Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen
Photography by Jenkin Au
Luca “LazyLegz” Patuelli is an active figure in the Montreal breaking scene. A talented dancer who performed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Opening Ceremonies and television’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” LazyLegz has traveled the world and is an inspirational figure to aspiring dancers. When he is not doing shows with his crews ILLMASK and ILL-Abilities, LazyLegz is stays active in his community by organizing breaking events, giving motivational speeches at schools and teaching students how to cope with their disabilities and to express themselves through dance.
Throughout this interview, justalilhype! learns about how LazyLegz got into breaking, the experiences that he counts as his most memorable, the formation of the super crew ILL-Abilities, how he applies his university education to his activism in the breaking scene, and his philosophy on dance and on life in general.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Luca Patuelli, a.k.a. b-boy LazyLegz. I am from Montreal and I represent the Ill-Abilities and ILLMASK crews.
How were you introduced to b-boying and what is it about the art form that has captivated you to this day?
I was introduced to b-boying when I was fifteen years old. I grew up in a suburb outside of Washington D.C. called Bethesda, Maryland, and I used to be really active in the skateboarding scene. I used to skate on my knees and I would paddle with my hands, grab the side of the board, and do ollies and board slides. I had a crew that I would always skate with and we had some good times. Then I had a surgery when I was fifteen. The surgery straightened my knees and changed the angle of my bones and all this stuff so that when I got back onto the board, I realized that I couldn’t skate like I used to anymore. At that time, some of the people I skated with started getting into breaking. They showed me a backspin and I was like, “Whoa, this is the coolest thing I have ever seen!” We started a breaking club in high school and I have been breaking every day since then. Breaking started off as a hobby for me. It began as an activity to replace skating. But there are so many parallels between skating and breaking that I became more and more passionate about the art form: the crew vibe, the culture, and the idea of taking nothing and making something with it. After moving back to Montreal when I was eighteen, I learned more about the culture of breaking. Montreal dancers taught me about musicality and encouraged me to test my limits, and the more I learned, the more breaking evolved from being a hobby of mine to becoming an integral part of my lifestyle.
Tell us how you got your b-boy name. Was it given to you by another b-boy?
My name was given to me in high school. One of my friends told me that he had the perfect b-boy name for me. At that time I did not know who Crazy Legs, from Rock Steady crew, was. My friend told me that my name would be a play off of Crazy Legs’ name, since I had two lazy legs. I loved the name LazyLegz. I was always a joker who never let my disability get in my way, and I thought that the name LazyLegz was a great way to play off of my disability.
Tell us a bit about how you got involved with the ILLMASK crew. When did you meet the guys and when did you join the crew?
Before ILLMASK there were two separate crews: Illmatic Styles and Red Mask. I moved to Montreal in 2002. Between 2002 and 2004 I was jumping around from crew to crew. One of my close friends, Logo, who no longer dances now, had just joined Illmatic Styles at the time. So, I went with him to practices with Illmatic Styles and I did shows with the crew. I was an unofficial member of the crew and I was made an official member of the crew in 2004. In 2005, I came up with the idea of forming a team that would represent Montreal at the City vs. City competition in Chicago. We formed a ten man crew comprised of members from every major Montreal crew at the time. We took three members from Illmatic Styles, three members from Red Mask, two members from Tactical Crew, and two members from Area 51. The members of the two crews that bonded the most during the City vs. City competition were the guys from Illmatic Styles and Red Mask. We came back from Chicago and there was going to be this competition in Toronto. The guys from Illmatic Styles and Red Mask decided to collaborate for that competition and that was how we first came up with the idea for ILLMASK. B-boys Okto, Dingo, Bambino, Rocket, and myself were riding in a car together and we were brainstorming names for our new crew. We were coming up with weird names like “Redmatic” and “Redstyles,” names that just didn’t sound right. Then, one of the guys in the car suggested the name ILLMASK. We loved it and the name stuck. We became a tight knit crew, which was cool because both crews came from two completely different backgrounds. We did a lot of battles and shows together and we also performed at the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver, which is one of the best experiences of my life.
In the summer of 2007, you formed an international b-boy crew, ILL-Abilities. Tell us about the origins and the mission statement of the crew.
