Electric boogaloo 

Back in 1984, America was obsessed with breaking. Flicks like Flashdance, Wild Style, and Style Wars had already introduced the culture to the masses, but this was the year that b-boys stormed Madison Avenue, made the cover of Newsweek, and were invited to the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. For folks in middle-America, Michael Jackson continued to legitimize the art form and, more importantly, a pair of Hollywood films, Breakin’ and Beat Street, paved the way.

“I think movies really bring about a reflection of choices in your life,” says 33-year-old filmmaker Xavier “X” Ramirez. “`Watching` Breakin’ and Beat Street as a kid, everybody that I knew in the hood, it was very emotional for us because we had never seen people that looked like us up onscreen. Our only representation of people of our color was CHiPs or Cheech & Chong, which were great, but that was very limited. With these movies, we actually saw a whole gamut of cats doing something positive that we could see onscreen, and it was amazing.”

“To be honest with you, I’ve always danced,” says Alamo City b-boy icon Billy “VooDoo Child” Angelini. “At the age of 6, I was introduced to the movies Breakin’ and Beat Street. Breakin’ looked more colorful. I was drawn to it, going ‘Man I’m gonna be just like these cats.’”

Over the years, the hip-hop culture has opened many doors for Ramirez and Angelini. VooDoo Child is an accomplished promoter who founded the increasingly popular “Battle of the Alamo,” has worked with NBA All-Star Tony Parker, and once toured as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Ramirez is in talks to script Breakin’. Their latest endeavor, 5th Element, intends to introduce today’s kids to the b-boy culture in which Ramirez and Angelini grew up.

“The hip-hop heads that are around now, we’re not gangbanging,” says Angelini. “We’re doing stuff for the youth. We’re teaching kids to go in an opposite direction than what they could just naturally go into. They could naturally get in trouble. They could naturally get into fights, but the discipline of the dance will teach them the right way to go. Our motto with my crew is ‘Put down your weapons, pick up your talent.’ But the best way to make it happen is to show them we do have the power of being knowledgeable, of being positive.”

The 5th Element is a unified crew comprising Angelini and his family; Ramirez and his company Higher Intention Productions; Joseph “Melo” Guerra of Catfish Films; Anthony “Ninja” Grant from Visible Sounds; Andre “Thundercat” Abrams of Unified Soul; Killa Bee, Poet, and R.J. from Pur3ly Root3d; and Darkroom Photography. In addition to operating a working studio that teaches the four elements of hip-hop culture, plus video and photography, the immediate plans are to establish a traveling six-week hip-hop youth program to help promote positive mentoring in San Antonio schools. One of the group’s staunchest supporters is global b-boy icon Boogaloo Shrimp, who most folks might remember as Turbo from Breakin’ fame.

For lifelong friends Ramirez and Angelini, the exposure to hip-hop went way beyond the silver screen. During the late ’80’s, Angelini’s Dad, Bill Sr., was a pioneer in the San Antonio rap promotions industry. Bill Sr. had a hand in bringing Run-D.M.C., the Fat Boys, JJ Fad, L’Trimme, and Brenda K. Starr to town, all of whom VooDoo Child witnessed first hand. He also credits old-school SA crews Supreme Team and Too Much Tilt as major real-life influences.

“All these cats I’m meeting as an 8-year-old, a 9-year-old,” says Angelini. “I saw the freedom and the peace in their eyes, and I said, ‘If I can be that free and that peaceful, this is the right route.’ I’ve been on it ever since.”

When you walk into the 5th Element studios on San Pedro, the first thing you notice are the blown-up snapshots of New York, the culture’s birthplace, papering the walls. It’s a cloudy Friday evening and VooDoo Child is leading a quartet of youngsters through a six-step routine. As class comes to an end, a young girl asks her mom if there’s time for one more move, and she’s answered with a smile and a nod. The girl proceeds to rock the Worm with VooDoo Child looking on, offering insight.

“Throughout my years, I’ve seen the rough side of things, and it’s all about choices,” explains Angelini. “I’ve chosen to pick b-boying as not only my lifestyle and my culture, but my escape from the dark side. It’s about escaping when things get rough. When I was younger, when times got hard, when I noticed everyone was into gangs, I was like, wait a minute. If I pull out a flip, they might stop fighting. And sure enough they’d stop fighting."

More by M. Solis



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