Illest Villains is a b-boy crew based in the San Francisco Bay Area. They will be performing at Hyphen's #21 release party this Friday, September 17th, at the Mighty in San Francisco. Hyphen talked to one of the members, Ryan Michael Louie AKA Casanova Fresh, about the crew, his experiences as a dancer, and making stuff up as he goes.
Tell me about Illest Villains. Who's in it, what's it about?
First and foremost, Illest Villains is a friends crew. It's like homes first. If anyone was ever to get down it would have to be someone close to us, and then the dancing comes next. We all grew up together, we all started [dancing] around the same time.
There's eleven of us: Mad the Villain, Tin The Stampede, Pat La Rock, Casanova Fresh, Corn, Mos Jeff, Suspect Chin, Louie Rockstrong, Prolific, Sumo Rock, and Whacko
We all met in '98 at a practice spot called Serra Monte Del Rey, it's like a continuation high school, we just practiced there for whatever reason and we were rivals when we first started out. As people quit, we noticed we were the ones still dancing, and that's how we came together.
Does everybody have a day job?
Just about everybody. If they're not a full-time student. I'm a mechanical engineer at San Francisco International Airport. Pat La Rock is a film editor for MyxTV. Mad the Villain and Tin The Stampede are school counselors out in the East Bay.
Did you want to be a professional dancer? What happened with that?
When I was in college I was dancing, I was doing hip hop choreo with [dance group] Funkanometry and I was very passionate about this and I wanted to make a living and I didn't explore it as much as some of my peers did outside of the crew. I was trying to get gigs and usually when you don't have money as dancers we street show in front of the Gap on Powell and Market. Being in the Bay Area it's really hard to get gigs consistently because it's not like we have this industry like LA where you can get a lot of gigs. I just found that there's nothing super consistent as far as what I had around me. Personally, it wasn't quite the lifestyle I was accustomed to…I wanted more for myself.
There's a lot of Asian American crews that have come up in the last five years, ten years. Why are there so many Asian American dancers and why are we drawn to this particular style of dancing and culture?
I think it's a lot more acceptable and accepted for API people to be a good dancer. it's hard to make a name for yourself as an MC right off the bat. I mean we have dope Asian MCs but at the same time it's hard for them to make a name for themselves.
With this whole dance craze -- for myself its think it's very empowering and I think a lot of my crew can agree to that. You kind of teach yourself along the way with this dance and you can share that knowledge and share that enjoyment with others and it just spreads and grows to something that is just beyond you… it's bigger than you, basically.
I kind of get the sense it speaks to a lot of people. It let's you sort of express yourself. You think there's a particular reason it's this kind of dance? I mean why aren't there tons of Asian American ballet dancers or something?
It's new, it's not a classical dance yet. There's a lot of culture behind it. One of things that came to my mind is masculinity. For b-boys, from what I've noticed having done it for so long, I noticed a lot of [b-boys] hold themselves in that light, a very masculine light.
Honestly, for me -- I don't know how many other people would start because of this -- the reason I started was because I wanted to get chicks. I was in high school I saw dudes breakin' I was like, "Yo, that's fuckin' DOPE" and they were pulling chicks. And then it grew into something that I began to love and it just became a part of me -- the whole lifestyle. All of the life lessons that I learned during high school and the beginning of college definitely spawned from the experiences I had with the dance. Just because it was so self-empowering, I think.
You're taking whoever you think you are you're able to mold it and just build off of this dance and just help you become this stronger person. it's something else. And to be able to teach -- to be able to spread the knowledge and experiences, it's a beautiful. For me there's nothing else like it.
What do you try to impart onto people who are new dancers?
There has been a theme in hip hop for a long time, which was biting [copying dance moves]. Biting in general was just a big issue. When I teach I try to teach the mindset that, "OK, I'm going to show you this move but I want you to flip and make it your own." So it's a lot of creativity, I'm pushing a lot of boundaries with creativity. I want people to use what they learn.
What do you think of the dance scene now, including what's on MTV and all that?
In my opinion, there's a lot of similarities because the world is so accessible. I could see a battle in Africa over Youtube the day it happens or the day after it happens. Back when we still had VHS before we had DVDs, it would be hard to find footage of any dancers. So if you want to a jam, it was special. You'd see a move and you wouldn't remember it because you wouldn't be able to see it again. You'd probably end up emulating something but it would be completely different.
In terms of what's going on now…you have these dance crews which are televised and it's easily accessible and a lot of people have the ability to see it and they're like, "OK, I want to do moves like that". And because there's a lot of internet based teaching also, I definitely don't hear the words "be original". How is anyone who is brand new supposed to know that we're supposed to be original and that it's all about expression and originality? What you're seeing is all these dope crazy moves and no one is really going to teach.
Where do you see yourself and the crew in 5 years?
We've been around since 2001 and it's been steady. For myself, a lot of people ask, "When you going to on that TV show, this TV show." And I tell them I'm not looking for quick fame because that's what I feel like it is. Basically you go on this show and you get remembered for a season, maybe the season after that, and then you just disappear, you're nowhere to be found in the media, you're not getting gigs. I can speak for the crew in saying a lot of us aren't about that. We love to dance. In five years we're still going to be out there dancing and competing and doing shows here and there and just keeping a steady pace. We're just going to do our thing and be true to ourselves. I think that's pretty much where we'll be in 5 years.
What can we expect for the release party on September 17?
Just to educate the audience and tell them that this is what we do. This isn't choreographed, I think that's the most important part -- it's completely freestyle to the music.
So even you don't' know what you're going to do on Friday?
[laughs] Yea, I hope that doesn't worry anyone!
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!