B girling with Honey Rockwell
Bronx, New York, New Jersey and All Over
Honey Rockwell is doing what she loves as a professional b-girl. It seems as if she was predestined for this line of work growing up in the Bronx, naturally gifted as a gymnast. Schooled by the world famous Rock Steady Crew Honey continues to dance and looks forward to spreading all the positive influences of hip-hop, the culture that inspires her, to children through outreach programs and classes that she conducts.
CCB: I want to get the terminology right. I read somewhere online that you call yourself a b-girl not a break-dancer.
HR: I say b-girl because the word break-dancer is media terminology. The media gave that to the guys back in the day and it was used in a negative form. If you were a break-dancer you were someone who was a hoodlum. “Oh, look at those break-dancers dancing in the street, vandalizing the street, and causing trouble.” They didn’t like to be called break-dancers. Actually they didn’t even have a name until maybe the late 80’s, early 90’s when they started calling themselves b-boys. It was short for break, the break of the beat. Because when the DJ spinned they would dance on the break of the beat. They just shortened the term and would say the b-boys and b-girls. If you were a b-boy or b-girl you were someone that dances not someone that was involved with all the elements of the culture. If you’re a b-boy usually you aren’t known as a DJ or an MC.
CCB: Can you talk a little bit about what hip-hop culture means to you?
HR: For me it’s a way of life. I’m very proud to be a part of it. It’s helped me out with a lot of a lot of different things in life. It’s given me an outlet from my everyday stress. At first it started out as something that I participated in with the dance element and now in the later years of my life it’s a celebration. I’m not really into the politics of it because when hip-hop was created it was created out of joy and happiness. It started with kids just doing whatever they liked. It was a freedom of artistic expression. It’s something that’s positive. A lot of times when people ask me questions I hope I give the right answers because people always talk so much about the politics and the negative elements of hip-hop culture. Fortunately for me I’ve been able to be a part of all the good things associated with hip-hop.
CCB: How did you get involved with it?
HR: Starting to dance, a friend of mine may he rest in peace, Louie New Wave, was the one who really got me into one of these practices that the guys were at. I’ve always been a part of hip-hop. I was born in the Bronx. I lived in the Bronx. I lived the whole scene. I saw the graffiti on the trains, I’m from that era. I started participating in the year ‘93, ‘94 and my good friend Luis New Wave took me to my first practice and that’s where I met all these guys, Ken Swift, Mr. Wiggles, Gremlin, Kwikstep, Legs, Fable… That’s where I met everybody. Anyone who was continuing to dance were all there practicing in this little room on 14th street and Sixth Avenue called Dick Shea’s. From then on they took me in with open arms and they trained me.
CCB: Is that when you realized that was what you wanted to do?
HR: It wasn’t even a realization. It was something that I felt naturally. I’d always been an athlete growing up so this was my perfect niche to get into. I was going from one thing to the next and this was my next thing in life. It was a natural transition.
CCB: At that point you started taking it really seriously?
HR: Gymnastics was serious for me. I competed in the United States Federation, High School gymnastics, and I took it seriously but I was a kid and being acrobatic came naturally to me. I got into dancing after having my first daughter so it was like I was being awoken of some serious issues. OK I just had a kid, these guys are practicing and they mean business. This is their passion, this is their love. I am about to enter into their world. Now is not the time to fool around or joke around. I used to joke around in gymnastics practice because it just came naturally. I was the worst person to workout, hated conditioning my body. These guys they weren’t having it, either you are going to be a part of this or we are kicking you out. I was at the right place at the right time because when I came in they offered me work. I started making money early on. It was me and Rokafella, the only girls that were breaking.
CCB: How long after you began did you start getting money from it?
HR: I’d say maybe a year because they didn’t take me on right away because I struggled at choreography. About a year later I had to battle Rokafella and Masami because they needed two girls. I would always lose the battle. One day I got the routines down pat after a year. (Laughs) They made me battle anyway but they let all three of us go. My first performance was in France.
CCB: What year was this around?
