Interview BBOY Krow
Breakin’ (Break Dance), with the largest populations of dancer among all the other street dance genres, is one of the four elements of HIPHOP attracting people’s attentions so much as to become a new Olympic sport. This interview reveals the dynamic experiences Bboy Krow has been through. He is a member of worldly known breakin’ crew called “Ready to Rock”, is the chosen one especially as a Japanese. The essence of “learning dance” could only be told by someone who has known it from his own experience going around the world, just as Bboy Krow has done. What does “Culture” mean to him? The answer will be unraveled through his talk reminiscent of variable incidents in his adolescence.
Breaking Through the Window for What Is “REAL”
──Getting down to the point, we recognize you being active as a dancer, is that right?
Krow Sure, but only that I always see dance as something fun or playful, and never as a proper goal to aim. It’s just too fun to quit.
──When did you start dancing?
Krow I started breakin’ when I was a second-grade student in high school, and it was in winter I believe. (He went to a high school in New York) I actually was first doing a band at school, and it was one of the band members who led me to the field of dance and HIPHOP. He and I used to hang out and do all those stupid things together, and we surely had built good relationships as best friends. He had an American-like personality, and did graffiti (street art) as he loved HIPHOP culture. One time he said to me, “I can’t rap and it costs too much to be DJ, so I’m gonna start breakin’”. I didn’t get what he was saying at all, and how rap and DJ had anything to do with HIPHOP. (DJ, MC, Breakin’, and Graffiti are the four elements of HIPHOP) Later I knew those were the very things that brought HIPHOP into existence. I was learning some steps of breakin’ from him for a while, until one day when he got expelled from high school for doing some bad things. As I was kind of a show-off, without him as a teacher, I still planned on performing breakin’ at events like school festival. In the process of doing it, I looked more into the history of breakin’ and found out that it originated in New York which was exactly where I lived then. I was even more interested in breakin’ afterwards. The fact that I lived in New York at the very time I knew about breakin’ was definitely a big driver of growth in my career as a dancer I could say.
──How was the life in New York like?
Krow As I continued on learning more about breakin’, I found out that HIPHOP culture only started in 70s/80s and realized that the actual people who created HIPHOP culture were still alive, and I couldn’t help but try to meet them in person. Though I wasn’t officially allowed to go out freely as my dormitory’s regulations were severe, I snuck out to see people street performing to ask where we could dance, expanding my dance community. I even broke through windows at my dormitory to go participate in some workshops. Meanwhile there was a fateful encounter with an event called “Tools of War”, where pioneers in the development of HIPHOP culture gathered around. When I first visited this event, DJ Kool Herc was playing music, dancers who actually made the common moves we recognize as basic moves now were performing, and these were just cool as hell. You definitely should join the event someday.
Ready to Rock -The Blood-soaked Ritual-
──Was that how you knew about your crew “Ready To Rock” as well?
Krow I suppose so but that was where the long struggle to join the crew started. First of all, “Ready to Rock” is a crew which follows the culture of gangs from the past, and their concept is to protect the culture by expressing it with their dance. This kind of dance style is actually one of the recent trends, but this crew was the first to adopt and mix both Rocking and Breakin’. I first saw them at an event in Harlem. They were so fascinating for how they were wearing the same jerseys, or that people of different races were in the crew. Their performance taught me what it meant to dance to the sound of music, and that was quite an impact. Everything about them appeared to be cool, from their fashion, tattoos to their postures, not to mention their dance. This made me really want to dance like them. Then I directly negotiated and asked if they could teach me. But as I mentioned before, they have this culture of gangs in common and were never so nice, didn’t listen to my words. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really understand what they were saying in the first place. They were pretty much gangs and their language sounded quite different from the English I knew.
──How did you get close to them?
Krow I started visiting them, people around them, and ex-gang people from one end to the other, to learn the way to survive street life and to learn their ways of thinking through conversations. For me, the original style from the Bronx was so special after all, and I studied like anything about it. But I wasn’t really a good dancer then, and never was at the level of becoming a member of Ready to Rock, and I ended up going back to Japan when I graduated high school as was first planned. That was when I decided to take a leave of absence from university to practice dance in Japan, while visiting dance events held around the world as well. During the travel, I got to know b-boys all over the world, and finally became que rock’s (member of Ready to Rock, currently living in Canada, born in Bronx) pupil. By that time, I was also close to establishing my own dance style, and people started to rumour about me.
──I see. So after dancing around the world like that, did you finally become the member of the crew?
Krow Well, in fact, not yet. que rock had told me something like that I could become a member of the crew soon and I thought so as well, but they never let me in and few years passes just like that. One day, I hear that Ready to Rock’s party will be held in New York and that most of the crew members would come, so I fled to New York just for the party. And this trip was really incredible as I got to meet real gangs and experienced some things that I wouldn’t mention here. Anyway, at this party, I finally was officially allowed to be the member of Ready to Rock, but following was a ritual of dance battles against each member of the crew. It’s like the dance version of gang’s ritual to beat new member up before becoming their buddy. Because we danced on street, my hand was smeared with blood as I continued dancing for quite a long time. Getting over all of these, I finally was accepted and celebrated for becoming a new member. But one member who wasn’t at the party didn’t accept it, and I couldn’t be a member right away. From all of this, me not becoming the crew member so easily, I actually recognized how much people in this crew care about each other, and they appeared to be like a real family to me. Still a long story follows afterwards, going to LA to talk to him and so on, and then I got accepted by all the members and became a member of Ready to Rock. I got the news at Haneda airport when I got back to Japan. There were a lot to go through, but my biggest aim was to get into the crew and all, and before everything, I really enjoyed dancing after all.
