Arnel is the current company director for Culture Shock Los Angeles (CSLA), but has been dancing for quite awhile. He founded UCI Kaba Modern dance troupe 13 years ago and later put together the Kaba Modern alumni group, KM Legacy which has now evolved and expanded to become the dance company directed by Cio Malonzo, Legacy. Arnel joined CSLA 7 years ago and since then, has also danced with and choreographed for DVS and Chill Factor. He has also instructed Cardio Hip-Hop classes at Zeal Studios, Bally’s Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, Chapman University, USC, Irvine Valley College, UC Irvine, Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles Kids & Fitness program, for various culture shock dance troupes, and currently occasionally at Culture Shock LA’s home studios, the San Pedro Performing Arts Center and the South Bay Dance Center. Currently, he is training with the Culture Shock LA Locking Team and dances and choreographs for CSLA. When he is not dancing or directing CSLA, you can find him working with his pediatric patients on the rehab unit at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“Do your homework, watch some cyphers, talk to or read about some of the original Lockers, Breakers, and Poppers. Understand our culture and it’s history…it’ll give you more passion when you do perform it!”
OC: What’s up everyone, we’re meeting with Arnel Calvario director of Culture Shock Los Angeles and founder of Irvine dance group Kaba Modern. What’s up Arnel thanks so much for meeting with us.
Arnel: It’s my pleasure and I’m honored to even be interviewed.
OC: When did you first begin dancing?
Arnel: I began way back when. My cousins were all poppers and breakers. I began dancing in my room and I had low self-esteem at the time. It was alone time for me to explore a different side of me. I wasn’t good at sports or anything. I actually really enjoyed it! It was funny because in my neighborhood I was the only Filipino amongst African Americans and I noticed they always brought out their cardboard. I ended up getting more acceptance from them. And one day, I just met up with them and did my thang with them and they ended up becoming some of childhood friends. We would go to the park and take turns in each other’s garages. We would just session, start a cypher and start not just Breakin’, but attempt Popping and Locking as well. I also danced with a group called PDP (wassup Ken, Jay, and Ernesto!!!)…old skool fo sho!!!!!
“We are very fortunate now to have a Breaking Team and Locking Team in addition to our dance company and hope to start a Popping Team within the year…”
OC: When did you first begin really training?
Arnel: Uhmmm… training wise as far as Hip Hop? It really came from the streets…it came from the older people who I really looked up to a lot. When I first went to Radiotron way back in the day, I saw the breakers from around the world, Electric Boogaloos, Air Force Crew-they were hot back in the day. I got really inspired and I would tape everything on television with Breaking, Popping, or Locking on my Betamax VCR and watch it over and over again. When I was in high school, I was kind of the hidden dancer. I would dance in the corner at dances and people would say, “Oh my god that guy can dance.” Most people didn’t think of me as a confident person. It wasn’t until college that I felt that I really wanted to take it to a new level. When I got to UCI, I checked out Kababayan (UCI’s Filipino-American Club). They hosted an annual Filipino American Culture night, and I felt in order to fully capture and respect the Filipino American culture, they needed to include Hip Hop because its such a big part our American culture. So…I started a group called UCI Kaba Modern. We had a bunch of girls interested and few guys. I had to beg guys to join and I auditioned the girls and we had our first group where we just trained each other. Year after year we had different talent coming in and the auditions would double in size. It was around the time when we had Shannon (known later as B Girl Jade who danced with Rock Steady Crew), my talented roomies Jose & Ira, Kimmy (momma modern), DJ Opus (John Varela) and Chris Wang (he’s just an amazing talent himself who also trained a lot with Tony T). They kind of redefined our artistic vision. That’s when I started getting a lot of good training, in so many different forms of Hip Hop. I started really uncovering more footage from Japan and up north groups like JEDI and really tried to create routines from what we felt real authentic Hip Hop was. I really tried to understand that culture. When I first started Kaba Modern, it was a forum of people with a common interest & a passion for Hip Hop dance to come together and be a proud family. There were really no other Southern CA college dance groups at that time, but the very next year a group from Fullerton called “Culture” was founded which eventually turned into Team Millenia and three years later Pac Modern started and now almost every UC and a lot of the Cal States have a Hip Hop team. You now see this huge community and I think it really reached it height or peak my last year of Kaba Modern in 1997, it was crazy…there was a need for it and now it’s neat to feel like I was part of that movement.
