Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 35+ years then you know good and well about the legacy of Rich Colon aka Crazy Legs. As one of the original members of the Rock Steady Crew (and one of the most successful) his humble beginnings include being there for the dawn of B-Boying and Hip Hop which would in turn lead to trips around the world as the ambassador of Breakin’ and therefore a worldwide fan base. He’s enjoyed a career and lived a life that few if any in this world will ever experience. His career has led him to appear in what many would consider to be definitive films and documentaries including: Wild Style, Style Wars, Flash Dance (as a body double for Jennifer Beals if you can believe that) and Beat Street to name a few. Colon would go on to be the first person in Hip Hop – and maybe even the First Puerto Rican -signed to a long term endorsement deal with Red Bull. By 2008 he worked on a project called Bouncing Cats – a documentary that was produced by Red Bull Media House and for which he is extremely proud of. Between being an ambassador,athlete and opinion leader Rich also found the time to win awards for choreography. Ultimately though it is his service to the community that has been at the forefront of an amazing career. I recently caught up with the living legend to talk the past, present and of course the future.
DeFY: How have you and the crew been? Getting ready for Sunday?
CL: Yea Pretty much, people flying in and you know just bonding
DeFY: Absolutely. Now I know you don’t really do performances any more right?
CL: I do and I would be dancing tomorrow but I actually tweaked my knee a little bit so I’ll be resting it for a couple of weeks.
DeFY: That sucks. Now listen, you have to already know you’re the G.O.A.T. I don’t need to tell you, but last year you brought out a lot of talent and for this year I’m expecting a lot of the same. Will you be bringing out some new acts or any new members?
CL: You know what,this year my boy is handling the whole roster because I was focused on this battle I was doing in Russia recently. For 6 months I was just training and not really focused on the Rock Steady anniversary but you know, other than that they usually like to put on a couple of new acts. I’m not sure really what the deal is with that though. Now you’re talking about new in terms of new artists, new music right?
DeFY: No, well, I mean you’ve brought out some individuals from as far away as Japan for last years anniversary right?
CL: Oh you mean, you’re talking about members of Rock Steady?
DeFY: Yea, like any new members…
CL: Oh no new members just you know, members lol
DeFY: Got ya, now Nice N Smooth is supposed to show up?
DeFY: Is there anybody else?
CL: Douge E Fresh, Bahamadia, Apathy & O.C. I don’t know all the names but a great lineup
DeFY: Do you know of any special guests that aren’t on the bill
CL: That’s always gonna happen, we just never announce it until the moment its going to happen. We’ve already got it locked in we just aren’t saying anything.
DeFY: How did you and the Rock Steady Crew originally partner up with SummerStage?
CL: Well the thing is Erica Elliot is a good friend of ours and a true lover of Hip Hop and we’ve had a relationship with her since she was working at SOB’s back in the day and even before that. So I think because we were doing the Rock Steady anniversary in Newark for at least 10 years we always wanted to come back to New York and I think Eclipse or Sebastian reached out to her or she reached out and wanted to see if we wanted to do it in New York. When you’re presented a platform like SummerStage how do you really say no especially if Rock Steady crew is from New York?
CL: Originally. I mean, we have members all over the world now but the DNA is New York based.
DeFY: I want to talk a little bit about footwear. Of course you guys are pioneer’s in Hip Hop and B-boying and IMO there should always be some sort of homage paid in that regard especially from brands like Puma, adidas and FILA. You’ve done a collaboration with FILA in the past and I wanted to know if you had anything planned in the near future or if you didn’t, was there any brand you would like to work with?
CL: Yea, I’ve done a collaboration with FILA but we don’t have anything planned right now. Ideally the most obvious from the average person’s perspective in the case of nostalgia people are gonna think adidas. Now we did do a collab with adidas on our 35th anniversary which honored Frosty Freeze
Image Via Dojo Soundz
and they made 35 pairs of brown with beige shelltoe’s to honor Frosty Freeze so that was one thing. People in Rock Steady though wear all types of brands and some brands are good for certain things and some aren’t. Like, because what we do is athletic the obvious choice shelltoes isn’t really a smart thing for a dancer.
