justDANCE! BBoy Twist

Words by Alan Ng & Jenkin Au
Photography by Andy Fang

Jheric Hizon, also known as BBoy Twist, is a well known bboy here in Vancouver. Starting way back in the 80’s, BBoy Twist is now 37 and still throwing it down in a heartbeat. BBoy Twist has stayed true to the game for over 20 years, even after seeing friends and old rivals leave the scene. Regardless, BBoy Twist has inputted his time, his philosophies, and his love into the scene and the cats that support and make it. His humble attitude has earned him respect throughout the scene and throughout generations. BBoy Twist tells us about how his long career in dance here in Vancouver.

Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

Alright, what do you want to know?

(Everyone laughs)

Let’s see, I’ve been dancing for a little bit over 20 years and I got into it before junior high school when the movie “Breakin’” came out. That got me into the whole breaking scene and I was just a beginner and there wasn’t a teacher so I just taught myself. I had a few people that were older and they taught me the basic stuff, but from there on out, I kind of just practiced. From there, I moved to Canada, and it was like ’86, and no one was breaking anymore in my school. So I stopped for a bit and a few years later, I met a guy from Richmond, Nelson Cortez, and he was into breaking scene. He was also doing it by himself and from there, we hooked up and bonded together and formed a crew. We started out our first breaking crew called “Wild Style” and back then, it was around ’92 or ’93, and no one was bboying then, except for me and Nelson and a few other guys called “Contents Under Pressure”. That’s with Rob Rizk and Flipout and those guys.

Yeah! We just interviewed DJ Flipout the other day and he’s going to be in the same issue.

Yeah, so his crew and my crew were the only two breaking crews that were actually around back then. We all kind of grew up together, well, not together but in the sense when hip hop was still booming – they were into their dance scene and we were into our dance scene – and we got hold of underground bboy tapes and our group started practicing and actually battling. Pretty much, since we were like 18 to about 24, 25, we were not cool with each other. Now, we’re really cool, but just because we used to always battle it out in clubs and we were the only two crews around. It’s big now – there are more crews in the Vancouver scene.

How did you get the name BBoy Twist?

Actually, Nelson gave that to me. I actually never had a nickname and to get your street name, it was supposed to be given to you. You can’t just go, “OK, I’m calling myself ‘This’.” Even from back in the day, that’s what I’ve learned – a name was given to you – so I never really gave myself a name. Nelson saw me dancing and a lot of the movements that I would do, I would twist around. He would go, “Every time you dance, you would twist, so I’ll call you BBoy Twist,” and that’s how I got that.

How would you say your style is different than the others?

I guess as a bboy, you try to be different from everybody else, but then you see some of the other cats that you get influenced by. Growing up, I was influenced by the Rock Steady Crew, like Ken Swift. So as far as learning footwork, everyone looked up to him. Now, he was my generation, right? I would try to imitate them but as you grow older, you learn to put a bit of your own twist to that movement and make it your own. Learning the foundation steps, I learned from those guys by watching them – they didn’t teach me personally, but I had their videos and I would watch it over and over again. Back then, we had no Youtube, so it was really hard to get a hold of these tapes. Now, any bboy can go on Youtube and watch somebody, and that’s how they learn. Before, you really were taught by somebody or you saw what was going around the world and you learned from it. It’s easily accessible now so it’s a little bit different. There are a lot of bboys that look the same. I try to be different by doing house, popping, locking and freestyle, and I try to incorporate that when I do my stuff, so not just the basic bboy.

Going back to the movie that inspired you to start, can you tell us a little more about that movie? What really inspired you to go full out and really get into bboying?

It was called “Breakin’” and years after I watched it, I found out that it was just so Hollywood – it was all the West Coast stuff – but I saw it and I saw those guys breaking and thought, “That’s what I want to do.” They had dance competitions so I would watch it, watch the people that were older, and they would break. That’s pretty much how I got into it and later on in life, as I got older, I learned more about the history of it and getting introduced to it. Back then, even though the movie was cheesy, I didn’t know, I was a kid. Now I found that it wasn’t the real thing but it still introduced me to hip hop.

Yeah, one of the kids from Freestyle Fridays, Nathan, he told us that he got inspired because he watched some bboys on channel 24 and that’s how he got inspired with it.

Yeah, Nathan, he’s one of our students, one of mine. He’s a cool cat, he’s good.

Many people consider you as a pioneer in the Vancouver street dancing scene. What have you contributed directly to this scene to make people think this way?

