By Jordan Ikeda
Graduation is commonly known as the completion of some form of education, mainly of the higher and high school variety, though it has, to the exasperation of some, branched out to include elementary and middle school as well.
Whether it’s a degree, diploma or whatever it is that fifth graders receive before moving on to sixth grade, graduation represents a certain right of passage.
A goal achieved, a level attained, a purpose grasped. Usually through hard work, determination and study.
In fact, perhaps commencement is the more appropriate term, because while graduating is an accomplishment, in reality it is the process of moving from one realm into something else, something usually greater. It is the beginning of something new.
This past March, seven young Asian American men, both uniquely gifted and resolutely determined, took their lifelong passion and commitment to the art of dancing and became America’s Best Dance Crew (ABDC).
Quest Crew dazzled and impressed the judges of MTV’s ABDC, and seemed to raise the bar in terms of quality and creativity in their dance. Case in point, they pulled this one stunt that looked like it was straight out of the movie “The Matrix,” but without the added benefit of a green screen or stunt wires—just pure ingenuity and skill.
The LA-based group, whose members expand beyond the seven who won the show, includes: D om inic “D -Trix” Sand oval, Ho ku to “Hok ” Konishi, Ryan “Ryanimay” Conferido, Ryan Feng, Steve Terada, Brian Hirano and Victor Kim as well as Lydia “Lyddz” Paek, Aris “Sfffeee” Paracuelles, and Andy “Rocket Man” Luo.
When I went to go meet the guys for the photo shoot and interview, I had no idea what to expect.
I had talked to Steve, Brian and Ho k over the phone two nights before the season three finale of ABDC. But a phone conversation and actually meeting someone in person is a totally different experience.
Besides, as I later found out, Steve and Brian are the two most level-headed of the crew. Back when I first spoke with them, they told me how hard they had worked to have gotten to that point. How winning would not only confirm their hard work and sacrifice, but that it would also inspire others.
That had been four months ago. As I walked into their dance studio out in Artesia, Hok, D-Trix and Victor were all watching YouTube videos of their performances on ABDC and critiquing and praising (mostly praising) their work.
The first thin g that is evident w hen meeting Quest Crew is that these dudes know how to have a good time. They interact with one another in fi ts of testosterone that are all charming smiles, whooping laughs and youthful exuberance.
And they’re pretty damn funny. Especially DTrix, who is himself a one-man circus, all bravado and zingers. Whenever the opportunity arises (and it did every five seconds), he’ll blurt out some sort of lewd comment, then instantly play coy as if he hadn’t intended to mean exactly what he had said.
As a group, Quest Crew evokes the mannerisms and hijinks found in a fraternity. Their acting manager informed me that this goes on 24/7. Of course, when it comes down to focusing on what they enjoy most, the results have been breathtaking demonstrations of thoughtful choreography, wicked stunts and impeccable timing.
“It’s a lot busier, especially with dance,” Steve told me during the interview. “Before, we would have a lot of time in between each show and we would mostly like session and stuff. But now we are traveling pretty much every weekend, doing two to almost four shows a week now. It’s been pretty hard to work on our own stuff, but at the same time, it’s been really good to just be busy with work and meeting all the fans because they were the ones who voted for us when we were on the show. It’s just been a ride so far.”
And what a ride. Quest has been touring around the country, putting on shows from Minneapolis to Texas to San Francisco. They performed at Wango Tango and appeared on the MTV Music Awards.
They’ve battle-danced Snoop Dogg on his reality T.V. show and will be featured in the upcoming “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” set to be released this Christmas.
Obviously, they’ve come a long way in a short time.
“The best part for me is not having to audition for jobs, but instead having jobs come to us,” Brian said. “To have a calendar booked up full of jobs, instead of going from week to week.”
“For myself,” Steve said, “it’s really a gift that I now get to travel around with all of my friends. I think that’s probably the best thing. Going to all these different, exotic places around the U.S. and getting to hang out with the people you want to hang out with most.”
