It’s hardly a comprehensive account. That would amount to an encyclopedia, not an article. But it was a start, and at the very least provoked curiosity of the richer story to be told. It even sparked some debate, which I was actually flattered and glad to witness. At least we’re talking now.
For this year’s Body Rock post, Anna Sarao and I wanted to keep the topic history-focused. After brainstorming and vetoing different angles, she suggested that I highlight the NorCal x SoCal relationship that Bustagroove helped foster. I loved it. Relationships are my favorite things to write about. I started e-mailing people right away. And boy, did they have some cool sh*t to say. (Endless thanks to my friends Dennis, Ceech, Emerson, and Shaun!)
Keep reading for a peek deeper inside the story.
It is, after all, a part of yours too.
There is perhaps no bigger, more respected, or more highly anticipated urban dance competition than Body Rock.
International teams fly in to San Diego weeks before the show to prepare, local teams rehearse for hell months, and audience members sit on the edge of their seats, expecting the best of the best. It’s huge. Both in reach and reputation.
What allowed Body Rock Dance Competition to grow to what it is today was the preservation of its authenticity. All the buzz and and hype is secondary; what it always stood for was the hunger, passion, and love within the community. If you’ve ever been to a Body Rock, you’d know. It permeates the venue, infects each dancer, and lingers indefinitely. The spirit of celebration. It was there then, and is still there now.
Our lives are defined by moments. And this spirit is what makes Body Rock is one of these moments for all who partake in it. It’s a hallmark in so many of our careers, a timeless experience that resonates powerfully.
So can you imagine what it means for the dancers who built it?
For our pioneers, the experience was even more uncluttered. No YouTube, no social media, not even a darn action shot. It was about sharing what you love with whom you love, in that moment. The relationships.
You see, our community is made of a network of relationships. Those relationships aren’t a part of it, they are it.
And this giant, global web we have now? It all started with a few baby steps.
Body Rock Dance Competition didn’t always have a lineup of teams from all over the world.
But it did start by inviting their neighbors from the north…
In 1997, Dennis Infante and his friends formed a crew called Chain Reaction in the Bay Area (not to be confused with the late 70’s locking group Chain Reaction from SoCal). Their major influences included Mindtricks (formerly called “Jedi Clan”), Rock Force, Housing Authority, Knuckle Neck Tribe, and MPM (Movements Per Minute).
Chain Reaction started performing at local talent shows, car shows, and college events, but it was at a show in LA called the “American Street Dance Championship” where things “clicked” for Dennis.
“There was a tribute to The Lockers and the Electric Boogaloos – footage of old Soul Train clips, The Nicholas Bros, Frankie Manning etc was being projected on a screen. I realized that there was so much to the underground street dance scene that I wanted to seek out and learn more about all the different styles.”
In 2000, Chain Reaction drove down to San Diego to compete at their first Bustagroove.
Ceech Hsu, a good friend of Dennis’, started his dance training under Gary Kendall.
The late Gary “Gee” Kendall, whom you might recognize from The JabbaWockeeZ, was a teacher to many, founder of the Boom Squad, Boom Boys, and Flava Unit (to name a few), a mover who touched the lives of many dancers around the world.
“I took my first dance class from Gary at Dance Attack. The next morning, I canceled all my plans and headed straight to the gym to start training. It was that instant. I knew I wanted to dance.”
The seed grew from there.
Later, Ceech became a part of “Jedi Clan,” which changed names to “Mind Tricks.” The crew developed their brotherhood over long, late night sessions.
In 1999, there was a workshop in the Bay Area that featured Mr. Wigglez as one of the instructors. Always having been a huge fan, Ceech jumped at the chance to learn from him. He got to the studio, amped, ready to absorb all that he had to offer… only to find out that Mr. Wigglez couldn’t make it.
But you know who was there? Pop’in Pete. And Skeeter Rabbit.
“I couldn’t believe it. I just ran up to Pop’in Pete and said, “You’re Pop’in Pete!!!”
The two legends spent the workshop teaching and telling stories.