OC: So…you started Kaba Modern your freshman year and ran it for the entire four years you were there?
Arnel: Yeah..it was funny because I brought the idea to the Kababayan president and I said that “I feel that if your going to do a Filipino Culture night with Filipino Americans then you need to include real Hip Hop and need to have it as a real art form and not just as something that’s just for fun or a comedy skit or what not. They said jokingly, “Well if you want it then go ahead and start it.” So I went home confided in my close friend Cuong Pham for encouragement, and decided that I would. I went back the next week and said that I’m going to have auditions. I started putting flyers up everywhere and that’s how it all started. I was a freshman auditioning people two or three years older than me! I was really intimidated by some of these dancers because they were really talented, but in the end we ended up becoming really good friends. It’s really funny how you can misperceive people. Everyone comes in with the baggy clothes, confident strut and intensity, but when you actually talk to them you realize that they’re your people and that you have so much in common. That’s when I knew that they were going to be my family for sure and every year I would want to keep it going-until we would have a legacy going. It became that year after year. A lot of traditions were started and the main key was “Family.” Family through the love and passion of Hip Hop dance. That was a really neat idea that we’ve all held on to. I’m proud of it because it was something that meant so much to me and became something meaningful to other people. My youngest brother, Eric, who went to UCI these past 2 years…never thought he’d be on a dance team and now he’s on Kaba Modern & loving it! I watch him and hear him talk about it at home and its weird because he talks about doing some of the same traditions we did back then. I’m amazed how traditions have really passed on through the generations and evolved. It’s great how its expanded into a lot of different artistry while the root of it is still the same.
“Or you see a locking a routine that’s really fast and no one’s hitting the lock…”
OC: How many years has Kaba Modern been around?
Arnel: We’re going on our thirteenth year. About 2 1/2 years ago I started a group called KM Legacy. I got together all of the coordinators for the 1 st 10 years for our 10 year PCN anniversary. They’re usually two every year. Representative from all ten years came together to perform once more, share our stories, passion, and various artistic styles…that was an amazing thing to see come together.
OC: You know…Culture Shock Los Angeles has come so far since you’ve become director and I remember talking to you when you first decided to take over the position as director of Culture Shock Los Angeles…I know you’ve overcome so many obstacles…what do you feel has been your largest obstacle?
Arnel: The largest obstacle is being perceived in a certain way or boxed in a certain category you don’t want. Uhmm…when I auditioned for Culture Shock–I took two years off after Kaba Modern.What attracted me to Culture Shock was their mission statement. One year after I was first in Culture Shock, we had a brand new director. She was really nice to me, but she just had a different vision. Not that we didn’t do community outreach at all, but we just barely touched on that aspect. We did a lot of industry events which I think is really fun at times, but it wasn’t the primary reason that I joined Culture Shock. The company was run as a healthy outlet for the dancers and “just for fun,” but I had already experienced that in college. Years later, we had the reputation of NOT being really well respected for our artistry. I wouldn’t honestly think anyone would associate us with Locking or Breaking at all and as far as calling our selves a “Hip Hop” dance troupe, I often thought, “How can you call it that when you don’t pay respect to where Hip Hop dance started or originated?”
So…the primary reason for starting Culture Shock and becoming director is out of respect and commitment to all the dancers who came and left…there are so many dancers who came through Culture Shock and left. We often had two or three auditions per year because the turnover rate was so high. It would attract a lot of industry people who would come in and book something and then leave Culture Shock. It didn’t have that much Breaking or Locking-so other people who were looking for that ended up leaving really quick. I saw this as an opportunity to change gears …really go back to basics…to what Angie Bunch stated in her mission statement and also build a foundation for breaking, locking, popping and really commit to that while blending both new and old skool styles, so that we can really call ourselves a Hip Hop dance troupe legitimately that does community outreach.
