In recent weeks we’ve been doing a series of radio shows and articles that highlight certain aspects of Hip Hop History. In particular we been focusing on local (Bay Area) and West Coast History which sadly after 40 years is usually overlooked and marginalized by many writers and scholars.
Yes there are lots of stories about stellar artists like NWA, 2Pac and Ice T to name a few, but the West Coast narrative as told by many outside the West, leaves many with the false assumption that there was no dance, music or art culture that existed prior to the 1980s..
We sat down with Bay Area dance pioneers Fayzo and Boogaloo Dana of the legendary dance group Medea Sirkas and had them shed some light on some important overlooked history. They are staples in the Bay Area and have been around before the term Hip Hop was even coined. Nationally and internationally they have been featured in numerous videos for artist like Paul Wall and Usher. They have been on TV shows including Showtime at the Apollo.
In our interview they noted that they remain relevant after 40 years because they’ve learned to evolve and change with the times while still staying masters of the styles of dance they helped pioneer. They noted that popular dance styles like Roboting, Strutting and Boogalooing that are now associated with Hip Hop have been percolating in the Bay Area since the late 1960s.
The pair talked about pioneering dance figures and crew who proceeded them including the Black Messengers and the Black Resurgence who are considered the fathers of all this.. The pair walked us through their long history which began with them being solo dancers from different cities in the early 70s. Fayzo was part of a group called Demons of the Mind which was started in 78 by Larry McDonald.
Boogaloo Dana joined the group in 83/84.. Demons of the Mind which was a mainstay in the Bay Area for years. Eventually Dana and Fayzo went on to form Medea Sirkas in 91 and have been going strong for over 20 years.
Fayzo who has been dancing since 1972 noted that each city within the Bay Area had their own style and approach to the various dance styles along with particular styles of dress. San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond were the main hubs that interacted with each other in terms of dance competitions and showcases and hence became center attractions. Other cities like San Jose and East Palo Alto were also main players as well..
Boogaloo Dana noted that the early dance scene evolved to a point that one could tell what city or part of town someone was from based upon the types of hats and shoes they wore. The way people moved outside of actually dancing reflected the attitude and vibe of particular locales..
In our interview both men noted that terms like boogalooing and strutting had been around for a long time but became specifically defined for Bay Area folks to describe particular types of dance movements. Roboting dates back in the Bay Area to the mid 60s, that was made famous by Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 via their song ‘Dancing Machine‘ in the mid 70s
It had a variety of styles that varied from city to city. In other words the way a someone did the robot in Oakland was different then the way cats in Richmond did it. Just about everyone you spoke to traced back a different influence. They ranged from seeing the robotic movements of mannequins in department store window displays to seeing the robot in popular TV shows like Lost in Space. They also detailed how group routines evolved and all the different components like dominoes and fall aways came into being..
Boogaloo Dana talked extensively about the music scene noting that deejays weren’t the big thing , it was all about the hundreds of funk bands that made things pop. The dance crews eventually became main attractions over the bands the same way rappers eventually over took the popularity of deejays. The music that dominated the scene was funk where the emphasis was on the bass line.. Eventually as deejays became popular folks gravitated to electronic sounds that were funky. The mainstays were groups like Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Fayzo who hails from the Fillmore district opened up and talked about the strange intersection that early dance scene had with the infamous People’s Temple that was ran by Jim Jones. He and Dana are doing post production on their documentary ‘Strutters for Life: The Untold Story of Medea Sirkas‘ and in it they go into painful detail about how key pioneering dance figures of groups like Black Velvet featuring the late Charles Marshall were members of the People’s Temple and were among the 900 people who perished in Guyana after drinking the poisoned Kool Aid.
Fayzo was a member of the People’s Temple and was scheduled to go on that ill-fated trip, but wound up not going. He lost a number of family members and for a very long time never spoke on the tragedy. Dancing offered an escape from the harsh reality he and others endured with respect to the People’s Temple massacre..
During our conversation Fayzo and Boogaloo Dana spoke about the ethnic make up of the dancers at that time. They both noted the scene was predominantly Black and eventually evolved to include other races.. The crossover so to speak happened during the late 70s early 80s as media attention was given to the Hip Hop scene emerging from New York City. Both Fayzo and Dana noted that throughout the 70s many were unaware of breakdancing/ bboying or what was going on in New York. Nor did they know how big that scene had become. They talked about how New York’s Hip Hop scene integrated into what was going on in the Bay..
We conclude our interview by talking about pioneering women in the Bay Area’s early dance scene and the accomplishments of other dance crews including Richmond’s Housing authority who would go on to be main choreographers for Michael Jackson.
Here’s pt1 of our Hard Knock Radio Interview
Here’s pt 2 of our Hard Knock Radio Interview