You always hear about super crews in the b-boy world, crews that are formed from two or more existing crews. For example, a famous American super crew is Killafornia. I wanted to do the same thing with dancers with disabilities. Between 2004 and 2007 I had the opportunity to travel and meet other dancers and I realized that there are other dancers around the world who have disabilities. Jacob Lyons, a.k.a b-boy Kujo, is a legendary b-boy who is deaf. I met him in 2002 and I got to know him on a personal level in 2004. In 2004, I met Tommy Ly, a.k.a. b-boy Tommy Guns, when I went to California for a b-boy summit. He had literally just lost his leg in surgery. He had cancer and he had a tumour right above his knee. We bonded at the summit and we hung out a lot, trading moves. Sergio Carvajal, a.k.a. b-boy Checho, is from Chile. He had videos online and we started talking and getting to know each other online. We began to think: what if we all came together, created a super crew, and showed the world that anything is possible! We wanted to create an inspirational message that we could spread throughout our dance. Our newest member is Redouan Ait Chitt, a.k.a. b-boy Redo. We recruited him in 2010. He was a really motivated dancer. One time, I wasn’t able to go to an ILL-Abilities show and Checho missed his flight, so it was just Tommy Guns and Kujo in Sweden doing the show. Redo showed up to support the guys without even knowing them. After that experience, Redo just ended up joining the crew. This past April and May, we did a full month tour together. I rented a loft, flew the guys into Montreal, and we had a tour van donated to us by Discount Autos. We did twenty five shows in thirty days. I was teaching the guys how to become motivational speakers. We went into schools, I gave my speech, we introduced ourselves, and the guys started by giving their own one minute intros. By the end of the month, each guy was able to give his own five minute speech. We are friends for life now and we are constantly doing new things. We had our first theatre show on May 15th, and it was awesome. I have to say that what I experienced with ILL-Abilities this year, with the tour and the lifelong friendships that I made during that one month, is incomparable to anything else that I have done. If I had to pick the most memorable experience of my life, I would have to pick the ILL-Abilities tour over even my experiences with the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics Opening Ceremonies and “So You Think You Can Dance?”
What’s the meaning behind the name ILL-Abilities?
I was initially going to call us the “Abilities” crew but I wanted to incorporate the word “Ill.” I began to realize that ILL-Abilities is the perfect name to describe us. We took the “dis” out of “disability” and replaced it with “ill.” “Ill” in the hip-hop world means “sick,” and “sick” means something amazing and incredible. We wanted to show that off.
What is one of the most humbling experiences of your b-boy career?
Right now I teach dance to children with disabilities. That is one of the most rewarding things in my life. A humbling experience for me would probably be that feeling you get when you finish a show and you feel really good about the show and you know that people appreciate you and came out to support you. That is very humbling and it makes you feel good too. It is also a humbling feeling when you go into an experience with no expectations and everything works out well. When you go into something with no expectations, it’s hard to predict what is going to happen. Things will just happen. It’s funny how these things work out. Take this for example: when you go to a club and you go trying to meet girls, you will not meet any girls. But, when you go and you don’t care whether you meet girls or not, you will meet ten girls. It’s the same thing with performances. When you go into a show with expectations, you can’t avoid those expectations and you feel bad when those expectations aren’t met. I try to go into everything without any expectations and I just try to do my best. One time, my crewmate told me to, “Treat this like it’s your last battle.” I try to have that mindset every time, and whatever happens, happens.
Tell us a bit about your students and the story behind the JC Stylez crew.
Basically, Joseph Charbonneau is a French school in the east end of Montreal for kids with disabilities. I am a motivational speaker and I do one speech a week at a different school. At the end of every show, I teach members from the audience simple dance moves for the entertainment factor. One day, I got called to give a motivational speech at Joseph Charbonneau. The speech went well and I got some kids to come up to the stage and try out different moves. One of the teachers saw something in this and ended up writing a program for me; she wanted me to teach there regularly. She wrote the program, submitted it to the school, called me, and told me that I was going to start teaching. I started teaching during the 2008-2009 school year. I was going there once a week and I had a group of 12 students.
