way better than being out on the street stealing cars or whatever. Practising all the time to be good at this doesn’t give you much time to be a gang-banger or whatever, ’cause you want to be good. If you come into the circle and you’re sloppy and you can’t hit your moves then that’s it; you’re out of it. ‘Cause the dance is everything, we live the dance. This dance came out of nowhere; I mean the inner city of New York; these kids came up with an idea of breakin’. People say all the time that kids in the city don’t do anything, don’t come up with anything, but these kids came up with something that is everywhere now. You can find this dance everywhere, England, France, Korea; I mean everywhere.

When you’re battling you are fighting, not physically, you don’t touch anybody, but when you’re in a circle battling, people see who you are. It’s really about the freedom of self expression, there’s still talking and dissing each other but you better be able to back it up. Or they’ll say: “I’m going to see you after…I’m going to rip you.” It’s not physically fighting, hurting somebody. I mean you can punch somebody and then after a week or something it doesn’t hurt anymore. Not with B-boying, I mean if somebody starts with you and you call them out into the circle and you battle and you do your moves and everybody starts cheering for you then you hurt them in a way that doesn’t heal. He can’t heal from that.

Is it all about the battle?

No, not just the battle, it’s all about fun too. People here in Edmonton try to bring you down too. It’s a way to release your anger. If someone tells you you’re not going to go anywhere, but you have this dance it’s easier. I mean it’s not for everybody but if you like the dance, this dance is for certain people who like to express themselves through movement. Besides, if you’re only doing the battle to win it, to win the prize money or whatever, you wouldn’t win. It’s about more than that. It’s about how we live our lives.

I express my culture through my dance too. When up doing a top-rock, it’s kind of like a salsa, that kind of style. I try to imitate in my culture when we smudge with sweetgrass: we cleanse the mind, body and soul. So I imitate that and wish it around my body before I go to the ground so it’s like a blessing before I hit the ground.

Also another move is when you see some dancers, mostly native people, doing a cultural dance called Grass Dancing, you pat the grass down instead of just stomping on it, so you can use that movement in breakin’; you can bless the ground before you go on it. The Grass dancer blesses the ground before the ceremony goes on, before the powwow goes on. So that’s what you try to use. I’ve seen people using hip hop moves at powwows too, throwing flips and breaks into the Fancy Dance these days.

What is the difference between breakdancing and b-boying?

I mean if you go to the bar you’ll see a bunch of drunk people flopping all over the ground and somebody’ll say: “Hey look at them. . . that’s breakdancing.” And yeah, that’s breakdancing, but what you saw here today was b-boying. Breakdancing is people doing a bunch of tricks, flopping around on the floor. B-boys have tricks and have skills. B-boys have it all. They’ll speak to you with their moves; they go down on the floor; he’ll speak to you with his footwork; he’ll hit you with something; he’ll go back and go back onto the floor and do a spin; he’ll pop back up and he’ll have attitude with it. It’s a whole story; there’s interaction. You don’t want to go out there and just flop all around. People call you on that; it has to be more than that; it has to be practised; you have to hit your moves.

How did you get into B-boying?

When I was 5 years old I saw it here and there. I saw it in school. When I was 16 I saw it again and was watching these guys doing this dance and people were cheering them on. I wasn’t a really cool kid and when I saw this dance I was like, I have to do this. It was great and it really helped with the girls too; they really like it. But it became more than that, it became a way of life; what we do. ‘Cause when things weren’t really great at home and I was angry and stuff, I was able to do the dance and release all of that and heal. I used to be bad with my temper. I’d bottle it in and bottle it in and then blow up. I was really bad for that. But the dancing helped me release all of that and hip hop is all about peace, love, and unity and just having fun. So that’s what I try to promote to the youth.

How do you promote it to the youth?

I work as a schoolteacher at an inner city public school and these are the kids that people give up on. But these kids are making breaks and breaking, even though the kids come from nothing, people make it something. I didn’t always have stuff, but I had the dance and when people said: “You’re going nowhere,” I wanted to show them otherwise. I really worked hard on the dance and since then I’ve been all over Canada; I went to the States, Australia, I’m going to Europe soon and I’m doing cultural dancing too. I also teach at a local studio that is funded by a grant. It’s great because a lot of these kids don’t have money to pay to learn this dance but they can come and learn it for free. I’m  really grateful for the grant because it means that I can survive too.

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