I think it’s because I stayed. I stayed in this scene and just taught and helped this scene grow, in my way. I think that’s why people see it that way. There are people that started dancing with me and now, they don’t dance anymore. I’m 37, man, and I’m probably the oldest bboy in the city that still does it, but I still keep on doing it because I love it, it’s an art. Teaching just comes in second nature. How I got into that was, back in high school, we entered this dancing competition out in Metrotown and it was where it was just my crew competing against all the dance studios in the area and we beat them all. We weren’t even a studio and so the studios came to us and asked us what style of dance that was. I told them that it was hip hop and they didn’t know. This was back in ’91 and it was big in everywhere else other than Canada – we were really catching up. That was when I got introduced to dance studios – I didn’t know they existed, I mean, you can teach and make a living? From there, I got invited to one and then to another and another and I guess since I teach there, many of the kids there are teaching now. I guess that’s how my influence get’s carried on.

Yeah, we even saw your fan club up on Facebook.

Yeah, I saw that. Someone made that and it’s cool.

With teaching, you’re passing on your knowledge to the next generation. When you start teaching the new kids, you have no idea what they will be in the future. How do you feel when you find out that they are very successful?

It’s an accomplishment. You teach somebody and you watch them grow from the point where they don’t know anything until now, it’s kind of like they were your student at first, and now they’re your peers. It’s like equal and it’s kind of cool to see that. You see them and they actually stuck to it and they’re working and some of them are actually better than me. Some of the dancers, their skills just evolved and surpassed me, so for me, it’s really good. For me, I don’t see it as like, “Aw, fuck, these guys are better than me.” To me, it’s like, “Damn!”

Definitely, man! In that sense, this scene is really changing, really fast. Speaking of that, where do you think this scene here in Vancouver is changing to, and do you see it as a change in the right direction, or wrong direction?

Oh, it’s definitely changing for the better. Now, we have a wide variety of dancers. Before, it was studio hip hop but now, kids are going out there and forming their crews, like back in the day, but ten times that. Every day, these kids go and practice with their crews. A lot of these kids come from the studio but they are breaking away from that, learning the history of it.

As far as the dancing goes, me and Jo Jo had a big competition at Harbour called Rock the House. It wasn’t a bboy battle, it wasn’t a locking battle, and it wasn’t popping battle. It was a house battle, a whacking battle, experimental, and there was a two on two hip hop battle. A lot of people showed up and the dancers that came out – we thought not that many people were going to come, but a ton of people showed up. It was different styles of hip hop coming together and actually put a competition on for the people.

Before, it was just the breaking community and it was still smaller. The community is bigger now and kids are learning it and trying to do it, I guess, with the influences from So You Think You Can Dance, Americas Best Dance Crew, and like I said, Youtube too. At least it’s getting people informed. When they like it, they stick to it and it’s really helping the scene grow. The one thing about the Vancouver crews and community is that everybody is tight with each other. It’s a really good thing because I know outside in like, Asia, L.A. or New York, there are cliques. Some hate on each other but here, everyone knows each other. I don’t see the hate, but if there is, they don’t show it. Everyone is pretty tight and they are friends with each other. They might jump from one crew to the other – they like to collaborate with each other. Hopefully, that stays with each other and hopefully, that’s what makes Vancouver special.

And you think that’s because we’re Canadians?

Because we’re multicultural?

Yeah!

It could be. I guess it’s just because a lot of the new cats coming out, we’ve taught and had our reach towards them, and that might be why. I think it’s also because of all the competitions that we have where everyone comes together and they just meet one another and they just come out and practice.

Speaking of the scene, back 10 or more years ago, schools wouldn’t support hip hop. There wouldn’t be those school sponsored hip hop dance competitions or stuff like that. There has been a crazy change since then. Why do you think there has been this change?

Over 10 years ago, there was one of the first high school competitions and it was called Outbreak and it was in Surrey. I started it with a teacher and that was over 10 years ago. It was supposed to be an all BC high school bboy competition. The first year, it was bboying and they had a team of dancers from each school. Back then, only a few schools had dance teams and the majority of dance teams were cheerleaders.

Now, they started to get into hip hop and so there were three or four other schools that competed and it was hip hop, but the rest were bboy. I think from that Outbreak, other schools caught on. Back then, hip hop was still very small and when schools did other kinds of competitions, that’s when kids really started to catch on. In Vancouver, it seems like all the dancers, a majority of them are Asian. I think it’s in the blood – just dance and be good at it.

Continuing on this topic, as hip hop becomes more and more popular and soon, mainstream, the essence and underground feel to hip hop might be taken away. What is the one aspect of hip hop that hip hop can’t do without?