I went in without a clue as to what I would be doing. I thought it would be like babysitting, that I would be playing some music and just watching the kids. However, I started seeing a difference in the kids and I started seeing their motivation throughout our sessions together. They were getting HYPE and they actually started learning. They began to understand what a cipher was or what a move was. I began to teach them about performance. Every time I do a workshop, one of the main things I work on is presence. It’s not necessarily the best dancer who will win the battle. A big part of winning is how you sell yourself, hold yourself on the stage, and tell your story. Presence is something that I can teach to all of my students, regardless of their disabilities. For example, I have one student who is deaf and has intellectual delays, another with cerebral palsy, and another with muscular dystrophy. I have to adapt the physical skills that I teach my class according to each individual student. However, performance and presence is something that they can all do, so I really focus on that aspect. The littlest move can make a difference. For example, the slightest turn of your head can be sold as an attitude. I have one dancer who just bobs his head. He steers his wheelchair with his chin and he is called b-boy Crazy Mouth. The most important thing is selling your moves and selling what you are trying to express, not the moves themselves.
So, to add on to my answer to your earlier question, this for me is one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Anytime I walk into that class, my spirits are lifted. I can be having the worst day, but once I go in there, I walk out without any worries. One inspirational success story I have from teaching is this one student. He is wheelchair bound, he is a little person, and he has a heart murmur and muscle dystrophy. His parents initially refused to have him in the class. But, we convinced them and he eventually joined the class. One day, he just hops out of his wheelchair and starts popping. He has this sick routine where he drops onto his knees and does push-ups and starts kissing his biceps. That’s sick. That’s presence! This past year he got a prescription from his doctor to get crutches and now he is learning how to dance with crutches. I have been teaching him. His name is b-boy Thriller, but I am going to change his name to Little LazyLegz. For me, anytime I see him dance, it’s jaw dropping. Every single one of my students has their own success stories. They were able to overcome their dependencies and become independent. One of my students could not take public transit on his own. Last summer he took the bus himself and went to the jazz festival to watch the musicians. Another student organizes a cipher and she called local b-boys to join it. She organized it within the school and got the school to allow them to do it there. My students are true b-boys and b-girls. They show that dance is a form of self expression. Anyone can do it. That’s the bottom line.
In 2010, you finished the 1KM Walk for AMC Support Inc. Conference. This year, you challenged yourself again in July. What sparked you to take on these challenges, and tell us about the training involved.
There is no training process involved right now. I am upset about that.
Last year, I did the walk, the purpose of which was to walk a kilometre without crutches or leg braces. The walk took me about 55 minutes and I fell 55 times. Two weeks before the walk, I hired a trainer and I was training every day. We were working on balance and we were training on the exercise bike and walking on the treadmills. I was really forcing myself and I am really proud of myself for finishing. This year I had my heart set on trying to do two kilometres. When I got to Kansas City for the AMC Support Inc. Conference, I decided to do one and a half kilometres because I hadn’t trained. Then, the morning of the walk, I decided to only do one kilometre because I didn’t want to risk injuring myself because I hadn’t trained. I didn’t want to disappoint myself because I had already felt like I had disappointed myself for having a high goal and not doing it. With my mental state in mind, I knew that I would not be able to accomplish it. However, I would like to accomplish the two kilometre walk next year. My schedule right now will not allow me to train. My message is, “No excuses, no limits,” so I shouldn’t be making excuses, but for the whole month of September I will be in Montreal for only five days. When you are traveling, you just want to rest and have time to yourself; it’s hard to find time for training. However, since the most recent walk in July, I have had trips and I forced myself to work out during or between those trips. I would go to the gym and do 20 minutes on the treadmill or the bike. Last year I would be between trips, hear about a practice, and not go. Now, when I hear that there are practices, I go. I get off the plane and go straight to practice. In order to physically and mentally prepare, I have to do it. By the end of practice you feel so good with yourself and you are happy that you went. You have to stay physically fit.
How did you get into motivational speaking and why do you think it is important to share one’s past knowledge and experience.