That day, Pop’in Pete and Skeeter Rabbit went from Ceech’s idols to his mentors and friends. Ceech would bring them out to different workshops to teach, growing his own love for popping while spreading it to other dancers.
“I was just at the right place at the right time.”
Maybe, but he took that opportunity and created something incredible from it.
Ceech also began to teach dance at Mission College. What started as one hip hop class branched into several of different levels and styles. In 2006, a performance team was born. It was called “DS Players.”
You know, ‘cause they liked playing on their DSs. True story.
Emerson Aquino started dancing in San Diego. He was a part of 220 Second To None until moving to San Francisco at age 21.
Emerson and Kyle Lin (Kaba Modern alum) founded Funkanometry San Francisco in 2002.
Funks LA had already been created in 2001 by Janet Langer, and after Funks SF, came Funks San Diego and New York.
Funkanometry SF expanded to a youth team called Funksters, as well as an all-male project called “Project EM” and an all-female training team called “De La Femme.”
“At this time, dancers like Shaun Evaristo, Mari Madrid, Ellen Kim, Brandon Dumlao were on Funks. We considered ourselves a professional, adult dance company with no limitations to our work.”
And that was the team’s edge. Funks SF’s unapologetic approach to dance made them stand out at every show, including their first Bustagroove.
Shaun Evaristo, before mL, before his work with artists around the world, was a 5 year old rocking out to Michael and Janet Jackson at home.
When he was 10, he and his cousins formed “Gen 2.”
“We just danced in our garage. Every Friday, my mom would make that sweet Filipino spaghetti and my cousins and I would meet up and watch a bunch of dance videos.”
Gen 2 started performing at local events, and Shaun’s passion for dance kept growing. When he was 18, someone from his high school found out he danced and asked him to choreograph for a school rally.
“I realized how much fun it was. I wanted to make this my life.”
Fastforward. (We’ll come back to this part later. Promise.)
In 2002, Shaun watched his first Bustagroove. Til then, he’d only been exposed to local crews like Chain Reaction, Mind Tricks, and Mind Over Matter at events like Hip Hop Dance Festival in the Bay.
That whole night was a moment.
Driving back up to the Bay after that first encounter with Bustagroove, Shaun’s mind raced with all the mental notes he had taken, all the questions he wanted to ask, all the things he realized he wanted to learn. He was hungry – nay – ravenous for more, and his intrigue soon took the form of actions.
“There was no internet, no social media, nothing. I just had to get up and go.”
Following that Bustagroove, Shaun started making trips up and down the west coast in search for more. He dedicated himself to taking classes at different studios, devouring VHS tapes (yes, VHS tapes) of old dance footage, listening to stories of older pioneers, meeting new dancers from different backgrounds, studying movement, experimenting, indulging in the beauty of dance, just falling in love with it and everyone along the way.
He spent nights in his car. Spent way too much money on gas. Made countless other sacrifices and never thought twice about it – after all, there is no sacrifice we wouldn’t make for that which we truly love and believe in.
“It was sort of this treasure hunt for old videos. I looked for them voraciously. Things are so accessible now, but the scarcity during my time made me savor every part of the experience, even the adversities. When you don’t have as much, every little thing means that much more.
Now, dancers are blessed with abundance. Resources, opportunities, accessibility. It’s a gold mine. I just hope that the generation that lives in it can really see the wealth that they possess – not just to use it to propel the self, but for other communities and for generations that come after them. To use these treasures for things beyond themselves.”
In 2004, Gen 2 competed at Bustagroove for the first time. They won.
Ceech called up Anna in 2007, saying that his team wanted to go out there to perform. She offered them a spot in the lineup as an exhibition act, but the guys were itching to see how they’d measure up to the other teams.
“Our philosophy was that big teams start to look too military. We just enjoy really good dancing, and took pride in knowing that each of us can get down, solo. It was just me, Dennis, and Jon.”
They won first place that year.
Something that stood out, besides the size of the teams, were the stylistic differences between the Norcal and SoCal teams.
“The main differences I felt at the time was that every group had their own flavor from different cities in the Bay – teams were a product of their immediate environment. Because of this, we each had a distinct style that stood out from each other.”
