Letter to an OG
4730 Crystal Springs Dr,
United States of America
I hope you are well and that this letter reaches you (in more ways than one). Perhaps an email, Facebook message or a dm would be faster but it's less about how fast the delivery is than the contents of the message. Please listen to what I have to say with an open mind and know that I have a deep respect for you and all that you have done.
Your contributions, creations and guidance throughout the decades has formed the foundations on which we are now building our communities on. You have greatly inspired others and in turn, created a cultural revolution of dance. Your teachings have been passed down in countless studios and institutions and they also exist on the web where they continue to serve the community. Thank you for saving us, showing us that it is possible to have a voice. We are so indebted to you and all that you have done. God knows how many lives you and the others have saved.
I am perhaps, one of those whose life was saved. Street dance changed my life in so many ways and I would not be who I am today if I had not discovered it. I am a big fan of the culture of street dance, its celebration of expression and the power it gives to the oppressed. I have watched, listened to and even met some of the legends who have pioneered the dance forms, including you. You might not have remembered me as you see hundreds of faces at each jam or event; I'm sure it must be chaotic sometimes, to see and meet thousands of dancers in your lifetime with most of them vying for your attention, to be recognised by you or given your nod of approval and then wearing this "title" like a badge. Sometimes I do not blame them as this acts like a passport, giving them special privileges, it suddenly elevates their status and it’s an added sense of security that they would be that next generation to carry on your legacy. Do not be surprised that some are even using your "blessing" as a marketing tool. They use this to get more bookings and gigs because they are now related to you; but what puzzles me the most is why don't they just go straight to you instead?
Anyway, before I met you I was pretty much like every aspiring dancer out there. All I wanted was to get good at this artform, push myself and get out there in the world to represent my skills. You could say it was as much of impressing as expressing myself. I tried to find classes to attend, sessions to train and practice, videos and resources to absorb, all in the effort to get better. It was all just so technical, I just wanted to improve my skill.
It all changed when I met you.
You taught me more than movement. You taught me the reason for movement. You shared your stories, your life experience, the people, the environment and the culture that influenced how the movements were created. Everything had a purpose and I could finally see and connect the dots.
I began to appreciate the culture, sometimes even more so than the dance itself. I learnt to live a little more, to be one step closer to freeing my soul.
I started to dress like you, picked up different slangs and even learnt some of your mannerisms. I wanted more, to be closer to the source, to dive deeper into the heritage of the art form. It felt good at the start, I could almost start to imagine what it felt like back in the day. But what is it about imitation that gives us a sense of so much power and security at the start, but then pushes you into an identity crisis?
Bit by bit, I started to question my own identity. I realised I do not live in the hood. I did not grow up in the same environment and some "customs" are so alien to me. I could not and perhaps never will understand the "funk." I’ve been told something a few times, I can never call it my own, because I do not come from your culture.
That is where I began to see that it isn’t always a bed of roses. I started to see the other side of the conversations. Arguments about who are the pioneers, the same generation of dancers trying to fight for that top spot of “creator” of the dance. Even the names of the dances are under dispute. It’s quite sad to see a generation of people who influenced and made this dance great collectively are now trying to divide and dissect everything. More and more I’m finding it hard to imagine that one single person could be attributed to everything. No doubt a single person could have coined a term, or been the first to tell it to the masses, but every movement has always had different players who contributed something to make it what it is today. It will never be the same if you took even one of them out.
Perhaps it’s in the blood of the dance that there has to be some “beef” in order for us to create something great out of it? Do we always have to disagree to start to agree? Why can’t it be a culture of movement that celebrates all its contributors instead of just a sole “creator”? Isn’t everything inspired by what came before it?
This difference is even greater between OG and OG, even what you say differs from time to time. I am having a hard time understanding the Do’s and Don’ts, who are the real pioneers, who is telling the truth and who is telling lies. The more stories I hear, the more everything somehow still seems to make sense. I start to see the similarities between stories, between the legacies left behind and it's very unlike what you say. It feels more like perspectives on the same story rather than “alternate truths.”
It feels so ironic that street culture, which is based on expression, is a tool to fight oppression and has saved the lives of millions of people around the world is now it is falling into its own trap. Laws that should not be broken, misunderstandings and misinterpretations abound, and we are now more than ever being told what we should do rather than what we can do. It feels like the more we follow your rules and your words, the less free we become. We become followers of your culture, which existed during your era, in your generation, but certain things are no longer relevant today. Times change and we need help to evolve what you did back then, we need some guidance and some way to bring the past into the future, we need your help as a creator now, instead of then.