Motivational speaking came to me in 2006. I started doing shows in hospitals. I have spent a lot of time in hospitals. I have had sixteen surgeries my whole life and I have spent a full one to two months in hospitals. I know that hospital stays suck. For me, the best moments of those stays were when the clown came in or the nurse took five minutes to ask how I was doing, aside from giving me morphine and what not. That distracted me from the pain. Anything that distracts you from your stay, like your friends, family, or even that clown, is priceless. Time goes by so slowly when you are alone with your thoughts. So, I decided to go to the Children’s Hospital and dance for the kids. I did a show just for fun, me and two other dancers. It was great. Then, I heard about a school in Montreal that integrated children with disabilities and ordinary children called the Mackay Centre. I wanted to do a presentation at the school! I was at a dinner party one night with my family and we met a family with a daughter with disabilities. It turned out that her father was the president of the board of directors of the Mackay Centre and he offered to have a meeting with me. It went great and he set the whole presentation up. I had an hour to speak and I was so nervous! I was like, “I am a b-boy, how am I going to fill up a whole hour!” I had prepared a speech and I wrote note cards. I did research on the school, on Terry Fox, and on people with disabilities. The day came and I went up on stage in front of 300 kids with disabilities. I was so nervous. Literally, within 5 minutes, something happened. I had an epiphany. I took a deep breath, let go of my note cards, and free styled the rest of the speech. The minute I did that, a huge weight was lifted off my chest and it just ended up feeling so natural. I grabbed kids out of the audience and had them dance on stage. That day, I had a boy jump out of his wheelchair and roll around and bob his head. Teachers were like, “He has never gotten out of his wheelchair. How did you do it?” Since then, I have been able to hone my speech giving skills. I call my presentation motivational entertainment because I dance, speak, and I get people to dance. It’s like a street show, only it’s on a stage.
One of your biggest performances to date was the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. Tell us about that experience.
Everything happened so fast. The choreography was exhausting. We rehearsed it for three months. Every time we finished it, we were so exhausted! We were never able to do the dance in full during practice because we never went all out, energy wise. But, when we were live in front of 65,000 people for the Opening Ceremonies, we had to go full out, so we completed the choreography. With my adrenaline pumping and the music playing in my ear, I forgot that the audience was even there and I didn’t realize that they were there until the stage started lifting up and I had my crutch up in the air. We had earphones for the music so we could stay on beat, and the producers were giving us instructions through the earphones as well. For example, the producer was telling me what to do, going like, “Okay Luca, you’ve got five seconds, one-two-three-go.” You have so much to focus on, with the music, the instructions, and doing the choreography, that you can’t hear the crowd and you just block them out during the performance. But, when the music cut, I heard the crowd and it was like a rock star moment. The crowd emitted a deep and rumbling roar. It was breathtaking. Whenever I am down, I think back to that moment. It was such a rush and definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
You were on the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance?” Unfortunately, you were eliminated because of your disabilities and your style of dance. How did you feel when you were eliminated from that TV show because of those reasons?
I auditioned with no expectations. I saw other people with disabilities audition only to have the producers thank them but say something like, “The show is not ready for someone like you.” It seemed like that people with disabilities were given their time but they weren’t allowed to advance. I went into my audition thinking that the same thing was going to happen to me. I free styled it and I was expected to get booted off. Then, they told me that I was going to the finals and I was shocked. I totally didn’t expect that. Between the audition and the audition finals, I had time to take some contemporary dance courses. I wanted to learn other techniques and to get new ideas. Going into the audition finals, I did not know what to expect. I did the hip-hop round and I advanced to the contemporary dance round. I thought I did great, but that was the moment they let me go. However, they never kicked me off. They just said that I couldn’t advance because the next round was the partner dance. I was riding such a high up to that moment and my emotions just got the better of me. I was crying, the judges were crying, and the audience was crying. I was more sad for leaving the friends I had just made than I was for leaving the competition.
Your going away song for “So You Think You Can Dance” was “Begging You.” Did you choose that song or did the producers choose it for you?
To be honest, I went into the show with another going away song in mind. Unfortunately, they couldn’t accept it and they had “Begging You” as an option, so I told them to just put that on. I have done so many shows to that song. It’s an awesome song.
Your involvement in the Montreal breaking scene extends beyond simply battling other b-boys in the scene and you have also taken part in actively organizing many large scale breaking events such as Pro-AM, City vs City (Team Montreal), and No Limits. Tell us why organizing events is important and what’s an upcoming event that you have been working on?
