Big Steps

Moy Rivas used break dancing to go around the world. Question is, Where does he go next?

Word circulates that they'll have 15 minutes to perform before the documentary screening. Fifteen minutes split up among six guys. "Eight minutes is a good length," says Charles Rotramel, the group's coordinator. Fifteen minutes is an eternity. Moy hears how long they'll perform. "Fifteen minutes? You know how long 15 minutes is when you're dancing?" he says to one of the B-boys who's shrugged off the news. "A long time, dude. It's not that easy."

The crowd starts to filter in from the art gallery lobby. The B-boys each pick spots in the order. Moy will go last. Their DJ cues a scratch intro, one track strained down to a voice shrieking "YA," which is the nickname for Youth Advocates, the community center that most of them either work or hang out at. The scratch gives way to a nasty bass line and the group breaks out of a huddle, encouraging the crowd to clap along with them. Each has his own style. Boy's legs become propellers as he executes aerial after aerial. Bruce drops to the stage and rides a wave of windmills, polishing the floor with pelvic twists. Marlon goes inverted, flapping one-handed scissor kicks. He mixes in some "popping" as well -- a kind of robot-worm shimmy that passes through his arms and shoulders like methadone shivers.

"Everyone has an individual identity," says Marlon. "If you don't stand out, you're not doing it right." The point is originality; as with any artistic medium, you learn the rules in order to learn how to break away from them. Marlon claims he can identify a B-boy within "half a second" based upon his style. Bruce compares it to writing style. Staying with this analogy, beginner B-boys spew sloppy gibberish, fumbling for Faulkner, while Moy's Hemingway stays quick, clean and terse.

Nowadays, Maya pursues music production.
Daniel Kramer
Nowadays, Maya pursues music production.
Charles Rotramel (left) heads YA -- ground zero for 
Houston's B-boy scene.
Daniel Kramer
Charles Rotramel (left) heads YA -- ground zero for Houston's B-boy scene.

Oliver, 16, may have just a few years of B-boying behind him -- far less than the rest of this squad -- but he's no sloppy Faulkner rip-off. The older guys have flown around the world because of their B-boy talent. They often remind Oliver where it can take him if he stays with it. Moy, in particular, probably sees in Oliver a younger vision of himself, what with his baby face and sinewy frame. Fittingly, as Oliver flies into a set of air flares -- that move made legendary four years ago -- Moy hovers over him, pumping him up as the crowd oohs and ahhs: "Come on -- keep going, keep going, keep going, don't stop!"

Pop in his break-dancing video, The Newborn: Moy's Solo, and you'll see pretty quickly what kind of guy Moy Rivas is. He introduces himself from his airplane seat mid-flight. He gives thanks to God, and then he adds: "But, uh, I don't want to make this too long so check out the video, and if you don't like it..." He pauses. You're expecting some cocky hip-hop clichť like "I don't give a fuck." Instead, you get a soft "I'll try harder next time." And a big grin stretches across his face.

By numerous accounts, Moy is one of the most humble, God-fearing B-boys around -- peculiar to a scene that is, by its nature, about showing off. Still, an aura of quiet, charismatic confidence hovers around him like powerful aftershave. His parents emigrated from Mexico and his mother still speaks only Spanish. A faint Hispanic accent seasons the edges of words in his own speech. At 19, he's grown out of the tiny teenager, but not by much. His eyes, the color of dark wood, convey intensity without affectation and, intentionally or not, he uses that in battle.

The youngest of five, Moy, born Moises Rivas, remembers seeing B-boying for the first time at age six, when his older brother Julio was practicing at home. Typically, B-boys discover the dance from friends, family or at school. Moy's friend Jesse Rodriguez, for example, saw kids breaking in the lunchroom. "I liked the whole way they drew a crowd and everybody was real interested and they kind of made a show out of nothing," he says. "It just kind of blew up in my face right there." Nearly every B-boy seems to have had that moment of epiphany. Most of them come from the inner city, where their art is, by necessity, a case of making something "out of nothing."

Moy stuck to basketball before B-boying truly grabbed him at age 12, when he saw it again at a middle school talent show. Outsiders look at break-dancing contortions and see impossibility. Moy was already watching it play out in his mind.

"When I seen it, I was like, I know I can do it. Because I've seen it and I pictured myself doing it. Sometimes I'd be like, if I see something amazing, I try to picture myself doing it. If I can't picture myself doing it, I ain't even going to -- it's not even worth trying," he says. "So when I seen, like, breaking, I pictured myself doing it, so that picture came clear, you know."

To be a world-class B-boy, the commitment requires nothing less than what it takes to fulfill NBA dreams or Broadway stardom. From the very beginning, Moy established a military regimen at his house. He would get home from school around 3 p.m., inhale a snack and charge up the stairs to start practicing before the food could settle -- dancing late into the night, sometimes until 11 or 12 o'clock. A voice-over on the seminal documentary The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-boy, testifies to this obsessive dedication: "You can't just do it two hours a day and, okay, I'll do it when I go to the gym. You need to eat, piss, shit, drink, think B-boying." Some warn of doing too much.

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