Michael Boogaloo Shrimp Chambers, dazzled millions in the cult classic movies Breakin and Breakin 2 Electric Boogaloo. He captivated so many young aspiring Hip Hoppas with sheer decadence and class. He inspired thousands of dancers of his generation and he is also dubbed as one of the silent partners that personally taught Michael Jackson the moonwalk.
Journey to a time and place where strength physically manifested on top of a vinyl mat thrown over concrete in order to display an art second to none with eye catching visuals the world had ever seen. For those of you who were too young to have had the pleasure of witnessing the burst of this incredible phenomenon I think this is something you will enjoy.
Kwaku: Hey how’s it going man?
Boogaloo Shrimp: I’m good.
Kwaku: So you ready.
Boogaloo Shrimp: Yeah I am.
Kwaku: I’m here talking to the legendary Boogaloo Shrimp for those of you who don’t know he also goes by the name Turbo and starred in two cult classic movies, Breakin 1 and Breakin 2 Electric Boogaloo. He is one of the pioneers of Hip Hop culture in the art of Break Dancing also known as Street Dancing. I mean for those of you who were too young to be around in the early 80’s this man was it. So I’m very honoured and privileged.
Thank you for taking the time out to do this interview.
Boogalo Shrimp: Oh no problems man, my pleasure.
Kwaku: So I guess the best place to start would be to ask you when it all began. When did you get into dancing?
Boogalo Shrimp: Well growing up here in California every body that was pretty much into music knew how much of an impact the disco era had on people. It just seemed like in the 70’s everywhere you turned everybody was moving, it seemed like the thing to do was dance.
I grew up in a household where there was a lot of music, going to weddings, parties and events. I wasn’t old enough to get into the clubs, but I was able to be around different events and I got heavily into disco dancing and in disco a lot of people would break out, do a solo and stand out from the crowd. You would see them doing the robot or locking so I kind of got into that.
Kwaku: So who were your inspirations and when did you realise that you wanted to be a dancer?
Boogaloo Shrimp: Well first of all I mean I think it’s fair to say for any body that has ever attempted Street Dancing that when you get good it’s like a rush of adrenalin from the attention you receive when people watch you dance. When you have honed your skills good enough to perform them and get the audience to clap, its kind of addictive to get that attention. So you know I started practising and the first person that I had seen do the so called moonwalk was my brother, I mean many people were attempting that particular underground step and my older brother came home and he started doing it, I was like wow! It just sparked my interest because it looked so much like an illusion.
I was getting ready to start a new school year so I wanted to learn it to try to get attention to make some new friends, so I mastered that along with some robot movements, basically I got into that pretty early on, I’d say like 1979, early 80’s.
Kwaku: Okay so what was it like growing up as young kid in the West Coast?
Boogaloo Shrimp: Man it was awesome, I have to say at the time when I was growing up it seemed like everywhere you went people were dancing, you know, I mean it wasn’t a situation where people were constantly looking to join a gang or wondering what they were going to do with their free time or something, it was the normal thing to socialise, dance and share ideas. Also it was a way for us to learn about other cultures, races and everybody would share their music and clothes. You would also be put on the so called A list if you could dance.
Kwaku: I am sure this is something that you must get asked a lot, how did you get the name Boogaloo Shrimp?
Boogaloo Shrimp: This is pretty interesting a lot of people when they explain about Street Dancing or Popping they forget when the style of popping came out people called it pop locking. There was also another style called the boogaloo and another group called it electric boogaloo. So when popping was out you either did the popping or the boogaloo. There was one famous dancer who named him self Popping Pete and his brother was a part of the boogaloo sound, baring that in mind the dance was also called the Boogaloo and a lot of people were doing it.