CL: We have to wear stuff thats going to allow us to be able to move the way we really need to move.
DeFY: I’m not a dancer and while I appreciate the art form I wouldn’t play myself to ever call myself a dancer but what type of shoe would you typically recommend? A running shoe?
CL: Honestly it would have to be some sort of……..I would have to go with what I think personally which would be an adidas Gazelle.
To me those are dope to dance in cause its a light sneaker and its not clunky and doesn’t fall off when you’re dancing. When you tie them up their not loose. But there are also moments where I’ve worn Olympic Jordan’s when they first came out. Funny thing I was wearing them and this dude was just looking at me -and I liked them because the original ones were like a tighter fit- and I’m wearing them one day in Las Vegas and this dude saw me tightning up my laces and I think he was a sneaker head, and he looked at me and said “yo,you’re not gonna dance in those right?!”
CL: He was almost offended that I was actually going to just dance in them. But I’m flexible with my sneakers, for me its mostly Nike, Jordan’s and adidas.
DeFY: No Puma’s? Puma suedes anything like that?
CL: Not really, the Puma Baskets those slip off, the Clydes. I’ve seen them slip off sometimes. When you tie the laces on them they don’t really…….I don’t know, they don’t really wrap a sneaker around your foot properly. When you think of the technology for those Puma’s and how it hasn’t changed in so many years you have to be concerned with that. Their dope looking though.
DeFY: Yea, I wasn’t sure if they were shoes that someone wanted to dance in outside of nostalgic purposes. What about some of the members of the crew, what are they rockin’?
CL: Ok, I have a diverse crew here. Their saying Puma suedes which I just don’t agree with
CL: adidas Gazelles, adidas Honey, adidas Gazelle’s
DeFY: So the Gazelle is getting some love
CL: The Air Max and right now with the breaking team you have a lot of people wearing the Huarache
DeFY: Really?! The Huarache?
CL: Yea, big time their all over the B-Boy/B-Girl scene right now. Their really hot with the breakers right now. I actually took a poll on my page where I asked what sneaker do they recommend that I wear. And you had B-Boys and B-Girls posting all types of sneakers and then you had people that think everything is all nostalgic and they want me to wear shell tops. They don’t dance and don’t realize I used to dance in those back in the day but right now I understand athleticism and what we need in terms of technology to do what we need to do and they don’t really get that so I just let them live with that old school perspective.
DeFY: That’s funny,because a lot of times when people think about it they are thinking about Beat Street and Breakin’ as if thats where Breakin’ begun and ended.
CL: Right, right
DeFY: No one’s breaking’ in Timb’s right?
CL: Hell Nooo
CL: You know when I was a teenager we would train in construction boots, it was like having weights on your legs so that our footwork would be faster. The Boots were a more distributed weight on the foot as opposed to just having ankle weights. They also provided more support around the ankle. Let me show you something.
DeFY: Woa! Those are sick!
CL: Yea, they were gifted to me by Jerry Macalino, he’s really talented.
DeFY: Amazing, and trust when I say I’m not easily impressed when it comes to customized shoes. Where do you see Break Dancing evolving?
CL: Let me just school you a little bit on one thing first. The word ‘Break Dancing” doesn’t come from Hip Hop it came from a manager back in the days, a British Woman. So most of the people that do the dance don’t call it Break Dancing they call it Breakin’, B-Boying, B-Girling things like that. So because of the respect for the culture and where it comes from and the fact that it was made by people of color we’re like yo, lets bring that ish back to what we called it not what someone from the outside called it because its giving……..We empower ourselves by calling it the name that we gave it. You figure tap dancing. Its original name was hoofin’. But people from the outside got involved with it and they change it to tap.
DeFY: Like take your ish and run with it.
CL: Well with the future you have a lot of people that do events that are self funded or funded by, whether its Red Bull or whoever there are a lot of huge events that aren’t necessarily on the radar of the commercial media in a large sense, but we’re talking about events where we have thousands of people. The thing with our scene is that we survive with our without funding because we’re are really into it for the art of it. When you look at say Rap music, if there was no industry for it would it survive? But looking at the future for us we do it for the sake of art and culture. If there’s money to be made somewhere along the line then so be it but if there isn’t our scene doesn’t die because its art.