OC: You’ve done such a phenomenal job building this group from the roots up. I mean…this group is and stands for something completely different than what it was three years ago. That must have been really challenging
Arnel: I would have to say that another challenge was starting from scratch. My new vision for the company was to shift our focus primarily to Community Outreach as well as education and training in Hip-Hop dance foundation internally. In accordance with the Culture Shock mission statement: “We are a troupe of individuals, who through the power of music and dance, cultivate self-worth, dignity, and respect for all people,” I wanted to ensure our company establishes itself as primarily a community outreach organization. Two huge challenges: 1) We started with no account or funding and 2) We didn’t have a home-studio. Luckily, over time, with the generous support of many guest instructors such as Jyve, Steven Stanton, and members of our CSSD family, we ran master classes and fundraisers to keep us afloat, but we are still trying to pursue grants and sponsorships to support our outreach efforts. Also, Dave Cho opened his doors to us at the South Bay Dance Center and ultimately, we partnered with Cindy & Patrick of San Pedro Ballet to establish our current classes at San Pedro Performing Arts Center. We really had to build from ground up with writing our own by-laws and constitution and admin documents, updating our website and creating our own DVD Reel (thanks to Dave & Dream Real Productions) and depending on the generosity of community minded leaders in our company and outside supporters.
With the guidance of our amazing advisors, Shannon (B-girl JADE), Cyn, Noel, & Victor, the board was also firm in its commitment to incorporating not only studio style street dance and new skool styles, but really educating ourselves and the communities we serve with the history, foundation, and vocab of the original hip-hop dance styles of Locking, Breaking, and Popping. This was the only way we could legitimately call ourselves a “Hip-Hop” Dance Troupe. We are very fortunate now to have a Breaking Team and Locking Team in addition to our dance company and hope to start a Popping Team within the year and our Future Shock LA (our 17 and under) troupe by Fall. I also have to say that without the shared vision, self-less passion, many talents, and supportive teamwork of Allison, Ira, Dave, Tiff, and Dennis (our board of directors), none of this would have been possible either.
“We really want to reach out to under privileged kids who can’t afford to take studio classes.”
OC: Being so knowledgeable of foundation and being in the dance community scene for so long, watching dancers and groups evolve, being a judge where your forced to judge musicality, foundation etc…You’ve seen how the scene has changed over the years and after attending so many dance showcases and competitions what do you feel are the positive things regarding the scene and what do you feel the dance scene is lacking?
Arnel: Uhmm…Obviously you see a lot of the breaking all over the place these days. It’s making such a come back into the scene. There’s a little bit of a mixture. There’s the new skool scene where you have these people doing flexible, back-breaking, crazy stunts and powermoves, but they don’t always have the foundation or finesse of doing the up rock and going into the floorwork. On the flipside…you see a lot of people trying do locking, but it’s far from foundation of actually hitting the lock. Instead, it’s a lot of watered down movements. Don’t get me wrong though, I do embrace people expressing themselves in their own way and evolution, but I think it’s also best if expansion is rooted in foundation. More so than not, I see a lot of studio/commercial dance styles which is awesome in its own right and we actually incorporate that because that is an undeniable part of our dance culture today. I would say the Jayson Wright style (he is just an amazing talent) ….some people have emulated his style so much….it’s an amazing style but you see it in almost every group now. Once in awhile you see a little bit of breaking thrown in it…in the middle of it all. Or you see a locking a routine that’s really fast and no one’s hitting the lock and there’s not much expression in the face. Don Campbell and the original Lockers’ expressions are so entertaining and so engaging…you don’t see that too often anymore in a lot of dance crews…it’s missing that important element of feeling the music and expressing that performance in the locking.