When I started getting good and moving into these circles people would always say “Hey! Boogaloo Shrimp, (he breaks into laughter) Hey Boogaloo Shrimp” to get me onto the dance floor. My sister decided to get me a jacket that no matter where I was performing people would know who I was. It was cheap advertising, the back of the jacket read Mike AKA Boogaloo Shrimp. So people would say hey you know who that guy was, that was Boogaloo Shrimp and I got pretty popular dancing around with that jacket.
Kwaku: In your opinion how do you feel what you were doing differed from the East Coast?
Boogaloo Shrimp: I mean years later I found this out but at the time I had know idea that we were making history. What we were doing in California they were also doing in New York, I mean people in New York were, spinning and doing the windmill on the dance floor. What we called Popping they called Electric Boogie that’s what they were calling it, that’s why if you go back and look at some of the early 80’s footage of The Rock Steady Crew or some of the famous groups you can hear them saying Electric Boogie. I mean they were doing their thing and we were doing ours. What’s really interesting is you can see the difference in the styles when you look at the early footage of Wild Style or with some of the documentaries that California were doing you can see it. I was right in the mix at the right time and surrounded myself with the right people.
There were so many people out there dancing that didn’t get a chance to get documented on film so we lost a lot of stuff but there were a lot of dancers that did get a chance to get on film that were able to pioneer a lot of the dance styles to the world.
Kwaku: The style of dress that you had was that something you innovated or was it something you were asked to wear?
Boogaloo Shrimp: Well this is really cool because a lot of people don’t know this and that was a pretty good question, you see at the time when we were dancing in California we embarked on a new era of music which we referred to as new wave. Right after the end of the 70’s the 80’s came along with what we called new wave music along with Techno and synthesised electronica. The music took on a faster tempo which was also reflected in the wardrobe that new wave artists wore.
If you look at what we were wearing it’s pretty much early Madonna, early Flock Of Seagulls, some Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. You know I have to give it up to British artists for the new wave of music they came out with. They had a pretty interesting wardrobe so we were always trying to reflect that within our selves whilst being contemporary.
A lot of dancers today have the skateboard look the baggy jeans, long shirt and converse trainers. Well back then we had the spiked bracelets patterned leather look, if you looked at some of the hair styles they would put their hair in a Mohawk and try to imitate the new wave or the Punk Rock look.
Kwaku: Did you have a crew in the early days and if so what were they called?
Boogaloo Shrimp: Well first of all the way that I got my reputation was from being a soloist, any body that is being honest about how they got their name has to agree you can only go so far being a soloist. I always compared dancing to Martial Arts because a lot of Martial Artists get a unique style when they start experimenting and learning from other Martial Artists. Like Bruce Lee he learned boxing, wrestling, Kung Fu, and Tai Kwon Do. He learnt all these different styles and came up with his own system. Well back then the best way that you reach your highest level was to get with other dancers and experiment with other styles. It was almost like a dance fusion so I learnt as much as I could on my own. What was fortunate for me is I was able to meet people like Popping Taco around 1981. I met him at a street dancer’s convention and we started practicing together. He mastered the Boogaloo style and I had mastered my robotic floating style which is a form of animatronics robotic moon walking. I only had a few movements but I was quite known for floating and that particular style was literally caught on a documentary called Breaking And Entering, it features my self and Shabadoo at the beginning of our careers and these movies became super sized in the dance world. You can also check out a clip on YouTube if you look under my name Boogaloo Shrimp one of the first clips is Breaking And Entering. It was shot at a underground club in Los Angeles; we were just putting our skills to the best at that time. As I started making friends, it was a time when every body was battling, joining a group was kind of tricky because you could be battling some one that may have been from a rival group.
So what I did when I met Popping Taco, we teamed up as friends and then started exchanging styles whilst growing as artists. Soon we started making friends with other artists for me this point was the catalyst.
Kwaku: How did you get to play Turbo in the Hip Hop cult classic Breaking also known as Break Dance, was there an audition, how did it all happen?