HR: This was around ‘94, ‘95.
CCB: You’ve been dancing since?
HR: I haven’t stopped. I have three children now. I stopped to have kids and bounced right back into it. (Laughs)
CCB: Is there a typical day on the job or has it changed now that you have kids?
HR: It’s definitely different. Yes it’s my life. I’ve been doing other types of dancing, at corporate events, parties because this is what I do for a living. I’m getting tired, my body is getting tired. Not only have I been dancing but before that I was a gymnast since I was seven years old. It takes its toll. Now I want to do a little transitioning. Where I want to do more teaching, holding more performances, maybe be a party planner, coordinator and get work for other dancers. Put on productions so other dancers can have the chance to experience what I’ve experienced, to show the younger generation. Just knowing what I know with the business and being a female with what I had to endure. I’d like to help teach people because it’s fairly new being a Hip-Hop dancer as a woman.
CCB: How has the dancing changed for you? You mentioned you’ve been doing more corporate appearances as of late?
HR: Corporate, I did those even before I started to dance. I danced on the weekend at the Bar Mitzvahs to have some extra cash. Right out of high school it was good money. Now sixteen years later everybody is still doing it. It’s amazing how Bar Mitzvah dancing, I hate saying it because I sound like a sellout (Laughs), but it’s what’s helped pay my bills. It’s become corporate in a way. These dancers have become business owners of DJ companies that throw the big parties and have their dancers go. It’s become a business and I am headed towards that because the money is there. As far as the culture, I will always be part of the culture, but I want to do more for my family. Just dancing isn’t going to cut it. I want to teach. I want to do outreach. I’m trying to see if I can get a proposal or receive grants so that I can teach.
CCB: How did you come up with your name?
HR: Kwikstep and Gremlin gave me my name. It used to be something else which I will not say. Anybody who knows me will know the name. (Laughs) Gremlin always used to call me honey. One day Kwikstep and I were coming home from practice by Rockwell Avenue in the Bronx, and he said, "Why don’t you put it together, Honey Rockwell? That sounds good.” That’s it. It stuck. Thank God. If you’d heard the other name it was horrible. Wiggles was like, “I’m not calling you that anymore on stage. I refuse.” (Laughs)
CCB: What was it like being part of the world famous Rock Steady Crew?
HR: It was really exciting. I’m one of the comeback kids. When I first came out everyone said, “Oh, that’s a fad dance, its old school. I used to do that way back, ten years ago.” My era, Gremlin, Legs, Kenny, Wiggles, had to be the ones to prove that it didn’t die. Being a part of that was challenging because we had to prove that it’s not just an old school dance, this is our lives. This is a dance that should be respected as a dance art form. Not just like that’s the wop or she’s doing the snake. It takes a lot of practice to do what we do.
CCB: When you first started you said there was a space and you would just go there and practice with all the other breakers? How did you learn, was some of that in watching videos?
HR: I was inspired by some videos a long, long time ago. In my gymnastics I had backspin routines. Definitely I was inspired by movies like Beat Street and Flash Dance. It was all because of my friend Louie. He would show me videotapes of the guys. Then I would watch and try and copy the moves from the video and I copied them backwards. So when they took me in I had to relearn everything because I learned everything backwards. (Laughs) That’s what happened; I just went into the studio.
CCB: Did it seem harder trying to make it as a female?
HR: Honestly for me it was different. I was really blessed and fortunate that I was at the right place at the right time and my skill level as a gymnast helped me in the door. The difficulties are me knowing now what was going on back then. I was younger back then and I didn’t really know what was happening. I didn’t really know too much about the history. I was having a lot of fun. I danced and I did it from the heart of course. I didn’t care what anybody said. Nothing that anybody said would put my spirit down because I was having the time of my life. I was practicing hard. I loved being in the lab. Who cares if I’m a girl? Big deal, I’m doing what I love. I didn’t care about the issues. I would hear them, but I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I’ll battle you right now. Now I realize that there were issues because ten years ago when I would go in the circle when there weren’t any women doing it, I would get a lot of cheers. I wouldn’t even do a move and they’d start clapping. I’d walk into the circle (makes noise of excited crowd), and people would wonder what I was going to do? But then I would get down. I would literally get busy like the boys. Everything they were doing, I was doing. Windmills, backspins, flipping, and head spins I did back then. It didn’t matter what I did back then. I could have done a ballerina twirl.