I think it’s when the battling stops happening. As dancers, it’s the battling that makes you evolve – that’s why I put on dance competitions. The mainstream is what people see – when they see it, they go, “OK, that’s good,” but what they see is, how should I put it?

The tip of the iceberg?

Yeah. What they see first, right? But then, later on and they want to get involved with it, they see what goes into it, like the practice hours, the time and the effort to make that move great, because everyone takes the time to make that move seem so effortless and well done. If you are someone outside looking in, and you’re a crew, and that intrigues you, then you dig and see what’s underneath it. The essence of it is the battling. In competitions, you see how everyone is so hungry to win that battle and to be recognize. It’s almost like that’s how you get your street cred and it’s not New York. Our street cred comes from that.

You hear about that cat and he’s a wicked dancer and then people would be like, “Oh, where can I see him dance?” People hone their skills in studios or at home, but when they show their skills, for the younger cats now, it’s high school dance competitions and then for the older guys, it’s competitions like the ones that I throw, where it’s all ages, all styles and stuff like that and they throw it there. I used to rent garages and throw it down there. People would come out and that do their thing and that’s how they get their street cred.

What is your own most memorable battle, ever? I know you’ve been battling for a long time so there has to be one that’s particularly special.

For me, my most memorable battle happened here in Vancouver with Flipout and them. We were the first two groups in Vancouver and every week, once we got out of school, we would go home and practice. We would meet up and go, “Alright, we’re going to take these guys out tonight.” The thing is, there are no judges, it’s just the crowd – it’s just how you feel. If you feel you lost that night, then you lost that night, but if you felt really good, then you know you won. It’s cool because there are no judges and you would just call them out.

Now, it’s battling with N.O.N., flying out to Germany for Battle of the Year, battling European people, which really cool, battling people from California, and getting to battle Rock Steady Crew. Rock Steady Crew is the crew that I looked up to, growing up. I didn’t get to battle Crazy Legs or Ken Swift, but it’s the new generation of Rock Steady took over their spot, so to battle them, it’s kind of like an honour. We lost to them but it’s OK, it’s Rock Steady! The funny thing is, I don’t keep up with who’s who in bboy. If I see somebody good, then they’re good. It’s funny because some of the kids I teach here, they would school me on that. I try not to watch videos but if I see it, I go, “Who’s that guy?” They go, “Where have you been hiding man? How can you not know this guy?” One more thing too, do you guys know BBoy Casper?

No.

No? You have to go check him out. He’s from BC, a white kid, and he’s dope. My younger brother and myself taught him first and he comes from Maple Ridge and now he’s killer. Right now, he battled BBoy Born and it’s really big.

Looking through your past, you’re a founding member of many crews. Does the attributes of one crew bleed into the other? And how do you keep it original?

It’s different because before “Wild Style”, my bboy crew, I had a hip hop crew called “Front Page” in high school. Even in “Front Page”, I was the only one bboying. Everyone else was doing hip hop so I tried to teach them and input my bboy style into it. None of those guys dance anymore. My younger brother joined us and it kind of disbanded. Then we met Nelson and then started “Wild Style”. From “Wild Style”, we became “Dead Reckoning” and “Dead Reckoning” was my younger brother and his crew that we used to teach that joined in. From there, the members of “Dead Reckoning” kind of left and had their careers while I kept on dancing. My younger brother, he joined “N.O.N.”, but I was still “Dead Reckoning”. I went off and lived in Japan for a couple of years and when I came back, I rejoined them in 2006 when we competed in L.A.

That influence carried over – me teaching my younger brother and my younger brother carrying on and joining those crews. I still had a reach in it. Other crews that I started, hip hop or breaking, it branched on its own. Whether they took something or not, to me, I would say there are influences. I always tell the people I teach that, “Whatever I teach you guys, take it, but add your own twist to it and make it different.” People talk about biting which means copying other people’s style. It’s one of those negative words. When people see your stuff, they say, “Oh, you bit that from somebody else.” A lot of it goes on because of Youtube. Someone can see your style and say a kid from Canada is watching stuff from a kid in Korea. He sees that style and he decides to take that, but who’s to know? People know because they watch the videos and they know that this guy’s style is from this other guy, but how do you know which one is original?

There’s a lot of biting going on. If you’re influenced by somebody, add your own flavour to it. Don’t take the whole move – if you are, make it your own. Don’t copy it move for move from start to finish – you don’t do that because people are going to know. Everyone has their bboy that they look up to – you don’t imitate them but you take what they taught you and you add your own flavour to it. That’s how the dance move evolves and that’s how the scene will grow. If people just keep taking the same style and sticking to it, then the scene will be all cookie-cutter and everything will look the same. Sometimes, again, when that happens, it becomes grey area because people are calling each other biters but you never know. Maybe this guy did the move while this kid did the exact same move but they’ve never even seen each other. Who’s to say that they actually saw each other and copied each other? It’s really hard to say about originality.