Hot Shower and a Determination “I have to do my best”
──Please tell us about the experience that changed your life if there is any.
Krow It may be the experience in Philippine when I was traveling around the world, during the period of time I was taking a leave of absence from university. There’s a serious wealth inequality in Philippine, and I had always been interested in the initiative called “KAPAYAPAAN PROJECT”. The main idea of the project was about teaching street children dance and English, and b-boy MOUSE from Philippine was working on it. As a part of the project, I and Katsu1 and his buddies went to Philippine to hold a free dance workshop. The living condition there was worse than I expected. Water didn’t come out all the time, and beer was cheaper than water and so on. What I experienced there was quite shocking. I still remember clearly, street children walking around barefooted wearing tattered clothes, colors of their eyes, the atmosphere of them dancing together no matter what their skin color was. I also thought for a moment that I was gonna die when one of the children stole my knife. I really understood from my experience the actual situation of wealth inequality and poor security during the stay. But the events were held every day even in conditions like that. Life in Philippine was quite challenging, but was more of a happiness to tell the truth.
──That sounds quite an experience, how was it more of a happiness?
Krow We were supposed to be the ones who “give” something to them, but it turned out that, from their smiles and energetic dance, we actually were “given” something from them. On the last day of the stay, when I saw everyone dancing together once more, the scene sort of put all other thoughts out of my mind. I felt so stupid about how I had been worrying about all those small things. Later we got back to Japan but our excitements never were cooled, and we talked together reflecting on the time we had in Philippine.
──So you realized the differences between their lives and your life?
Krow Absolutely. I got back home and I found myself crying, taking a hot shower. Thinking to myself, why am I in such an amazing country? Then I remembered about the dream one of the children in Philippine was talking about. His dream was to go to Japan, work, and support his family. At this moment, I realized that I had been excusing myself for taking a leave of absence from university. Like, because the crowded train in the morning was too stressful and stuff. I had always been excusing for such small things in my life.
──Was that the trigger for you to go back to university?
Krow Street children in Philippine were surely putting their best effort to live despite the limited choices they have, and they kindly entertained us though we thought we were the ones to entertain them. They reminded me that I was very lucky and happy to be born in Japan, and taught me I must be putting my best effort first into what I should be facing right now. That’s why I went back to university.
──Did you join any dance club afterwards?
Krow Yes, as I decided to contribute more to the dance scenes in Japan. They weren’t like the “best” dancers but still, I saw how they all simply put so much effort into the club activity and I knew that it was exactly the most important thing. I thought it was beautiful. So this is why I hate people who judge dancers only by their skills. Dance can’t be explained that simply.
──Do you have anything in your mind about students’ dance scences?
Krow I always say this, that there’s no “students’” dance scenes. Social status or ages don’t matter when talking about dance. REAL ones always win no matter how young or how old the person is, and that is the street culture. There are no hierarchy. And the fact that we can’t assume who’s gonna win, is one of the fun parts of dance. I personally think that there are no professionals or amateurs, in a sense. There are cool dancers with no reputation, and vice versa. I am always free from bias when judging dancers.
Culture is, Yourself
──Do you have any future vision?
Krow Actually, I can always think only about where I am now. I don’t really have a plan for future. I have always been putting my best effort on what attracted my interest at the time. But given the current situation of COVID-19 pandemic, I’m studying about music right now.
──Do you have any intention to share your music publicly?
Krow Again, if I feel like it, then I’ll probably do, but right now I don’t really know to be honest. I’m also creating a dance video. I got inspiration from a movie called “Dream” filmed by Akira Kurosawa. The theme of the video is a fusion of Japanese culture and dance.
──Do you have any interest in teaching dance?
Krow I wouldn’t say I don’t. But from my experience, I think dance is more than just learning steps and moves in a dance studio. Every move has a meaning, and it seems pointless to learn dance without thinking about what b-boy is, or what HIPHOP is, by sensing something from how other b-boys behave or what kind of clothes they wear, how they interpret things, etc.
──You want young dancers to learn like you did, you mean?
Krow Sure, I guess so. But I’m always open-minded and don’t necessarily stick to one specific idea. I just think you should actually visit places by yourself. Once you visit, it makes you wanna visit again, and the experiences accelerates your growth.
──Our media is focusing on U-25 people who are involved in cultural activities. Is there anyone in particular who you pay attention to?
Krow Yes, and that would be everyone. This interview is surely an inspiring activity as well, and as for dance, everyone no matter how high their skill is, and moreover, no matter if he’s a dancer or not, I am inspired by everyone. Everyone I get to know. To say from other perspective, I really respect people who goes to a direction different from the majority. My team mate in Ready to Rock, sted love, would be one of the people. Although we had the same teacher, his dance and his way of thinking is really different from mine, and it’s quite interesting. I always think that doing different is cool.
──Do you have any interest in other culture?
Krow Music. It’s kind of in a same field as dance though. The fact that I was doing band before would be one reason for that. Right now, COVID-19 impact is undoubtfully big and it’s difficult to share dance, but I study about music instead.
──This would be the last question, what does “culture” mean to you?
Krow I heard that when Katsu1 asked KRS-One “What is HIPHOP?”, he pointed right at Katsu1 and said “You”. So maybe I think culture is about yourself. It is something that everyone has. I believe that every one of us has things that he feels something from, or be moved by. Well, without it, life wouldn’t have colors.
──Thank you very much for taking your time.
It might be easy to understand the importance of feeling and learning from your own experience, but is often difficult to put it into action. It is, however, a common sense for b-boy Krow. His view of the world seemed way bigger than the world we see.
Interview& Sentence Taiki Tsujimoto (C.U.T crew)
Shooting Shun Kawahara (C.U.T crew)
Translation Misaki Nakamura