Dennis also noted that SoCal teams were more theatrical with their sets. Themes and storylines that threaded the pieces together, rather than just showcasing the choreography. It inspired DS Players to push their artistic boundaries as well.
Gen 2 took away the same inspiration –
“We were a garage crew. And we knew that teams in SoCal were more performance-based and theatrical. So we wanted to be a mix of the two, and stepped up our game by adding more spice and entertainment to our sets.”
Emerson describes his first Bustagroove as “stressful! Funks felt like we had to represent the dance company as well as the Bay Area as a whole. We wanted to do well.”
Since they had a lot of b-boys and house dancers on the team, Funks incorporated several elements of street styles into their set.
“We were fascinated with the SoCal styles, too. Kaba Modern was dominating at that time, so teams were very influenced by them. They’d use a lot of styles in their routines, which became trends that people tried to follow.
You go in to Body Rock thinking you’re dope sh*t, and you just learn. There’s so much talent out there, and it’s so humbling being inspired by all of that.”
The Literal Road To Bustagroove
As much as Bustagroove inter-connected the NorCal and SoCal communities, it intra-connected them as well.
“Chain Reaction and the other Bay Area teams drove down for that first Bustagroove and met in SD. And at the afterparty, we all kinda stuck together because we were the out-of-towners. I felt like we bonded with the other Bay Area groups during this trip more than we have at our local shows back home.”
For Emerson, it was the intimacy in those connections that was most impactful.
“What’s so fascinating about the community at the time was how it was still so underground. That made it ours, just ours. A best kept secret.
And what that ownership did to my friends who shared the stage – it bonded us to each other and to a larger mission. Many people who took part in Bustagroove’s early years created this history we are living today.”
A near-accident re-calibrated Shaun’s team to their purpose –
“One time, on our way to Bustagroove from San Fransisco, our teammate that was driving fell asleep at the wheel and we fell into a ditch. That was the moment in everyone’s head when competition became last, and family became first. We were all safe. But the rest of the ride was quiet.”
Shaun and I agree –
if there is anything in life more important than what you do, it’s whom you do it with.
Dancing is made with the body and mind, but the community is made from the overlap between them.
“I actually first saw Anna Sarao dance (in a video) before he met her. She was so good, like eye-catching good. Her talent spoke for itself, but it was her personality makes her that much better. And that’s true for most of the great dancers that I’ve met – they are all just really humble, really good people. People with a kind and generous heart.”
“No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s freestyle or choreography or whatever style, I think it’s great. Sometimes I see other dancers talk down on each other, but it’s like yo.. we’re all just dancing. There’s no need for negativity. If you really dislike a person’s style, go handle it in the cypher, to their face. Events like Body Rock Dance Competition are blessings.”
“Body Rock Dance Competition was, and remains a celebration of dance in our community. It’s magical. Performing on that stage is the cherry on top – it’s everything leading up to that point that makes you better. That’s what the community is about. Just sharing the love and positivity.”
This is what the community is. The collection of relationships within it.
And what makes it so beautiful is the endless number of potential ones to be formed in the future.
That’s how we grow. How we go from garages to stages, strangers to family.
It’s what makes us.
In The Making
But you know, it’s not always so straightforward.
Especially in this day and age – dance is so easily seen and harder to feel, virality overshadows value, and we get caught up in end goal rather than the joy of movement.
It’s easier than ever to get distracted by the noise.
I asked my interviewees for a piece of advice to leave our readers with. They generously offered several 🙂
“Don’t forget to dance with each other.
If you go to an event, don’t feel like you have to cypher the whole time. The main motivation of you wanting to dance should be the MUSIC that you hear.
Listen to as many diff types of music, learn about as many different dance cultures as possible. They’re all connected with each other.”
“When people first start dancing it’s a lot easier to be a part of a group. There is, after all, strength in numbers. But you have to know how to just dance by yourself.
Find your own expression. That is what I see missing from a lot of groups. You want to be as complete of a dancer as possible.
Just dance, enjoy the music, dance with your friends. Gotta know how to feel it.”
“People are looking to get to the end state of things. To become a dance rockstar.
