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EXCLUSIVE BY: Adisa Banjoko

It is very rare that a person who can master a thing, also has the ability to teach that thing well. Not all great teachers are the best dancers. Not all the best dancers can teach others to do what they do. Dennis Infante is one of the few who can master movement and teach others how to embrace Hip-Hop dance beautifully and powerfully. More importantly he helps them find their own way inside the groove. In this interview we talk about how his love for dance began, the pros and cons of competition and some of the essential elements of being a great teacher. 

HCD:  When did you first start dancing?

DI: Growing up in a Filipino family, dancing is always encouraged especially at a young age. At family parties parents would usually have their kid dance in front of everyone, even if it's just jumping up and down haha. But I'd say the first time I was actually coordinated enough to freestyle using different steps I knew was when I was 10 yrs old. My cousin Jon Liberato who was in High School at the time was watching Yo MTV Raps and him and his friend were trying to practice some of the steps they'd see in the music videos. They had me try it with them and that's how I learned my first hip-hop dance step.. the running man lol.  

HCD:  How did the initial passion for dance grow to where you started taking it seriously?

DI: I think I started taking it more seriously once I got into my first dance group, Nu-Origin (but called Chain Reaction before we changed our name). I never thought we would get the exposure we did, being able to travel to do shows, opening for a few artists, etc, I'm very thankful for that.

HCD: When did you start teaching and how hard or easy is it to actually teach someone to dance? What styles of dance do you teach?

DI: I started choreographing routines in high school, but teaching at a studio officially was probably around 2005. I think the difficulty in teaching can vary with each student. Some people have more rhythm or coordination than others, that's when you have to adjust.

Currently I teach Locking and Old School Hip-Hop.

HCD: Tell me about your crew GroovMekanex? Tell me about them?

DI: GroovMekanex is pretty much the Bay's only Locking crew. We specialize in that style as a group, but everyone can do other styles individually. Here in the bay, the members are Charlie Hustle, Doc Lock, Jaypee, Lil' B, and myself. It started in DC when Charlie Hustle lived there about 13/14 years ago I think. Other members from all over the world include Esperonto, Mimi Lock, Mikey P, Lockin' L, Wigout, Loko, and Rowee. I joined the group around 2006 or 07. I love dancing with these folks, everyone is so unique. GroovMekanex also hosts open practice sessions at City Dance SF on Monday nights. Lot's of dancers from all over come to visit. Great place to vibe out with everyone. I'm also in another group called MuthaFunkers with Bionic, Ynot, and Kool Raul. It's a bit hard for all four of us to get together though because our schedules are always different. 

HCD: Your classes are really diverse, fun and your students seem very supportive of one another. How do you manage class attitudes and egos with so many different personalities in one room?

DI: I've been very lucky to have had a diverse group of students in a lot of the classes. Some having been dancing for a long time, some of them are just starting, but they still give it their all and have fun with it. That's what I like.  For bigger classes like that, it's all about the tone you set with everyone first. Can't be too serious, but also have to show them you take the dance seriously as well. Can't be too goofy, but if they see you having fun, for some reason it kind of makes it fun for everyone too. 

HCD: You once battled in Korea. Tell us about that experience. 

 

DI: I entered the North America prelims for R16, an international street dance competition originating from Korea. I won the 1v1 Locking in 2011 and got a free trip to compete in the finals. It was a great experience. It was probably the biggest jam I've ever been to. Met a lot of great people during that trip, and learned a lot more about the battle scene. I battled two really dope Japanese lockers there at the jam. Maru (Majestic 5) in the 1st round, and Kenzo (Shuffle) in the quarter finals round. We didn't get to stay in Korea much outside of the event. They had something scheduled for us everyday. I would love to go back just to experience dance and the culture there again though.

HCD: How important is competition in terms of helping to improve a persons overall performance level?

DI: I think competitions are good in terms of learning how to be strategic. It's like chess. For some, competitions motivates them to train and get better. So I guess in terms of gaining stamina, practicing technique, and moves, training for competitions help because you are working towards a goal. I had a phase where I was kind of into that, but the past couple of years I've just been having fun wherever the music takes me, win or lose, my main goal is to just support the jam, connect to the music, and dance with everyone. Unfortunately for me, if the music is terrible, I will also end up dancing terrible because the feeling just isn't there for me lol. Some people can fake it and/or do sets. I can't do that very well. The music and the moment is what I really live for now.

HCD: What are some of the music videos or battles you have seen recently that inspired or impressed you?

DI: Old videos of the Nicholas Brothers, Berry Bros, Al Minns & Leon James, Frankie Manning still amaze me to this day. Link of Elite Force and Brian Green are probably my favorite dancers, I could watch those guys get down all day. 

HCD: Is there any style of dance you have yet to try but really want to, if so, what is it?

DI: I've always wanted to get better at popping. I still enjoy learning partner dancing like Salsa, Hustle, and Lindy Hop. I wish I could put more time into practicing all those, but there's only so much time in a day! 

HCD: How can people contact you?

DI: Stop by my site www.soulo1200s.com to learn about upcoming shenanigans, past dance footage, and free downloadable DJ mixes by me! There is a contact page there if you'd like to inquire about any class or bookings.