It’s harder for me now because I’m still dancing. I’m not up to par to where I used to be. I’m a lot heavier than what I used to be, I’m older. I don’t get the appreciation that I wish I would. If I would have had what I had back then now it would have been amazing, probably battling everybody. I got a lot of respect. I got a lot of support with the people that I was rolling with. They pushed me; they wanted to see me succeed. I was very lucky. I didn’t get shut down. They were tough, but again I didn’t care. I liked that they were tough, that’s where I come from. I like tough coaches. That’s what it takes if you want to be good, you have to be pushed.
CCB: What qualities do the best dancers possess in order to be successful apart from a high skill level and dedication?
HR: You have to be strong. You have to not care what anybody says. If you want to do this dance style it’s a tough dance style to do. You do have to condition your body and pay attention to the signs of being hurt. Dancing in itself is something physical and you have to prepare mentally for it. If this is what you want to do it’s like anything in life you have to prepare yourself. Put yourself mentally in the zone, practice, and eat right. That’s the only way you are going to make it to a competitive level if you want to enter competitions and actually win. The people who do it to enter competitions and those who do it for the fun of it, either way you still have to practice because you can get hurt. It’s not easy.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming a professional b-boy or b-girl?
HR: Definitely learn your history. Do your homework, do your research. There’s a lot of information out there these days that we didn’t have. There is online support. Look up bboy.com, bboyworld.com. It’s as simple as that. You can try and get teaching videos. There are classes. I teach classes in the Bronx. There are a whole lot of different outlets where you can get information from.
CCB: Once you become somewhat skilled at dancing what do you do then? Do you try and enter competitions?
HR: Depends what you are doing it for. You should find in yourself what you want to do with it before getting into it. You may like working out. So let’s say you are now just doing it to workout every day. That may lead to where you become really good at it and you want to do performances or just battle. Different strokes for different folks, whatever you want to do it for. Don’t pay money to go to breaking school if you aren’t going to apply yourself. You don’t want it to be a big waste of time.
CCB: It seems like hip-hop culture has become much more embraced nowadays. Does it feel that way to you as far as breaking is concerned?
HR: I feel it’s more embraced. I feel we get a lot more respect. I mean things are not perfect but we’ve come along way. I think the guys should be proud of the younger generation, my generation. They should definitely be proud of what’s happened since they first started, dancing for a buck with a hat. Now there are a lot of theatrical shows everywhere around the world. The people who have stopped dancing are now holding events, coordinating big time events with $20,000 cash prizes. It’s become a really big thing.
CCB: How did it feel the first time you performed live?
HR: Incredible. (Beaming) I love performing way more than I love to compete. I never even liked competing in gymnastics, that’s why my floor routine was always my best event. I love to perform. I love to dance, make people smile, clap, and have a good time.
CCB: What is the most difficult part of your job now?
HR: My body and the money. I have constant pains in my neck and my feet. I’m a single mother of three. It’s a lot harder. When I was working with Rock Steady and Jam on the Groove (theatrical performance)I had my daughter but, my grandmother was alive at the time. She was able to look after my daughter while I went to these eight hours a day rehearsals. My body is taking its toll and the kids are getting older, they need a lot more. I’ve been doing this for a long time and now I am in preparation for the next step. I’m on hiatus for the rest of this month. I have shows coming up January, February, and March. I want to see if this is really what I want to do. Where do I want to take this now? What’s going to be most productive for me and my family at this point? So I don’t waste time. You can’t waste time in life. You only live once.
CCB: What has been the most rewarding thing about the job so far?