Organizing events is important because it’s important to be active within your community. I like to create events and make it into an experience for people. I don’t like small events and I definitely have the, “Go big or go home” mentality. Sometimes I end up incurring a financial loss after one of my events, but the experience makes it worthwhile to me. Pro-AM was one of the first international battles in Montreal at the time. We were supposed to have judges come in from out of town, but one got arrested and another one had a death in the family, so we encountered that obstacle. It was hard for me because I was in the middle of my university finals, but luckily the local b-boy community stepped up and supported me. People volunteered to judge and we ended up having ten crews from Toronto and Montreal compete. It was a huge jam. For City vs City, the idea was to bring the Montreal scene together. We ended up throwing a fund raiser at the Tokyo Bar and Lounge and we raised $2500 to pay for rental cars, hotels, tickets for the actual event, and food for the dancers. That was the first time that a team representing Montreal went outside of Montreal. For No Limits, the concept was to offer a b-boy battle to kids with disabilities. The idea was not necessarily for them to compete but to expose them to the culture. Another objective was to find a venue that was accessible for disabled individuals and where we could throw a show that was accessible to all ages and all abilities. I wanted to open breaking to the general public and that is still a goal of mine to this day. When you invite kids, parents have to come, and then you are given a chance to educate the adults and show them that breaking is a positive thing. I have fun organizing. It’s hard work, but you don’t go into an event looking to make money. You do it for the love.
With your major in Marketing, how do you apply your knowledge learned through school? What platforms do you use to connect your b-boy crews with people and dancers around the world?
I don’t necessarily think that school taught me how to work with b-boys and the breaking community. I think that it is more of a combination of street smarts and the idea of hustling that taught me what I know. However, school did teach me how to properly package my product. Promoting whatever you are doing with flyers and stickers might not be something that comes to mind right away, but school taught me how to better sell my product. Another thing that I learned during school, but by no means is something that I think is learned exclusively in schools, is networking. Networking and communication are the most important things in life. It’s who you know, not what you know. A great student will not necessarily be making six figures. It’s the guy who knows how to make the connections who will be making six figures. Communication is crucial. My parents stress on languages. Both my parents are immigrants from Italy and they immigrated here not knowing French or English. They taught it to themselves. Then, they taught my brother and me Italian. I speak Spanish now too because of Checho. I went to Mexico and I gave a speech there with my broken Spanish. I think a lot of life’s successes comes with confidence. The idea that anything is possible is absolutely right. The minute you second guess yourself, you create doubt. If you pursue and you push for something, you will make it attain it. If I wanted to give a speech in Russian, I will find a way to do it. I am even branching out into Chinese speaking territories. I am going to Hong Kong in three weeks with Tommy Guns to do a TV show for HK TV.
One of your mottos is “No Excuses, No Limits!” Tell us more about that.
We came up with the motto after the first No Limits event. As we were being interviewed after the event, every single one of us was saying that we had no excuses. I was like, “Why don’t we combine that with the show’s name to create a motto!” The concept behind the motto is that anything in life is possible if you do not create excuses for not doing something. If you give yourself reasons to not do something without even trying, you are really limiting yourself. For example, my students have plenty of reason to make excuses, but they don’t. Instead, they try their best and they dance to the best of their ability. Don’t create excuses to not do something. Just do it!
Do you have words of advice to someone that is facing disability right now?
Take the bad and make it good. It’s normal to feel discourage or doubt. Everyone faces challenges. It’s how you overcome those challenges that matter. The minute you make an excuse is where you fail. Always try your best and challenge yourself. Our biggest obstacle to success is ourselves if we say no or if we don’t even try. It’s normal. Everyone is insecure. Believe in yourself. You have no reason to not believe in yourself and no reason to fail unless you set yourself up for failure.
What is HYPE?
HYPE can have the same meaning as ILL in that HYPE can mean many different things. Do you want to create HYPE or are you HYPE? It’s got different meanings and to me, what is HYPE is when you live a certain moment in an experience and the only way that you can describe it is by saying, “That was HYPE!” There are no other words to describe what you are feeling at that moment besides the word HYPE.