Welcome to Eyes On…, where we highlight some of our amazing members!
This time, we’re featuring Crazy Smooth, one of Canada’s top street dance ambassadors, a dancer and choreographer, sought after instructor, judge, and community leader. He is the founder and artistic director of Bboyizm, an award-winning dance company instrumental in the preservation and proliferation of street dance in Canada and abroad.
Smooth founded Bboyizm in 2004 and the company has successfully brought authentic street dance into the professional theatre setting. Four of his full-length creations— The Evolution of B-boying, IZM, Music Creates Opportunity and In My Body —have toured throughout Canada.
Crazy Smooth was named the 2020 Clifford E Lee award recipient by the Banff Centre for the Arts for his then work-in-progress In My Body, developed during his 2019-2021 Long Term Residency at the Centre de Création O Vertigo in Montreal. The project received a CanDance Network Creation Fund grant and significant investment from the NAC National Creation Fund.
In My Body won four 2022 Dora Awards: Outstanding Performance for its co-presentation by Canadian Stage, danceImmersion and TO Live; Outstanding Original Choreography (Crazy Smooth); Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble (Bboyizm Company Dancers); and Outstanding Achievement in Design (Multimedia/Video Design, Thomas Payette). Crazy Smooth has also won both the Atlantic Presenters Association Touring Performers of the Year Award (2013) and the Ontario Presenters Network Emerging Touring Artist of the Year Award (2012).
Crazy Smooth has performed, taught, coached, and judged competitions and events in cities throughout North America and Europe.
We recently connected with Crazy Smooth to learn more about him and to see what he’s been up to!
Please note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us a bit about yourself and Bboyizm.
I am the son of two immigrant parents (from Benin) and we came to Canada when I was 4 years old. We became political refugees. The goal of being in Canada was to be given a chance, an opportunity for a new life. Dance was not necessarily part of the plan.
There weren’t a lot of immigrants in primary and high school, but we all hung out together. They were my friends. We all lived in this duality of culture. When we’d go to school, we’d be in Canada. When we’d go home after school, we’d be in our home countries. We also really felt at home with hip-hop and all elements of the culture.
My first memories of dance go back to when I used to watch Michael Jackson videos as a child. I thought the dancing monsters in Thriller were cool! But other than bouncing around, I wasn’t a “dancer”. Dance really started for me in high school. I remember there being dance circles at school dances, and being shy but excited to go and dance. We would practice in my basement and in my friend’s basement, and we would watch videos while trying to copy the choreography.
When I was graduating high school and going to college, a buddy and I went to New York City, where we saw the street dancing we used to watch in movies. I also saw that while it was a dance, it was also a culture. There were so many things to learn. The depth of the whole thing really got me hooked! I would practice on average 5-6 hours a day, while studying the dance and connecting with people who know people, who know people… As a b-boy, that’s my story.
But there’s another dance world that I wasn’t necessarily a part of: the performing arts/theatre world.
Living in the Ottawa region, I would often go and see shows at the National Arts Centre. There was a time when I would see a lot of contemporary dance shows that were highly influenced by street dance, where dancers would sometimes straight up copy what we would do. I was thinking to myself: “We can exist on stage without watering anything down. We can stay authentic.” I then started Bboyizm officially in 2004. At the time, I was already doing shows and festivals, but we weren’t necessarily active in the presenting/theatre world in the same way.
In 2009-10, we were provided an exciting opportunity, thanks to Brian Webb (Artistic Director of the Canada Dance Festival at the time) who started the Hip Hop 360 initiative for which I was on the steering committee. He gave me and my company an opportunity to perform, with the promise that if it went well, he would give us an official 30-minute time slot at the festival. So that happened, and the rest is history!
Who and/or what inspires you?
In life, my inspiration is my parents. They’ve raised me in a way where love, hard work and trying to be the best you can be goes in everything I do.
When it comes to creation and art, I always talk about or reflect on what’s going on with me in the moment. I’ll use the trajectory of some of my shows to illustrate this.
When I was living in New York City in 2006, I had a mentor who… I can’t put into words what and how he taught me. But when I came back to Canada and I tried to explain what I experienced, I had no words to describe it, but I had sounds. He had his own vocabulary.
That’s why the company is called Bboyizm. That’s what my definition of “izm” is. It’s not a tangible thing. It’s something you aspire to – it’s a state of being. And when you aspire to that, you don’t necessarily always get it.
As an example, for a musician, you have your instrument, you have your notes, and you’re doing it. At one point, you realize you’re not reading the notes anymore – you’re in the present moment. And then as soon as you realize this, it goes away. For a dancer, “izm” is almost like the instrument to measure excellence, in a way. Two dancers do the exact same thing, but why do you like one more? It’s because they have the “izm”. For me, that’s what defines street dance.
This is also what inspired my 2010 work IZM. It was an opportunity to show who I was and what [Bboyizm] is doing here in Canada. Marginalized folks need that to show who they are. An opportunity to say “We don’t dance or move like you, and that’s okay.”
