Float Master John | THE UNDERGROUND DANCE RAILROAD 2014

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Born in October of 1964 John caught the dancing bug at an early age. He was told by his mother whenever music came on he couldn’t stop dancing even as a 3 year old child. He would dance to the point where he would almost fall off the bed. It must have been in his blood. His father was a collector of music and played 45’s out the window so the entire neighborhood can hear it. This was in the late 60’s before there was a such thing as a D.J. He would place his speakers outside and play music all day long as he sold items. This is the way his mother and father met. He would play records like “the horse“ and “the grind” among other popular records of the late 60’s. His family spent time moving around New York looking for safe housing. Many buildings back then didn’t have smoke alarms and thus the buildings would catch on fire. They moved around for a short period of time to find a safe place to live before settling at the George Washington carver houses on 106th street and park Ave in Harlem. the year was 1970. This is where his dance life began .Around this time he met a friend in school named Wayne who later became known as Wayne Blizz along with Darryl Nilly. Poe boy, Douglas walker (flex). And his brother will .Wayne mostly taught him how to break. John was a very thin kid who could not put on weight so this gave him an advantage in terms of speed. He did mostly breaking up until around 74’. It was around 1978, one day john along with his brother will, accompanied their mother to maize department store on 14th street. Along the way there a store was playing music. The song “Soul Makossa “blared loudly outside of an electronic store that was close by. He and his brother began to dance just for the fun of it.

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A crowd began to gather around them black mothers looked on pride fully, people of all races and ages watched and clapped. They continued dancing. People began to throw money at them. His mother suggested that they get a shoe box from the shoe store that was next door so the money wouldn’t blow away in the wind and they did. That was the beginning of John’s legacy as a street dancer. He danced in the street for many years bringing the money home to his mom to help her pay the bills. Wayne was in charge of teaching the b-boys how to break. John was in charge of the popping and robotic type of movement. Realizing he was double jointed in his legs he learned that in popping and robotic type movements he had a distinct advantage. He developed his style of dance over the years as well as developed his hustle. since new York is a fast paced town john learned that his technique had to be fast, fast to catch the eyes of people who are in a rush, also people who have shorter attention spans do the rise of television watching in that era. So he developed what he called a float. A move that was fast and agile. A float was similar to a foot glide. Foot glide being popular from Michael Jackson’s moon walking performances but floating is different. In a moon walk the foot barely touches the ground as it slides back with majority of the weight on the other leg. If you listen closely you can hear the foot barely dragging across the floor. With floating the foot is completely off the ground and makes no noise even though the foot may look like it’s on the floor. Floating when done at an advanced level can be done much faster and can cover a large space in a much shorter time. It also can be done to the fast paced music that they used to dance to like “kraftwerk” , and “soul sonic force”. They had to move at the pace of the music and make sure they hit the beat to keep the crown entertained. He soon mastered the style of floating and hence he became known as “float master john”.

He developed his own styles of floating to be unique to him so it couldn’t be copied or “bit” by other street dancers. He developed floating forward. The side floats. 3d floats and swivel floating, a move that could only be done by a double jointed person like him. In this move he would spin fast with his ankle at a dangerous angle, it was his signature move and if anyone tried to copy it they would most likely be injured. John and his dance team developed their skills and their hustle running routes of where they would do their shows. First they would hit central park museum, the metropolitan museum, 5th avenue, then 34th street, 14th street, then the village. They would then turn around and go back uptown to 34th street, 42nd street and then Lincoln center dancing at different locations depending on what time of the day. They developed a business style of hit and run. The crowds would get so big that the street would get blocked off and the cops would come thinking it was a fight and break it up. The police would sometimes confiscate their radios or just take the batteries out so they couldn’t play music.

They would have to do a show as fast as they, can collect the money and then move to another spot. Since they would always “hit” certain spots then move and their techniques would have to “hit“the beat, they became known as “the Hitters”. Dancing in the street for money became known as hitting. They would hit all day sometimes from 11am to 2am dancing nonstop on concrete. After that sometimes they would even go to the night club Roxy and paradise garage to dance more. Hitting was not only an everyday money making endeavor but it was an opportunity to showcase your skills to the world and to get offers for bigger projects. In the early 80s with the explosion of the break-dance era a lot of hitters caught the eye of talent scouts and soon they would get approached to do shows. Since a lot of artists wanted break dancers in their videos. John was approached by a scout for the funk singer ironically named D.R. John and was asked to perform. He danced in the music video “jet set” by DR John. One afternoon around 1982 John was performing outside the Dakota building famous for being the place where John Lennon was assassinated, john was doing his signature floats and entertaining a crowd. He was approached by a man who scouted for Richard Ricardo. He was filming a puma commercial in Mexico and was impressed by John. He had held auditions during the week but was more impressed by what John did than most of the others who auditioned. They exchanged information and soon thereafter John was booked to film in Mexico.

