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TAKIN' A STROLL DOWN Soul Street

Hip-hop troupe uses eclectic music, humor and power moves to entertain

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hip-hop dancing to Beethoven? This Saturday night, the innovative Soul Street dancers will make that combination seem natural.

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Photo Courtesy Of Soul Street Dance Co.
Photo Courtesy Of Soul Street Dance Co.

The dance troupe from Houston, will be in town to perform its energetic hip-hop and break dancing on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

Pairing hip-hop with seemingly opposing music such as classical makes their style of dance unique, said co-founder Javier Garcia, adding that their performances are enjoyed by people of all ages.

"We use our crazy movements - breakin' and hip-hop, spinning on our hands and heads - and we do it to all types of music, ranging from past schools to old-school funk, breakin' to classical music, Earth Wind and Fire, Nat King Cole. And we are funny as well," Garcia said in a phone interview from his Texas home.

Soul Street is a new company, but the dancers have performed together for more than 10 years with the Fly Dance Company, which recently dissolved because owner Kathy Wood wanted to retire.

"She wanted to retire and the dancers wanted to keep dancing," Garcia said.

They decided to start a new dance troupe and needed a name. One night, as they were standing on a street in downtown Houston before a dance show looking at street signs, they realized that what they do is street dance from their souls, thus Soul Street was born.

Dancers Jesse "Germ" Garcia and Chris Cortez are now under the artistic direction of co-founders and fellow dancers Rock Williams and Javier Garcia. Williams specializes in "poppin' n' lockin'," Jesse Garcia is known for being musically moved, and Cortez is known for his power moves.

An article in the July 2004 issue of Dance Magazine described a performance by the Fly Dance Company: "Fly's concerts are a swift-moving mix of teamwork and solos. ... They build formations that require incredible strength and feed off each other's high energy."

The group's talents allow them to travel the world and dance together. In addition to touring, they dance for the Houston Rockets and take part in community outreach programs.

"I love it. What's better than getting paid to do what I love: travel the world with my friends," the 26-year-old Garcia said.

Of all the places he's traveled, Garcia said Alaska is his favorite. Three years ago, the dancers performed all over Alaska's Interior for a month.

"Alaska is different because of the big beautiful mountains, water, trees and northern lights, and it's an amazing place to see. The people show a lot of love. ... We showed each other our cultures; it was a beautiful thing. There was love everywhere we went."

The dancers will perform this weekend in Juneau, and then they will be back in January to tour the whole state for four weeks.

Garcia took up dancing at 15, after being influenced by friends who were dancers. He learned from them and over the next nine years layered these teachings with his own original moves and tricks, ultimately developing his own aggressive and progressive style. He has since performed with many hip-hop groups, including The Roots.

The dancers are self-taught, but supplement their dance with martial arts and gymnastics training. They aren't strictly opposed to taking more classical dance classes, but Garcia believes it would take away some of the rawness of their dance and risk making them more like everybody else.

Garcia said he is living his dream right now.

"I just want to continue doing concerts and tours and doing our one-of-a-kind outreach programs across the nation," he said.

The dancers relate to many of the same problems, he said, which makes Soul Street very effective at inspiring people considered "at risk," as these dancers once were.

"Some of us were brought up in pretty rough neighborhoods and have identity problems as well, so we use what we went through, and we show the kids if we can make it where we are now, then you can do the same thing."

In some of the programs, the dancers exhibit how the human body accomplishes amazing feats through a network of bones, joints, muscles and the brain. The dancers use props and high-energy dance pieces to show how signals from the brain tell muscles to react to control our bodies.

But Garcia says the main thing they want their dances to do is entertain.

"We just want people to laugh and have fun at the same time while enjoying an athletic dance form to all types of music. We don't get too deep with our material, we just want people to have fun. Laughing is good for the soul."

• Courtney Nelson can be reached at nelsonfamily@acsalaska.net.



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