They don’t realize that these rockstars only became that because they enjoyed their journey. They took all the good and bad and turned it into something.
Life isn’t microwavable. The building blocks of our community are the values we grew up dancing with. We can all focus less on the end reward and learn to love what takes us there.”
Shaun knows a thing or two about “the journey.”
“I’ve talked to numerous up and comers. I ask them, “what is it that you want to achieve?” And a lot of people say, “I want to do what you did – be the CEO of a company, travel, teach. I want to be known.”
It’s shocking to me, because at their age all I wanted was just to be better. I just wanted to develop my style, my voice, myself.
My dreams were a bit more unassuming. I didn’t even think I wanted to become a choreographer – I was always a choreographer. I liked making things, and I loved music and dance, so naturally choreography was my jam.
I wish I heard more dreams about creating something for yourself, and using that for others. About curiosity, self discovery, and desire to just learn more. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from attaining their goals – goals are great! But keep in mind why you want it. Then everything will align the way it needs to.”
So how did it align for Shaun?
The Movement Movement
After moving to LA in 2006, a number of things were set into motion.
YouTube had launched the year earlier, and Shaun used the medium to put his choreography out there. People overseas now had access to his work, as well as a community and culture that they never knew existed.
His artistic vision was new for a lot of viewers. A good, refreshing, “I didn’t know I needed that,” kind of new.
“My dancing wasn’t just about following beats and rhythms. I found that I could use emotion to drive my movement. That was my voice. There’s all this vocabulary of moves out there, but what resonated with people was the way I tried to talk through them.”
Once he realized the power of honest expression, he embraced, harnessed, and polished it. There was no stopping him.
It didn’t matter that Shaun started in LA with $1,000 in his pocket and lived off ramen noodles for a good year. It didn’t matter that he was one of the only Asian dancers at most auditions. He knew he had something special to offer.
Over the years, he took classes from friends and soon-to-be friends.
Phi from The JabbaWockeeZ asked Shaun to collaborate with him for a class at Millennium Dance Complex. Shaun jumped at the chance, taught for the first time at the studio, and eventually copped a sub spot. Within a month he secured his own class slot. Nevermind that it was the Sunday 1:30, aka the worst possible one. “I marketed it like no other. I just loved teaching and wanted to share.”
Shaun’s class soon became one of the most popular, with both friends and those who’ve seen his work through YouTube traveled near and far to learn from him. One group that came through were the Sh*tKingz. “The language barrier did not matter, we had a common denominator, and they soon became some of my best brothers.”
Around 2008, his career took a change. He started working with the Korean music industry in artist development. Soon after, he started working with the European and Japanese industries. His work, along with Keone, Mari Madrid and Lyle Beniga’s with international artists,
“…started to blur the industry / community boundary. And that’s what mL is, a cross between those. A welcoming of all movers.”
Movement Lifestyle became the manifestation of this, as well as the philosophy behind Shaun’s style. The two words, “Movement” and “Lifestyle,” which felt so separate before, became one and the same.
Dance isn’t just a body moving, it’s intent. It’s a conversation. It’s emotion. It’s a voice. It’s a social change. Exploration. Creation. Vulnerability. Empowerment. It taps into your soul and awakens something bigger, deeper. “What moves you?” asks each individual to reflect on their movement, their inspiration, their expression.
“Dance is more powerful than we use it for. As long as we keep our focus on collaboration, rather than competition, the positive impact it can have for humanity is endless.”
Shaun will be performing with Lyle Beniga at this year’s Body Rock Dance Competition, and he’s beyond excited to be back, reliving one of his moments that helped shape his relationship with dance and other dancers.
“So many memories.. After the show, we’d chill in the parking lot ‘til like 5 in the morning just sessioning, talking, getting to know each other. Local teams, international teams, whoever was down. I hope that still exists!”
Definitely does, and we are excited for some parking lot pimpin’ sessions with Shaun and all of you who are attending Body Rock Dance Competition this year. We can’t wait to add more chapters to these stories.
BIG shout-out to Dennis, Ceech, Shaun, and Emerson for sharing with us!
What other parts of our history would you like to know more about? Comment below and share with us!