With hip hop, that’s the rawness of hip hop. To me, the underground scene is real because if you don’t like something, you call that person out. You don’t keep it in and you don’t bottle it inside of you. A lot of the people that are really passionate about the bboy dance, when they see something they don’t like, they’ll really call you out on it. It totally builds your character, too. A lot of people that grew up on hip hop, they really stand out and they’re out spoken because they feel it. They never bottle it in.

Fashion and music both have huge influences on the bboy scene. What you wear represents you and what you listen to is who you are. What are your favourite music and fashion styles?

Music style, I guess, would be funk music and soul. The new style of hip hop is good but I don’t really dance to it. Old school hip hop, like New Jack Swing era and the early and late ’90s, that’s when I really got into it with people like Red Head Kingpin and Big Daddy Cane, they were my hip hop guys. Before, it was James Brown and funk bands. That’s my influence in music, but I appreciate other styles too. Some reason, I don’t know why, I can’t get into country. Everything else, I listen to it.

How different do you think your style would be if you started off breaking with crews like the Breakers and Rock Steady?

I don’t know how to answer that one. I guess it would be more New York influenced. Even to this day, I’m still learning and learning the history of hip hop. When I grew up, I never knew it was from New York because like I said, when I saw “Breakin’” it was L.A.. I saw “Beat Street”, the movie, and it was a little more underground. “Breakin’” was a little more mainstream, more colourful and then you saw the sweats and the fat laces. You’re like, “Damn, that’s a totally different style!”

In a way, a little bit, my fashion became from one to another. Sometimes, I find a medium between the West Coast influence and East Coast influence. Sometimes, I would have this hat, but it would be flipped up and it’d be East Coast and then West Coast, you’d have these high tops over your jeans, right? Sometimes, I would dress with a skater look where it’d be laid back and all that. Whatever you see in music videos at that time, it does influence you. At one point, I had the New York with the Timberland boots and the Eddie Bauer, but then I always put a bboy influence in it. Even if I try to dress formal, I would have sneakers with fat laces just to have that bboy feel, just in case I have to throw it down in a wedding. It’s funny because if I’m not dressed properly, I can’t even dance. It’s wierd – if I don’t feel right, I don’t move right. I can’t remember who said it but they said that fashion is the fifth element of hip hop. There’s bboying, graffiti, MCing, DJing, and then some people say there’s beat boxing too.

To me, I think beat boxing falls in between MCing and DJing.

Yeah, I don’t know, some people said that. Someone said that the fifth element is the fashion. How you dress and how you carry yourself, it’s true. Many times, when people are busting and I’m not dressed right, I stay back because I don’t feel right.

What was a difficult time in your life?

I’ve always been a teacher after high school. I’ve worked other places, like I’ve worked for a shoe company, restuarants and I was just never happy. I quit all those and started working at a studio and I was making $10 an hour to teach. I definitely paid my dues but those were hard times. I had a car and everything, but how was I going to pay it with $10 an hour?

Did this ever change your style?

No. I just kept on and eventually, you get known and people know you and it pays off. Now, I’ve learned that you just got to stick to what you love and eventually it pays off. You’ll get there some time and you’ll get there if you stick to it. If you don’t, you got to find yourself somewhere else and you got to start all over again. It’s good for me because I started early, even though there were a lot of hardships like being broke all the time. Then you start to think, “How’s dancing going to pay for all this shit?” But it did. I just stuck to it and no matter how hard it got, I just stuck to it. From that I actually have this tattoo, and it’s my personal motto. I don’t know if you can read it.

I see “Life”.

Yeah it’s life. But there’s also a “V” there so it’s “Live Life” and I designed it myself. If you turn it upside down, it says “Dance”. That’s my thing.

That’s a really cool design, man. You should really put that on a shirt or something. It’s almost a perfect ambigram.

Almost 10 years, I wanted to get a tattoo, but wasn’t until it meant something to me. I made this and got my artist friend to help me out on it. To me, it was my motto, so it’s just “Live life and dance”.

What is HYPE?

What is HYPE? HYPE is a feeling; an energy – to me, that is what HYPE is. I’m at a club and the music comes on and it gets me up. It’s like a sudden rush of energy to me. That’s what HYPE is. It just hits me and boom, I’m out there. Even if I’m really really tired and I hear that song, it’s just pushing me, going, “You got to do this.”