The off-Broadway show "Groovaloo" marks a roundabout sort of homecoming for break dancing, a style that was born on the city's gritty streets 30 years ago and exploded into an international sensation.
Today, with thousands of people turning out for street dance competitions from Germany to Japan, breaking is probably bigger abroad than it is back home.
So why is "Groovaloo" founder Bradley Rapier bringing an out-of-town hip-hop dance company to a city where doing head spins before a graffiti backdrop might warrant little more than a been-there-done-that stare?
Because the 47-year-old thinks the time is right.
"A year and a half ago, a theater producer told me he thought New York might finally be ready for hip-hop," said Rapier, who grew up in Calgary, Canada. "That statement confused me, because for me New York is hip-hop."
On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles-based Groovaloos dancers, winners of NBC's reality competition show "Superstars of Dance," officially open a five-week off-Broadway engagement at the Union Square Theater before embarking on a national tour. Later this month they are slated to appear on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance?"
Still, New York may prove a tough nut to crack, critics contend.
"You'll see some incredible dancers, but a lot of their stories lack edge," one of break dancing's founding fathers, Richard "Crazy Legs" Colon, said after viewing one of the show's previews. "You can't come home to where you've never been."
But Rapier expressed little doubt even the toughest critics will be won over by its high-energy head spins, hand spins, flips and floor work.
"It's all about freaking people out, making them say, 'How do you do that? Bodies can't do that,'" he said.
In "Groovaloo," the spectacular movement isn't mere spectacle. It's deployed to tell the personal stories of nine of the company's dancers.
One of the main stories tells of how Rapier, as the only black kid at his high school, caught the hip-hop bug and abandoned plans for medical school. That choice not only drove his doctor father crazy, it led him to question his own identity.
"When I got to Detroit I experienced a bit of culture shock," he said. "I'd never been to a concert where everyone in the audience was black. It had me asking, 'Am I black enough? Am I cool enough?'"
He said that's an issue he finally resolved when one of his idols, Poppin Pete, of the pioneering street dance group the Electric Boogaloos, told him, "As long as you're dancing and funky it's cool with me."
The Groovaloos grew out of Rapier's hard times living out of his car and trying to make it in Los Angeles.
"There were so many talent dancers in L.A., but no one hung out after auditions," he said.
So he started organizing groove nights, when dancers could meet and show off their moves.
"This is a group I formed not from auditions but from people who were hanging out for a genuine love of hip-hop," he said.
Along the way, Rapier discovered many of his dancers had compelling back stories similar to his. Despite coming from different backgrounds, all the dancers had stories sharing a thread — they couldn't live without hip-hop.
For Steven "Boogieman" Stanton, that was truer than he would have liked. Stanton caught a stray bullet in his spine at a Vancouver nightclub in 2003 and was told by doctors he might never walk again, let alone dance.
The show traces his progression from wheel chair, to walker, to crutches and finally back to the stage.
Stanton said with the show arriving in New York he feels extra blessed.
"It shows hip-hop has gotten a lot more credibility," he said. "Today it's an art form, not just kids break dancing on a piece of cardboard. Not every show makes it to off-Broadway."
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