HR: There has been a lot. Every time I’m up on stage is rewarding whether I’m getting paid or not getting paid, it’s a blessing. What’s rewarding is at my age to be able to still do flips and spin on my back. Just recently I came back from Brazil. Ken Swift, Burn One, and I did an outreach show. We just came off a little tour in Brazil. We were teaching in the City of God. Did you ever see that movie?
CCB: Yes, it was pretty crazy.
HR: We were there, teaching to those kids. Crazy. We had to go in with FBI agents and bullet proof vans. But it was an amazing experience for them to be so excited and happy. I’m from the Bronx. Whoever thought I’d be in the City of God teaching kids how to break? And to watch Kenny also be a part of that, that’s really worthwhile. Outreach is what I’m really working on. Kenny and I are both trying to do this together with VII Gems. That’s the company, Kenny and me, that’s his crew. We are working on a lot of different things with that. I’m the director for the outreach, for the kids’ program, and he’s holding it down.
CCB: What does that involve, when you say outreach?
HR: He has a school in Brooklyn where he is allowing me to teach. We are trying to organize and schedule times where I can teach classes there. I’m going to be searching everywhere, passing out fliers, promoting, classes that we are going to be doing at Kenny’s studio. I want to put together a little show with kids. I want to deal with kids because I think they are going to be the ones to take it to the next step. Being that I have kids I want to really focus on it and bring my kids in. Kenny has kids as well. Put them on and start training them. This is the best time so they can get out of all the negative situations and put some positivity in their lives.
CCB: People would be surprised to learn what about your job?
HR: That I can actually support me and my three kids with it.
CCB: What has surprised you the most?
HR: That I am still doing it.
CCB: And that you still love it?
HR: Yes. It’s just natural for me. I’m scared in a way because I know dancing does not last forever. I want to be up ahead. I don’t want to depend on this. That’s where it’s taken me to depend on this. I love what I do and I don’t ever want to get sick of it.
CCB: Are there any misconceptions about breaking that you’d like to clarify?
HR: We should respect the terminology that people used back in the day. We should respect those who came before us. There’s some new terminology of b-boying and b-girling and everybody should respect it. Respect the people and respect judge’s opinions.
CCB: Have you noticed a lot of changes throughout the years in break dancing?
HR: Yes, the dancing has definitely changed.
CCB: What are they doing now differently than when you started?
HR: When I dance everyone says I have Rock Steady style.
CCB: Which is what?
HR: A lot of Rock Steady style was based on the fundamentals and foundation of the dance, the way the dance first started. It’s a dance. It didn’t start out with a lot of acrobatics. They incorporated it in but it wasn’t so much all the spins and the tricks. It was more so the footwork styles, the dancing styles. That was what breaking was. I’m not mad at all because I love acrobatics. That’s my first true love. So when I see these guys I know it takes a lot of strength and dedication to learn those moves as well. If a dancer can be good all around I have a lot of respect for that. To be able to incorporate the old school style with the new school style and have your own style, you are going to be a true b-boy. Learning your whole history with everything I respect that. The dance has evolved in crazy ways. These guys they fly. (Laughs) What’s the next step after that? I saw it the other day, people use objects. I saw a kid spinning with a broom in his hand.
CCB: What do you having coming up career-wise? You mentioned the teaching, outreach with VII Gems?
HR: That’s with Ken Swift. We are also doing shows. Ken Swift and Burn One are working on the Rock section, a whole other dance style and it’s all the top styles. Burn One is teaching Ken the new styles and myself as well, but I’m new at it and I feel awkward. It’s not that hard on the body so hopefully the longevity of my dancing career will last a little longer because of this dance style. (Laughs) But it’s great.
Also True SSencia is another crew that I am in. That crew is made up of all girls. That’s a cool crew. Wiggles sister is in it, her name is Snapshot. We’ve got Wandee, Miss Twist, Paulito, Seoulsonik, and Big Tara. Me and Miss Twist are B-girl Mafia. There are only two members in that crew.
Follow Honey here: http://honeyrockwell.com/About.php