He boarded a plane at the age of 17 years old to fly to Mexico with no passport. People were astonished how this young black kid from the streets would be flying alone, many questioned him as to what he was up to and or if he had any illegal motives. This trip to Mexico taught him a lesson. It taught him that he should always be humble to the people. The Puma commercial was his highest paying gig at this point earning him $2000. He also danced in the movie “planes trains and automobiles” but the scene was cut due to contract issues. In 1985 he was booked to perform in morocco at a concert for the singer Hassan Iddedi from Fez. Hassan booked john along with Wayne, Poe boy, Paris, Douglass and jelly. He wanted a large extravagant show with models from France, musicians from London and a large dance sequence with a theme similar to Lionel Richie’s show. He wanted the performers to reenact t the film “Breakin” onstage. They travelled to Casablanca to perform there and he gave john a solo on stage to dance as if he were “turbo“dancing with the broom center stage. John became fascinated with the culture of morocco. He loved the way the people treated him not only because he was an American. They shared the same values that he had growing up. If you were very poor or didn’t have food the next person would give you half of what he had. This was the philosophy he lived by growing up poor in New York City but was shared by people who lived almost a world away. He was highly respected in morocco as an American, a lot of people assumed that most Americans were rich since America is a rich nation. They had no idea about the treatment of the poor and middle class in New York City. John fell in love with morocco and stayed there for an entire year and a half.

He also converted to Islam and eventually learned to speak Arabic within a few months. When he came back to New York He returned to a different era, many of his friends weren’t there or were dancing outside the city. He came across Clown and they formed a new crew with Clown, Floatmaster John and Robby a kid they both had mentored. They danced mainly to electro funk. The style of hitting was also beginning to change getting more acrobatic and more entertainment based. They began to engage the audience more. This was around the time that Spivey began the trend of flipping over numerous people. The times were beginning to change the lifestyles of the 80’s was taking a toll, things took a turn on the scene and drugs became a factor in the dance world. There was also the epidemic of AIDS breaking out. Some of the dancers smoked weed occasionally after work but then the drugs began to take a bigger toll on the New York hip hop scene. Cocaine was becoming more popular and a few dancers became addicted and some passed away, some caught AIDS. With the abundance of cash flowing around from street performing and the girls that would become attracted by it drugs was an easy pit to fall in. unfortunately in 1989 john got caught up in the downward spiral of street life of new York city and he developed a drug habit . His life took a drastic turn at this point. This was also the era of Ronald Reagan and the war on drugs so enforcement was very strong.

He got arrested multiple times for drug possession and eventually wound up incarcerated for several bids in state prison at various points in his life. This took a severe toll on his dancing since he was not allowed to practice dancing inside. Since john had lived in morocco for a year and had become Muslim he connected with many people in prison who turn to Islam as a way of salvation. Surprisingly john would come across people whom he had heard of in the dance scene but never met on the street like Scooter who was a popper from the Bronx he had heard about. The two finally met and actually battled on the inside when Ralph McDaniel’s came on TV. His opening theme song was an electro funk hit “5 minutes of funk “by Whodini, which was very popular for poppers. John came to the realization that he had to change. He had disappointed too many people to the point where people would be hesitant to make big plans with him when he was out because they were afraid he would become incarcerated again. He also realized that every time he was locked away family member would pass away. His girlfriend of 5 years passed away from cancer. John then made the final decision to kick the habit and return to his roots of dancing and never look back. In 2007 he returned from his last bid and took to doing what he loves best, dancing. As the times have changed he has evolved. He purchased a bigger speaker system and a laptop instead of the old school boom boxes. Being locked up not only taught him patience and humility but it preserved his body since he didn’t have to deal with the everyday wear and tear of life in New York. He cites this as a reason why he can still dance now in 2013. John continues to dance and perform in the streets of New York in union square, Coney Island and other tourist attractions he now mentors younger dancers and gives them advice on how to avoid getting caught up in the system and how to save and budget their money. He has since been featured in magazine articles like the New Yorker and Pony Step. His legacy goes on.

Biography by Ali RIojas

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