Dance Machine

by Dr. L.A. Gabay

Hip-hop and streetball go hand in hand. Throw breakdancing into the mix, and you have a perfect summer day in the city. Crazy Legs knows all about it; the godfather of breaking is also a hoops head. Thirty-six years ago, Crazy Legs and his Rock Steady Crew—a collective of artists who made it their mission to reflect on and celebrate the life and culture teeming in New York City’s streets—mushroomed into a global initiative championing the power of expression and kinetic story telling to affect change. Legs is currently rehearsing for “Ghetto Made: A Dance Musical,” which will be performed this summer at New York City’s Central Park Summer Stage. Taking a break, Legs schooled us on the history of b-boys and basketball. Crazy Legs

SLAM: When you were growing up, city parks were known for heated pick-up games and epic dance battles.

Crazy Legs: Dance and hoops are for sophisticated thinkers, but you also need the element of spontaneity and improvisation for both disciplines. On 98th and Amsterdam, there is a place that is called “The Goat” but also referred to as Rock Steady Park. Us b-boys and girls were developing our skills, and 50 feet away the ballplayers were honing their moves. Players like Earl the Pearl and Bobbito Garcia had a real mutual appreciation for what Rock Steady was doing. In 1981, 20/20 did a feature on us, which was actually filmed at the Dyckman house park on 10th Avenue and 204th Street. In the background, you can see the summer league games.

SLAM: You’re a renowned ambassador of hip-hop and creativity. Why do you think hip-hop has influenced all realms of society, in particular basketball?

CL: Hip-hop is about recognizing tools that bring people together, almost like finding something out of nothing. It is a vehicle for social change and similar to the game of basketball, it is always evolving. Basketball has given many people I know the opportunity to see the world. Hip-hop and the artistry it offers including graffiti, dance, fashion and most notably music provides that same access to the globe.

SLAM: Are there any legit ballplayers in the Rock Steady Crew?

CL: It must have been about 20 years ago, that my boy called me up. It was very noisy on the other end. Then Shaq gets on the phone (doing his baritone Shaq) and starts telling me that he used to be a b-boy when he was living in Germany and was bragging about his skills.

SLAM: What’s life like for a 47-year-old dance icon today?

CL: I consider myself a player/coach now. I still have my abilities, but I also do a lot of boxing, basic weights and plyometric to help keep everything aligned. Rock Steady is a fraternity, but it is also important to maintain relevancy. The talent potential today is enormous, and we look to develop relationships with artists who consistently further their skills, such as El Nino and Casper Case. My consigliore Mr. Wiggles and I still sweat under the summertime sun on the courts to dance, vibe, smile and keep awareness around the history of dance and curbside choreography shining.

Catch Crazy Legs at the Rock Steady Crew 36th Anniversary Concert this Sunday in Central Park.