DeFY: I’ve heard that you are really big on education.
CL: Yea man all the students in our studio are straight A students
DeFY: Thats awesome. Now, As far aspiring dancers are there any words of wisdom you can pass on? I know you’ve emphasized that dancers get educated so that if their bodies give out they can still take care of their families but is there anything else?
Image Via @irinasunnymoon
CL: Yea definitely. First of all when it comes to dance or Hip Hop or whatever these industries for a dancer and what we do are very small industries. People who put their whole lives into it and don’t have any sort of back up plan learn the hard way and usually end up in a really bad predicament down the road. They think that their something special but so do a lot of other people you know? And when their caught up in themselves and the hype that they believe that their as special as they want everyone else to think they are they end up realizing that when you go to Hollywood and your chasing all these videos or try to be a background dancer for the next pop star injuries come into play even if you are that person. Remember, we all get hurt. We’re athletes. Getting hurt is a break beat away. If you don’t have that thing to fall back on its a problem. I’m in a very unique situation because of my position in Hip Hop when I started and just my career a long the way. I was fortunately in a different position than someone that is coming in after the fact. I’m considered one of the pioneers one of the people that helped save the dance and take it around the world so thats pretty unique cause its impacted the world.
DeFY: Really, you are the pinnacle of what most individuals in the community would love to reach. Top dog basically.
CL: Thank you
DeFY: You know, I’m 34 I wasn’t really able to grasp the impact Beat Street had at that time. I had an older sibling but later on as I got a little older I could understand the significance of Hip Hop and B-Boying and the graf scene and all that.
CL: Even before Beat Street the impact was really when you brought Hip Hop to the downtown scene. When we were being asked to perform at places like Danceteria and the Roxy and then all these other places in SOHO or whether it be uptown at Lincoln Center all those performances wound up being in the Times, Village Voice, paper magazines, on the News. It led to the explosion. So for me because I know more, I’ve lived more I know where things really kicked up because Rap records were already being made but Hip Hop wasn’t exploding yet because the concept of Hip Hop as a culture wasn’t being promoted until 1982. There’s a lot that went on a long the way but I would say in 1981 and 1982 were probably the formative years for what would become the industry. Encompasing all elements of Hip Hop.
DeFY: I remember as a kid -and its funny because I can remember as far back when I was 4 years old – that I would go to the city with my parents or just be around my own neighborhood in Freeport I can remember everything being so LIVE. I mean REALLY live.
CL: Yea, it was definitely live and before the times you were hitting it, it was more dangerous than anything.
DeFY: I believe that, people complain about crime today in the city but back then overall crime was way worse.
CL: It was crazy. From murders to stick ups to all crimes it was pretty crazy. The gang violence, the landlords in the Bronx that were burning down buildings for insurance cause they were tired of Blacks and Puerto Rican’s living in their buildings. We were facing a lot back then.
DeFY: You’re 100% Puerto Rican correct?
CL: Yes, I mean you know I think we’re all mixed up somewhere a long the lines
DeFY: Yea of course. The reason I ask is because my father is half Puerto Rican and his father was Puerto Rican and he’s told me that growing up in Brooklyn there was a lot of racism directed towards Puerto Rican’s at the time and as an adult I feel it’s something that he’s carried with him, something that he has never been able to shake. I wanted to know if you encountered that and if you did how did you shake it off as an adult?