…I would hesitate to call it locking without these aspects. Once in awhile you’ll see a group like the Groovaloos, who I love and are people I really look up to a lot. Not only are they nice people, but they are awesome performers. They blend and mix it up a little bit to make their style their own. No matter what, however, they still have foundation incorporated. You can see that when they perform they really perform because they love it and experience the music. I wish that I could say that about a lot of groups. I would say that right now I see more industry style than anything with some breaking and very few groups with authentic locking. I’ve seen popping…but even that foundation’s watered down lately. I think people really need to realize the difference between waving, hitting, boogaloo, and ticking. I rarely see ticking. I would love to see that come back. When I judge I’m kind of stickler because if you do a style…I’m going to say “please make sure you know and study foundation.” I give them a lot of credit for even incorporating it…people just need to really do their homework and understand that Hip Hop is really an art form, its not just a bunch of things you throw together from what you see on the videos. Everything has vocab: Popping, Locking, Breaking, even house…they all have vocab. That’s such a huge part of learning and teaching it. Do your homework, watch some cyphers, talk to or read about some of the original Lockers, Breakers, and Poppers. Understand our culture and it’s history…it’ll give you more passion when you do perform it!
OC: If you had to give props to any one dance group in the dance scene…besides the Groovaloos…who would it be?
Arnel: Uhmm…I like the Jabbawockeez, they do amazing, innovative things. They’re trained in foundation. They do popping, they have the freestyle element and the routine element, the staging element…they’re such great performers. A lot of the old popping groups like Media Circus wore space suits it wasn’t about being seen, discovered or known. It’s about the love for the art form. I also saw the Gemini Lockers and the Electric Boogaloos at B-boy Summit this year and they were off the hook!!!! They really inpired me! Not being biased but being true…I really also love Culture Shock San Diego, even their studio dance choreo is different. They have their own style…they are unique artists who dance with passion, expression, stage presence, and edge. Their breaking sets are phenomenal! They wouldn’t perform any style unless they knew how exactly to do it and train in it – they always set high standards for themselves. Another great group is that all guy dance group from San Diego…
Arnel: Formality… that’s right. They’re a really great group and they give everybody props. They take pictures with people and they hug everybody. Haha. I don’t know if that’s just how they were taught…but it’s positive energy. Positivity and a willingness to share talents in dancers is something I HIGHLY respect. Of course I gotta give props to the new generation of Kaba Modern too – so proud of them!!!! (I guess that’s more than one group, huh? Sorry!!!!)
OC: Who inspires you?
Arnel: I would say KRS-1 is a huge inspiration to me because his lyrics are always so profound. He worked in the industry and could easily have swayed a certain way but he stayed underground and stayed true to his message and what he believed in. He was one of the only MCees who didn’t turn his back on the b-boys and b-girls. I really like that he’s about the community and about knowledge and diversity and is really taking responsibility for where the culture is heading. Rock Steady Crew is also a huge inspiration to me for what they overcame. After the Beat Street era when the media turned their back on them, they kept the love going and now it’s resurging. They’re still the originators in my eyes and I still love them. I see them making appearances at B-Boy Summit, still doing things for the community…I really respect that a lot. Don Campbell and the original Lockers are just amazing to look back and watch footage of. They perform with all their heart and he is such a nice guy willing to share his knowledge and talents to this day. Mr Wiggles is incredible!!!!! (Great web-site too!) To me these guys are some of the founding fathers of Hip Hop. I think these guys are definitely my role models.
OC: Where do you see Culture Shock Los Angeles in the next couple years?