Boogaloo Shrimp: Yeah I went through the audition process like every one else but the advantage that I had over a lot of other dancers was that I had already started working with Shabadoo, Popping Taco, Popping Pete and Anna Sanchez. It’s not technically recorded but when I met Shabadoo he had left the group the Lockers and was looking to form a new group. I mean you have got to remember in the 80’s we were a whole new group of dancers we weren’t flockers, we were the 80’s crew. Popping Taco had his speciality I had my speciality along with Pete, Anna Sanchez, Lollypop and Shabadoo, so working together made us a stronger force within the industry.
Instead of battling Shabadoo came to help us all to get more work within the industry and he did a good job of it. After we all got together as friends we started working in music videos, the first music video where you can see us as a group is documented in Lionel Richie’s All Night Long.
Kwaku: Yeah I remember that video.
Boogaloo Shrimp: Yeah it featured Shabadoo, Popping Taco Anna Sanchez along with my self. I mean that was our group and we started realising that we really worked well as a group. The second music video was Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You.
Kwaku: That is a timeless classic.
Boogaloo Shrimp: Yeah and it’s the same people. During that time we ended up going on a world tour with Lionel Richie. It was while we were on tour we heard there were three scripts circulating in Hollywood. You had the movie Breaking, you also had Beat Street and there was a movie called Fast Forward. So at the time our agent thought it would be good if we chose to do breaking because he said that breaking had a speaking role, I mean it had more dialogue as apposed to just dancing.
So I went to the audition with what seemed like thousands of people, I mean it seemed like a lot of people at the time, I was still under age so it was all overwhelming to me. I can remember seeing so many people at the auditions and the way they were auditioning was in pairs. They were looking for people who could play the roles of Turbo and Ozone and sure enough I and shabadoo’s chemistry is just what it was on film. I was only 15 years old and he was already 27 or 28 at the time so I looked up to him like a big brother and it comes off like that in the movie. He would tell me what to do and I would do it, that’s what big brothers do. So that came off in the audition to the producers and it wasn’t so much our dance skills and it wasn’t like somebody had pulled strings to put us in a movie. You know I honesty have to clear this up I got that part of Turbo on the merits of my character and my skills, I mean at my age I had the right skills at the right time to come out on top, so I got the part and the rest is history.
Kwaku: Okay thanks for clearing that up because a lot of people including my self were unsure about that.
Boogaloo Shrimp: Well yeah we were all friends everything was new exciting and fresh but I have to give credit to Shabadoo because to tell you the truth me and Bruno were just brawlers on the dance floor. When we would Pop in the clubs everyone wanted to see us battle I mean every body, it was still underground we weren’t making any money but we were making friends and gaining respect. So when we met Shabadoo told us “why waste your time battling you should make money doing it” he said “get an agent and market your self and make some money out of it instead of wasting your time battling on the street”.
He said if your going to prove something prove it on film and I’m so glad he got us to focus our attention on Hollywood because by doing so we were able to document all this footage and inspire a whole generation of dancers. I also have to give Jeffery Daniels credit a lot of people don’t, but I credit him because not only was he a singer in the group Shalamar he would also dance on Soul Train. He had a spot light to show the rest of the world. I had my own version of the moon walk and I’d like to clear this up, Jeffery Daniels was able to reach a lot of people as a singer, he was also able to get the attention of Michael Jackson and introduced him to the moon walk. I worked with Michael Jackson because he was friends with Lionel Richie, around the same time we did the all night long video so by being that close to his camp I and Popping Taco were able to show Michael Jackson a whole different version of how we expressed and conveyed our moves. My back slide, moon walk and popping where totally different and it helped Michael Jackson to be able to see a variety.