Music Creates Opportunity was my second show. I was looking at understanding what we do in terms of dancing, and how at the centre of what we do is music (rhythm). I was exploring the different opportunities that music creates. It could be in the form of conflict, it could be to express joy, or it could be the manner in which we all influence each other (when this person is around me, I dance like this).
I was also fascinated by contact improv and understanding more about the performing arts world. I began to realize that the things we do on stage don’t belong to anybody or any style; they are just tools. I learned to take these tools and make them my own. Part of my fascination with contact improv is that the centre is the body/movement, not the music; music is more in the background. I explored a little more of that and how it would apply to us [Bboyizm], when the base of what we do is rooted in music. I was exploring something I call “rhythmic contact”.
Throughout the years, I’ve had a lot of injuries and four knee surgeries. My body has been talking to me for over a decade. So my latest show called In My Body talks about aging as a street dancer. I’m no longer young, but I’m not old – I’m in the middle. I look to my left and I see the youth and the opportunities young dancers have now. But then I look to my right and I see my elders, and I think about where we’re headed.
The idea for In My Body comes from my current reality.
How did you first learn about CAPACOA?
This is interesting! I’m going to go back to 2009-2010 when I was presented with the Canada Dance Festival opportunities.
At the time, I was thinking “I don’t come from this world, but I know my work, and I know it’s going to be good.” I present the show at the festival. It ends up going well, and people want the show! That being said, I didn’t know how to bring my show out to the world and how to prepare it for touring. I then did some research and went to a touring workshop in Toronto led by Judy Harquail (CAPACOA International Market Development Consultant and Strategist). I met lots of people at that workshop. We were put into groups to do simulation exercises and we ended up using IZM as an example since I had just performed it. I ended up in a group with Gillian Reid (CAPACOA Board member).
Not long after, both of us (Gillian and I), who were CAPACOA newbies at the time, attended CAPACOA’s conference in Ottawa. Judy, who was also in attendance, thought we should work together so she paired us up. That’s when I built my relationship with Gillian, who went on to become my manager/agent (and still is today).
Speaking as a member of one of CAPACOA’s virtual International cohorts (Colombia-Canada), can you tell us more about the impact your participation in our International Market Development (IMD) activities has had on you?
For me, there are two parts to this.
On a personal level, the International cohorts served as therapy. I can’t begin to tell you how important it was for me. We were all dealing with pandemic-related worries, and looming behind us was our whole identity as artists/arts workers. The IMD activities really provided me with a sense of connection and support, even just to talk about what was happening in our respective locations. For me, the cohort was a major thing that kept me alive during that time.
On a professional level, I thought it was pretty brilliant that the first cohort meetings were presenter to presenter. In my experience, if you’re trying to get a show going, there’s nothing better than a presenter talking to another presenter about something they liked. After this, Brendan Healy (from Canadian Stage), who had previously presented In My Body, brought my name forward to participate in the cohort. I then got paired with Colombia and attended bi-weekly meetings.
Those were the beginnings of conversations and relationship building with fellow artists and presenters. Thanks to my participation in the cohort, I was able to meet a gentleman by the name of Juan Pablo, Artistic Director of Bienal Internacional de Danza de Cali (Colombia) who invited me to take part in one of their residency programs. Fast forward to the summer of 2022 where I had the opportunity to meet Juan (in person) as well as Shoshana Polanco – Latin American Specialist with the IMD initiative. Not only was I able to go to Colombia, but Shoshana made it possible for me to go to Argentina, making it a month-long trip.
All of this is a direct result of the initiative and the relationships that were cultivated over a 2-year period.
Do you have anything you’d like to say to other artists who might be interested in participating in one of our digital activities and/or becoming a member of CAPACOA?
It’s important for artists to remember that these things don’t happen overnight. There are many different initiatives, like the Studio Visits, that require consistency. Whether it’s monthly or bi-weekly, you begin recognizing faces. That’s what I mean by relationship building. When you see someone regularly and an opportunity comes up, they can say “what about that artist from the Studio Visit?”, or “the one that the Canadian-Colombian presenters were talking about?”.
It’s also important to understand the role of CAPACOA (as a service organization). This means they’re not going to do it all for you. It means that they provide opportunities for you to be a part of the conversations. In order to benefit from them, you need to be an active participant. The more active you are within the organization, the more you’ll benefit.
Once you do that, you never know when things will happen!
What’s coming up for you?
Thanks to my time with the cohort, I’ve been doing endless grant writing for upcoming projects. One of them is for our first-ever international tour at the end of October/early November 2023. We’ll be going to Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador.
I’m also about to finish a new creation that is completely different. It’s interactive theatre. Then at the end of February, we go back on tour with In My Body and we’ll be visiting St. Albert (AB), Vernon (BC), Vancouver (BC), and Prince Edward Island.
The only thing I’d like to say is: thank you. Thank you to CAPACOA, and to those who started these initiatives. The benefits have been incredible!
Thank you Crazy Smooth for speaking with us!
Read our past Eyes On… features here.
If you are a member of CAPACOA and would like to be featured in Eyes On…, please email Communications Director Colin Frotten at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.