This is their lifestyle, doing exactly what they love the most with the people they enjoy the most and not only getting paid for it, but having a steady, if not a bit overwhelming, lineup of work. How many people who went to college and pursued a more traditional job can say the same thing? The idea of a ladder-like progression through life seems to be radically different from the various and unsure roads that Quest has taken.
“I mean I’ve always wanted to do something with dancing ever since I started,” Hok said in his British accent that is bloody unique coming from a Japanese face. “I never had a doubt. When I first came out here, I came out here as a student, because back then, I didn’t have a set plan, but then when I graduated and first tried out for ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ something just hit me and I was really sure that I wanted to take dancing as a career.”
Brian tried the more conventional route at first. “When I graduated school, I worked for a little bit and hated it,” said Hirano who graduated from UC Irvine in 2004. “I worked full time for about half a year. Then I decided, if I can make money dancing,
I’m just going to go in that direction. I went to some auditions and I booked some jobs, so I knew there was some opportunity to make a career out of it. At least for now.”
In a world controlled by computers, lawyers and real estate agents, the life of a musician, or a painter or even a writer is always viewed as a longshot, crapshoot, or simply a failure.
And dancing? Not but five years ago, if you were making lots of money by dancing, it more than likely involved a pole and/or Vegas. Today, ever keeping up with our society’s insatiable lust for immediacy, that line of thinking has become archaic.
Thanks to reality television hits like “ABDC,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” a revolution has been channeled straight to the forefront of our minds through our high definition television screens and risks such as a career in dance have suddenly become not only viable, but highly lucrative options.
For now, dancing has really caught fire, especially amongst the youth here in America. It seems to be pushing its way to the forefront of pop culture—what hip-hop was for the 90s. An art form that older generations will struggle to fully understand thanks to its evolution and fusion of not only traditional dance, but hip-hop and martial arts as well
With their anime-like hairstyles, stunts equal parts substance and fl ash, and personality and cool that are helping to break stereotypes, Quest appears to be right in the middle of this surging, cultural shift.
But it isn’t without its own risks.
“People always say, follow your dreams, follow your passion,” said Feng, “and that’s true, but you also have to be smart about it. I was really torn between being responsible and making money and paying the bills or pursuing what I wanted to do. I didn’t go with dancing just because it was my passion.
I’ve kind of looked to the industry since I’ve been in college, and I kind of know how it works. I also know what the show can do. I know the potential that Quest has for building a new industry for dancers.
Knowing those things, I decided it was worth me pursuing while I still had a chance to do it.”
There is a fine line between the right and wrong decision. It’s a precarious bridge to cross.
“Now you have to be good at everything,” D-Trix said. “So you have to balance your time wisely with the way you train and the way you practice. You have to put constant time into it. Like everyday, hours and hours and hours. Otherwise you’re never going to get it. Since we do what we do, we put in everyday.
We’re either together practicing or doing a show somewhere. So you gotta sacrifice things that you really want in life, to do what you are absolutely meant to do. And if you think you’re meant to be a dancer or an artist, you’ve got to give up other things to work on that art.”
These seven 2 0-something-year-olds, all of whom have either graduated from or at least attended some college, have paved a unique path for themselves and subsequently for those who will follow their lead.
Theirs is a different kind of graduation. One that has taken them from dream to reality. Passion to lifestyle. From risk to reward.
They’ve seen the lows of scrounging for work to the highs of winning ABDC.
“Rig ht after the show, it felt really surreal.
We didn’t quite know what had just happened,” said Feng. “But looking back now, I feel really blessed.”
“My parents support me, because, you know, we won,” he continued with a sly grin. “After that, they’re like, ‘Yes, you’re doing the right thing. You’ve got a job. Good.’ But in all seriousness, it’s been really a blessing.”
“I think honestly, whatever goes up, goes down,” Hok concluded. “I think that’s just the nature of everything. I mean, right now, it’s really good because we get the chance to show people that was never even interested in dancing what we love. And they might not remember it in ten years, but if for in that moment we can inspire them in some kind of way, then I think we were able to do our jobs and that’s all that matters.”