Remember earlier I told you that if you were a soloist the way that you develop your movements is by seeing different versions from people then you make your own mind. So what’s really interesting is that Michael Jackson was setting out to improve his Popping skills and poppers don’t just do body waves or body Popping they do their foot work. Allot of people know that Jeffery Daniels worked with Michael Jackson, and we also know that he had worked with three kids from the “ghetto” this is documented on the Oprah Winfery interview he did along with certain books which made reference to these three kids from the ghetto. It wasn’t cool at the time but I understood why he didn’t name us. He was setting out to be the top dog and probably would have watered him down as professional if he said yeah I learnt the moonwalk from Jeffery Daniels, Boogaloo Shrimp and Poppin Taco. But Michael Jackson was a great innovator and a very smart man, because he was able to lean from different people and put it all together. It was during the time of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long tour that I started getting respect from Michael Jackson. He had seen me before and had herd about me, it was right after Motown’s 25 special that he inviting me and Popping Taco to his house in Never Land. We worked out and did routines with him but always at different times it was never all three of us, he always separated the sessions.
At the time I didn’t realise I just thought wow this is a great thing we are with Michael Jackson this is cool, it was like another person to hang out with but for bragging rights I was stomping with one of the Jackson’s. I kept wondering why he was so interested in me. Now we didn’t really work out with him that much but I did realise that what he was learning from me was my animated style. How I made my self look like a toy, my ticking style along with my foot combination. You see he had already learnt the back slide from Jeffery Daniels and you see this on Motown 25 special but he didn’t have anything else to add to it. So when I came on the scene there is footage of me doing it. If you look on YouTube there’s a clip of the movie Breaking, at the beginning it shows my moonwalk floating style where I’m on Venice beach and if you look at my foot work you will see I’m doing this glide in a circle. Then there is another clip on YouTube that shows my Macdonald’s commercial where I’m doing the back slide with my moon walk combo. He had perfected it along with what he had already learnt from me Poppin Taco and Jeffery Daniels. I didn’t really realise how much of an impact I made on his solo act until I had seen his Billy Jean footage in 1983 or 84’s Victory concert when you see him perform Billy Jean. You start to see him trying to do some ticking movements he then goes around in a circle and it’s a longer Billy Jean solo and that was my contribution. For years I was always that anonymous guy that personally coached Michael Jackson that just didn’t get put down on paper, but everybody always used to wonder some body is teaching him personally.
Kwaku: Now I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that you are best remembered for that famous scene with you dancing with the broom. It’s quite arguably every ones favourite scene including mine. How did it come about was it something the director wanted to implement or did you have apart to play in that?
Boogaloo Shrimp: Well what’s was really awesome is when I got the roll to play turbo they had already written three solos into my script. The first solo was the Tour De France theme with me sweeping, the second solo was me dancing at the Radio Tron and the last was me teaching Kelly how to dance I’m showing my skills with my shirt off (He Boogaloo laughs). So they put these solos in the movie but the main solo was when Turbo comes out side of the store and is supposed to be sweeping.
So when we got to that part of the script, I remember at rehearsals I worked with the great Jaime Rogers who is credited for the choreography and staging for the movie Breakin. Breakin really wasn’t choreographed it was one of those movies that was staged, they staged everything and they let us improvise to capture the rawness of what was happening. You can’t choreograph street dancing! I mean right now I look at the dancers of today on television you know programmes like ‘So you think you can dance’ and ‘America’s best dance crew’ and a lot of those dancers are choreographed I mean everybody now is choreographed. But back then everything was real raw and you just improvised, that’s why some of the stuff was impossible to duplicate because we improvised. Now we did a group dance with Jaime Rogers he was such a great talent he had worked in the musical West Side Story with all those great choreographers and on the set of Breakin I remember him saying “you know what let’s build this up your going to come out the store and do your broom thing” So I was working out at Debbie Reynolds Studio’s in Lankershim Boulevard California and in front of the director they were watching me work with this prop and I had never worked with props so they were trying to stage it to look like a piece of choreograph. He had a prop guy drill a hole through the broom and put a string around my hand to simulate the broom coming to life. The solo started growing as opposed to me just dancing with a prop, it was almost like he wanted to do a Fred Astaire scene, and I think there’s a scene of him dancing with a coat rack in a film called Royal Wedding. So they started eyeballing me to make my solos into these great pieces like Fred Astaire. I thought they were some of the best choreographed routines ever.