Arnel: Well…we’re working on a lot of grants because we want to serve Los Angeles but it’s a huge task. Our first year we wanted to do so much, but we realized that Los Angeles is so large, so we had to start local and reach out. We want to write enough grants to bus kids from Title I schools into our program to learn breaking and locking for free. Right now we have our dance company, our locking team and breaking team. I want to start our popping team and we’ll be complete by the end of this year. And then start sending kids in, start writing grants to eventually get where kids can come for free. Get them out of trouble, get them some self esteem…it’s like our mission statement states, “self worth, dignity and respect…” We really want to branch out to evolve into a real community program. We want Culture Los Angeles to be known for being a community outreach organization above all and we use dance as a medium to accomplish that. I’m so proud of and so happy with our CSLA family…I want to put out showcases that just aren’t random acts performing, I want them to collaborate together and always have a mission for a charity like HIV awareness, violence prevention, or diversity–a new topic every year where the proceeds really go to a charity. I want to have a community feel and for us to be innovators in that sense. I see it now. I see the light at the end of the tunnel because of the talent we have. This year I feel very blessed that we have a community minded group of talented individuals. It’s taken a lot to get here and we’re going to go up from here. Our recent event we did which I’m really proud of was our Kids Dance Day. We had breaking, locking, Hip Hop/commercial dance, we taught Jazz, Capoeira…it was free for all kids 17 and under. We had art projects going on upstairs. Hot 92 Jams outside, Team Nacu clothing to support. It was all about the community and the place was packed. There’s a lot of under privileged kids who couldn’t afford to take classes, that just got really into the performing and classes. It was one of the proudest moments of my dance career altogether. It was so inspiring. It was a kick off for our future shock audition. It’s really going to be the skeleton and backbone for how we’re going to run our future shock. We really want to reach out to under privileged kids who can’t afford to take studio classes. Kids who have the same talent if not more than those kids who can afford to take classes from the Edge or the Millennium.
I actually want to retrack back to when you asked about one organization that you look up to and I’m not doing this because you’re doing the interview with me, but I’d have to say..One Cypher also. I’ve been a huge supporter of this because of the concept of bridging the gap between the up north dance groups and the southern Cali dance groups. You guys are really creating that community online and really bridging the gaps by helping us understand the commonality we all have, and how we can really help each other. It’s going to be one of Culture Shock LA’s collaborators in enabling the community outreach vision. We have our adults and kids checking out One Cypher.com. That inspires me as well because it makes me feel like I’m not alone in my vision and I’m not alone in my passion.
Arnel: First and foremost to God for blessing me with experiences which continue to shape my soul, to my family and the A-Team for a deep love and support that transcends words, to my amazing CSLA directors and Culture Shock LA family…your compassion and many talents inspire and drive me, big thanks to Angie Bunch and Patty Palese for having faith in my abilities and vision for this company, to my Kaba Modern, KM Legacy, and Legacy family…you will always be my roots (love that you are there too Eric !!!), to DVS and the Chill Factor homies…you always have my love and support, and shout-outs to Jyve, Roman, Tessie & Jaffar, One Cypher (esp. Shelley & Dennis), Culture Shock family all around the world, Dave Cho, Cindy & Patrick, Kari, Annabel, Jason Bueno, Anna Sarao & JALAN, the Groovaloos (esp. Bradley, Keeley & Steve Stanton), Super Dave, B-girl Asia and all who have stepped through our doors to support CSLA…thanks for your sincere generosity!!! Much more exciting things to come from CSLA & our upcoming Future Shock LA kids …to all of you reading this… let’s all work together as a community to utilize our Hip-Hop roots as a vehicle to make positive changes in our communities!!!! Keep the competition and attitudes on stage, bring out your positivity and open-ness to all in our community off-stage…Hip Hop culture…thank God for it, know it, respect it, express it, and live it.
OC: How should people go about trying to reach you for audition questions, volunteer questions?
Arnel: Our web-site is www.Cultureshockdance.orgcsla . All of our classes are completely open and TRULY positive (no attitudes allowed!!!, encouragement, positivity welcomed!!!!). You can also call the number on the web-site. You can leave a message and I’ll call you back right away. You can drop a line on the guestbook whenever you’d like.
OC: Thanks so much Arnel!
Arnel: No thank you!!!