I totally respect and understand that we are a guest of the culture, those of us who are not at the epicentre of the original movement may never be able to fully understand what the culture was back then. Please help us build something new together, we want to keep the roots and elements of the culture and yet make it make sense to our local context. Street movement was a gift that existed without colour, race or space, it was for everyone and we want to continue pushing that. We want to bring history into the future and create alternate pathways for the future of this culture.
I have so many questions to ask you, I’m curious to know more about this culture that I love so much. I want to be a good student too, a lifelong learner, that is what you taught me. You always said ask, so here goes:
Who are the creators of these dance styles?
Who are the pillars that kept the culture alive back then?
Who are they now?
Who are the ones who carried the torch?
Who are the unsung heroes who contributed to the dance but never got credited?
Who were the people that made the dance commercially accessible?
Who were the artists who trusted and engaged those dancers?
Who were the ones that quit, that we never got to see the magic they created?
Who are the ones that use magic to deceive us, to tell us opinionated facts?
Who are the ones that are allowed in this culture?
Who are the ones not allowed?
Who are we to you?
Who should we be?
Who should I be?
What do we need to know?
What do we need to preserve and what can we change?
What is your culture?
What is your heritage?
What are the elements that make it yours, and not mine or ours?
What is your idea of evolution?
What is the future for this dance, the art forms?
What are the steps that we should take?
What would you be happy with?
What can we do that you wouldn’t disapprove of?
What could our community do for each other?
What can we translate into different geographical cultures and it still make sense to them?
What is dance?
What is art?
What is street dance?
What is street art?
What is the difference?
What is being too abstract, too out there?
What is being original?
What is the solution?
What else do you want us to do?
What is the next big thing?
Where can we find the answers?
Where can we find you?
Where is the origin of this dance?
Where are our pioneers?
Where are the ones that got left behind?
Where can we find them?
Where else do we look?
Where can we find the blueprint of the culture?
Where do you think this culture is going?
Where do you see this form evolving to?
Where should we spread the culture next?
Where can we find inspiration from?
When can we find all these answers?
When can I be more than a guest of this culture?
When will you admit that you were sometimes wrong?
When will you correct some of these doctrines that you have imposed on us?
When will someone take over as an OG?
When will you come to visit and learn more about other cultures out there?
When do you think this style will evolve?
When will it have a new name or iteration of the style?
When will it be OK to dance the style to music that is from another genre?
When is someone ready to properly spread the knowledge and information of street culture?
When does someone know they are ready to be an OG?
How can we find a balance between heritage and evolution, between the past and the future?
How can we teach the next generation, to give them the values that they need to survive in the current landscape?
How can we maintain the history and heritage of the styles while evolving it further into modern forms?
How can the community have better communication?
How can we be better people?
How can we stop fighting about who owns what, who created what and start focusing on who is owning the dance to create something new?
How do we push the boundaries of this dance, of this culture?
How can we unite the world?
How can we help the other OGs?
How can we help you?
How are you?
I apologise if this is one question too many but I hope to hear your thoughts and opinions on them as throughout the years of being a student of the culture, I have come across these questions time and time again. They are asked by people from all over the world, different generations and from a spectrum of ages. I guess that we are not so different after all, despite the differences in our languages, customs, traditions and geographical locations, we are more alike than we think. I guess it is also nice to know that this culture created a worldwide community of people who in turn, care for it. The questions I ask seek not to provoke you but to provoke thought and to continue building what you built; we want to spread the love of the culture and of course, Peace, Unity, Love and having Fun.
Always a student of the culture,
Commissioned for Ink Cypher, November 2021
If you value the work we're doing and are able to contribute, then please donate.
One half of the duo ScRach MarcS, Marcus "Marzipan" has been an active contributor and community builder within the Singapore dance community. Ever inquisitive and always trying to uncover more about the culture behind dance, he believes that knowledge is the key to unlocking movement. Spending just as much time talking about dance as practicing it, he has found that the most important lessons were all attained through conversation, rather than a dance class. On the quest to collect more anecdotes and stories, he is always amazed at how much the cultural and social factors had such a big influence on street dance styles.
Marzipan has been actively sharing his experiences and knowledge through workshops, programmes and classes in countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and the USA. As the duo ScRach MarcS, he and his wife have been pushing the boundaries of street dance as an artform that could exists in different spheres, places and spaces.