Now breaking really captures me as a soloist that’s how the broom scene came about. I remember back in California if you were a popper you danced to a popping beat, you know funk music or electronic funk and so a lot of us around that time we would carry boom boxes (A huge cassette player) and we would always have a cassette in case we wanted to do our solos. At the time I think somebody had got hold of the song Tour De France by Kraftwork, for me it was the perfect song. We had just got back from a world tour and I was fascinated in going to Japan and travelling the world with Lionel Richie. I mean to go out and experience all theses cultures and dance in front of all these different audiences. I was heavily into Japanese culture, the land of Robotics and animatronics and Japanese science fiction was a cool thing back in the 70’s. Tour De France was my theme song it captured the breathing the kind of body fatigue that you go through when you start body popping ( he starts to imitate the heavy breathing) that song really help me to stage the broom scene it was a real awesome experience. I mean I feel blessed that I was able to inspire so many artists from seeing that scene.
Kwaku: What was it like to star in a major movie was it like anything you had ever imagined?
Boogaloo Shrimp: I mean it was overwhelming it was awesome it was like I was no longer battling and literally over night I was pushed into celebrity status, everybody wanted to meet or hang out with you. I put a lot of hours into mastering the steps, I mean when your filming not everyone is at the level of a master, but I had mastered my skills to a certain calibre and some people said I was ahead of my time.
Kwaku: When you guys made the first movie did you ever perceive Break Dancing and the Hip Hop Culture in general ever getting this big?
Boogaloo Shrimp: You know what? I didn’t know that so many people were going to get into that style of dancing; I knew that our style of dancing was a crowd pleasing art form it didn’t matter where you went; people would stop look and cheer. But I had no idea that it was going to turn into this phenomenon. Sometimes it saddens me because Hip Hop become a world force to be reckoned with I mean with Rapping, Graffiti and the entire culture it grew to such an extent. But for some reason me and Shabadoo are never included in a lot of things, like the Hip Hop honours or the historical things in so far as being innovators or being co contributors to the culture. I think breaking was one of those movies that helped introduce Hip Hop to the world and everybody in it seems to have been acknowledged apart from us. I mean I don’t know why, I have this theory that it’s because we weren’t from New York. New York gets a lot of attention, the break dancers from New York were the Rock Steady Crew they still get a lot of attention, you know Afrika Bambaataa, and Grand Master Flash, and all of those acts are from New York. A lot of people don’t realise that breakin was also the start of Ice T and Jean Claude Van Dam’s career. And as for the styles, we conveyed all three, Locking, Popping and Breakin. We captured what was happening with the new wave crowd with the way we dressed. I feel this is heavily overlooked and we defiantly broke new ground.
Kwaku: Did you Shabadoo and Kelly ever hang out after making those movies or did you just go on to do your own things?
Boogaloo Shrimp: We went of and did our own thing, I mean Breakin made us all stars but Lucinda who played Kelly she didn’t really pursue the dancing, but Shabado and I were the dancers so we went out to preach our gospel of street dancing more or less ( Boogaloo chuckles) we did lectures and demonstrations about Hip Hop. I think Lucinda felt like an outsider because we were the real street dancers and we never really hung out that much unless it was an event.
By the way I am seeing Kelly tonight at a Breakin event in Los Angeles and hopefully we will talk about something new. As for baby legs AKA Lil Coco he was my student in real life but he is not longer dancing any more.
Kwaku: Once again Boogaloo Shrimp thanks for taking the time out to do the interview. Do you have any shout outs?
Boogaloo Shrimp: Well once again it was my pleasure I also would like to thank everyone in the UK for their love and support throughout the years for me and for the contribution to the Hip Hop culture.