Eight years after “America’s Best Dance Crew”, the Jabbawockeez live their “JREAMZ”
The Jabbawockeez didn’t expect to win the first season of MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” in 2008. When the then-San Diego-based band appeared on the reality show, they partly did. in memory of a recently deceased member. , Gary “Gee One” Kendell.
Then again, they didn’t expect to lose either. Their unique dance style, which combines multiple styles including b-boying and popping and performed while each member dons the crew’s signature white mask, made them the judges’ favorite.
“Our main objective was not to win. Our main goal was just to share our artistry with the world,” founding member Jeff “Phi” Nguyen, who has been with the band since 2004, told NBC News.
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Eight years later, the 11-member band is now taking center stage at their third Las Vegas residency. “JREAMZ: Journey Within” at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino might be the team’s most immersive show yet, featuring 3D video mapping inside the newly renovated Jabbawockeez Theater, where they perform up to 10 shows per week. They are the first hip-hop dance crew to have a residency in the city and previously held regular performances at the Monte Carlo Resort and Luxor before settling into a six-year deal at MGM last November.
“The name speaks for itself. It’s about following our dreams and what we want to do, how we became the first dance company to reach mainstream audiences,” Rynan “Kid Rainen” Paguio told NBC. News.
This evolution — from self-proclaimed “garage kids” riffing on ’90s hip-hop movements to polished Vegas showmen — extends to both their professional and personal lives. The team is now a full-fledged company that includes a 65-person crew—or “tribe,” as they call it—made up of cast members, production staff, and management. Growth has also occurred in their personal lives: four of the five founding members who spoke with NBC News have started families of their own. It’s not uncommon to see young Wockeez running backstage before a show or joining them on the road.
“We are no longer boys. It’s pretty dope to see the next generation of Jabbawockeez being bred. We’re in a situation right now where, from a business perspective, family is our corporate culture,” said Kevin “KB” Brewer.
It’s a definitely more stable vibe than the intervening years between their “ABDC” win and their first Vegas stint in 2010, during which they toured the world, collaborating with everyone from New Kids on the Block to Shaquille O’Neal, and danced in films and major campaigns for brands like Coca-Cola and Ford.
In the process, they also learned how to move from choreographing one- to two-minute pieces — as they did on the show — to putting on more complex, endurance performances lasting 30 to 60 minutes, sometimes more.
“So when Vegas came along and it was an hour-long show, we were prepared for that. We kind of got our flow,” founding member Joe “Punkee” Larot said.
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Diversity is also endemic to the Jabbawockeez stream, whether in their eclectic dance style or within their cast, which includes Filipino, Vietnamese and African American members. According to the group, the two contributed to their popularity abroad, especially in the Philippines.
“I think at the end of the day, the main goal is always to be able to stay as a crew and as a unit. We’re married at the hip. We’re men married at the hip through the dance.
“We all come from very diverse backgrounds and communities. It’s really normal for us,” said Phil “Swagger Boy” Tayag. “What’s great is you see the Jabbawockeez team, and you see the masks and the people under the masks. We have transcended color lines and barriers. It really helped break that stigma of anyone thinking that a certain type of people can or can’t dance.
They are also looking beyond the masks to the future, which includes artistic endeavors outside of dance.
“Dance is the foundation of how we entered this space as artists, but what we realize is that it’s just an extension of who we are,” said said Tayag, who choreographed and danced in Beyonce and Bruno Mars’ performance at the 2016 Super Bowl Halftime Show, said.
There are talks of possibly producing a reality or anime show and expanding their clothing line and label, JBWKZ Clothing and JBWKZ Records, respectively.
“I think at the end of the day the main goal is always to be able to stay as a crew and as a unit,” said Paguio, who has played with founding members Brewer, Larot and Tayag since 1999. “We”re married at the hip. We are men married at the hip by dancing.
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