CL: Well, I would say I had a defense mechanism and a certain amount of ignorance to what else was out there in the world. The only thing we saw outside of where we lived was on TV and for me, I grew up in different areas of the Bronx but there was this one part in the Bronx I lived in around Garfield and Van Nest ave and it was kinda like this intersection for Black, Puerto Rican and Italians. It was really cool because there was this local bar Lino’s Tavern where even us as kids could go in and watch TV or just watch our uncles and parents get drunk in there too – that was just what New York was- but it was just the local neighborhood restaurant/ bar so you felt like it was family and everyone going there got to know each other chillin’. So there wasn’t really any opportunity to deal with that. However when you went into areas like Crotona Avenue and 187th street you’re a block away from walking the other way cause well, it would be like I used to hang out there but lets say I have to get to Fordham road and sometimes you would have to walk 5 or 6 blocks around the neighborhood just to be able to get to where you had to go to. It was pretty much like the movie A Bronx Tale, it was exactly like that. I grew up around stuff like that so all I knew was back then Irish, Black, Puerto Rican – and I’m talking the 70’s- Italian. The only Asian person you really knew of was the person at the Chinese restaurant. Other than that it was whatever, then we knew that the Irish dudes were also a problem cause you can’t walk through their neighborhood as well. So, because for me growing up in New York is very different we weren’t as segregated as other places in the country so for me it was always Black and Puerto Rican. There was no issue between me and Blacks. To me it like yea I’m Puerto Rican but I have black in me too.
DeFY: Well how about interactions with Italians, Irish etc.
CL: Well heres the thing, because its New York and we are multi-cultural you have a trickle effect into neighborhoods and you would be like that white friend up the block he’s cool, its the neighborhood. Then again there were neighborhoods like Morris Park, Arthur Ave where it was either Irish or Italian and if we go through there once we’re going to come out fighting. That existed. Even in Manhattan in the Inwood section – I lived there for a few years-. If you crossed over to the other side of Broadway you knew that there was an Irish neighborhood up there and you know that you were asking for trouble going there. Same way they knew they couldn’t really walk into our area without getting into trouble. At the same time on the first floor of my building there was this whole cool Irish family that was rollin’ with us too!
CL: You know what I mean? There was still some sort of understanding
DeFY: Yea I tell my father all the time, its 2016 and things have changed (somewhat) in some areas but sometimes I think that he reverts back to that time as to how others may see him.
CL: I think to me in the Bronx, you know we dealt with some level of racism. You know they set people on fire to make people move.
DeFY: I remember as a kid driving through the Bronx and seeing the buildings. Looked like a war zone. My father worked there during the 70’s and told me how it was then, just amazing to think that was going on here. To this day the Bronx still has a different vibe than any other borough. Recently though I’m noticing the beginning of gentrification taking place in the Bronx which really surprised me.
CL: Yea but the thing is that its having the longest period of the beginning in comparison to lets say Brooklyn. The Bronx is the most resistant to it and I guess in some ways thats good because at the end of the day their just trying to push people out anyway. Everyone’s trying to get that money.
DeFY: In the meantime though you really lose a lot of the culture of what made the area what it is. You want the melting pot. I’ve seen what’s taken place in places like Bedstuy where 10 years ago you could buy a place for 400K and now that same spot is selling for 1.5 million, its crazy.
CL: We were actually looking to move there so I know exactly what you’re talking about.
DeFY: Don’t get me wrong I don’t think anyone wants to walk through a neighborhood and feel like their going to get robbed but what about the individuals living in the neighborhood that really don’t have any other place to go? That don’t want to go and are being pushed out of their own neighborhood?
CL: And the thing is that us as people of color we have to get our stuff together, keep our kids in school, keep them on the straight and narrow and fight for our futures or else everyone’s getting pushed out because we aren’t figuring out the system thats leaving us behind so its like we really have to figure it out and realize whats happening around us.
DeFY: Ok, I’ve talked your ear off and I could talk to you for hours but before I let you go I wanted to remind everyone about the RockSteady 39th anniversary. Its this Sunday right 3-7PM?
CL: Yes, doors open at 2pm and of course I’ll be there. Here is the flyer
DeFY: Where can everyone go to follow all things Crazy Legs and Rock Steady?
CL: You can follow me on FACEBOOK, Twitter @CrazyLegsRSC , YouTube, Instagram @CrazyLegsBX and my website crazylegsworkshop. As far as Rock Steady there is Rock Steady FaceBook Page and Instagram @rocksteadycrew1977
DeFY: Ok cool, I truly appreciate you taking the time out to chat its been an honor.
CL: Thank you
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