MICHAEL CHAMBERS
A RETROCRUSH INTERVIEW WITH THE STAR OF
BREAKIN AND BREAKIN 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

Michael Chambers gravity defying dancing talents are showcased in his portrayal of Turbo in the, "Breakin" and "Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo" movies. Heís also toured with Lionel Richie, taught Michael Jackson a few of his moves, has been in countless music videos with Paula Abdul, Missy Elliot, Chaka Khan, Sugar Ray, The Gap Band, and an anti-drug music video with Nancy Reagan. We caught up with him earlier this week to discuss his amazing dancing and acting career.

You started dancing when you were 10?

For as long as I can remember I was always dancing. Growing up in the 1970ís my family always had music going around me. In our neighborhood it was pretty diverse with Asians and Latinos. I was always hearing backyard parties with Mariachi music and Salsa. I was always doing some sort of dancing. Iíd say about 1978 I got the bug to do the Robot.

You had seen other people do it on TV?

Yea, it seemed like all the television shows when I was growing up were really pushing the scientific theme with the: "Bionic Woman", "The Six Million Dollar Man", and "Clash of the Titans" with Ray Harryhausenís animation.

One day I came to school and this guy jumped up and got the attention of the class with a few movements of the Robot. I was hooked. I did it for fun. It was to get some attention, and to get the chicks to look at you. It started progressing from there.

You kept practicing and getting better?

Back then nobody really taught it. You actually had to be around it or see other people perform and grab a move here or there. Kind of improvise.

Were you one of those guys who brought out the cardboard?

Because I was from California, Breakdancing really wasnít the thing over here. It was more Popping and Locking.

Breakdancing is more of an East Coast thing?

Exactly, they were doing it in New York with the whole cardboard and the wearing of the sweat suits. The Kango hat and the big chains like Flavor Flav. They were doing that over there. In California believe it or not one of the identifying clothing accessories to help people know they were a Popper or at least into that you wore the white gloves like a MIME. You can go back to the early days and people would bring out their tuxedo gloves to show and accentuate their movements like a MIME.

You think that it was influenced by the MIMES.

Iím almost sure it was. The great Marcel Marceau was telling stories with his body. He was doing body illusions.

You became well known?

I was the little guy out there dancing and showing off. I would really try to go to every underground party or anywhere I could go to be seen. The town I grew up in was pretty small considering Hollywood and all the bigger cities. Whenever they had these events I would try to be there to see who else was going.

Just connect with that dance community to see who else was into it and to meet people. Actually, try to get a name within those circles. I had learned so much in such a short amount of time. I didnít even know I had created my own little style. It was based on animatronics, toys, and stuff like that. People were like, "This guy is more advanced than his age."

You learned a lot when you were a teenager.

When I was a teenager I actually started working. I started working at a very, very young age. Right after 9th grade I did my first music video with Lionel Richie. Before the movie "Breakin" and "Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo" I had done a few television commercials for CBS and McDonaldís.

The music video scene was just starting. We were the first kids in Hollywood who got access to go on auditions. Thank Goodness we made the groundwork for these new dancers to be featured. First it was Lionel Richie we auditioned for and went on a world tour with him. It was fascinating because I was more famous around the world just from the music video. It was a wonderful time for me.

You were getting recognized.

Oh big time. Then I did the Chaka Khan video, "I feel for you". I was focused on giving the best performances I could. That was one of the videos to push the art form of Popping. I was real focused on that fact. I wanted to let everybody know who I was.

Was Lionel Richie cool on tour?

He was wonderful. Still to this day I think he is a consummate performer and a class act. We were unknown dancers just starting off green in Hollywood. This guy went way out of his way. He got me a studio teacher to go out on the road. He put us up in 4 star hotels. We had the best of everything. We were just dancers and we only came out on one song on tour.

Everybody that had written reviews from the concerts all over the country said, "You have to wait till Lionel Richie closes his set with "All Night Long" and see these elastic dancers." I really appreciated him for introducing me to Michael Jackson. One day we were backstage at the Universal Amphitheater. We were all chitchatting after the show and they were like hey, someone wants to meet you. It was him.

Itís been mentioned that you trained him how to dance.

You know what he mentioned it briefly in his Oprah Winfrey interview. I think with all the controversy thatís happened to him a lot of that stuff has kind of gotten overshadowed.

Heís an amazing performer.

The thing that I bring up to people when we get on the subject of Michael Jackson is that Iím glad he continued to dance when the Hip Hop world turned Gangster Rap in the 1990ís. He kept Popping alive. He was still respecting the art of Popping when they would see him dance. He opened the doors for us to still work. When they saw him doing it they were like, "Okay, itís still cool."

What do you think has changed between then and now?

Breakdancing has changed into an intricate dance form. The power moves, the agility, the things that they are doing now. The new school dancers took it to a newer level. I donít think Popping has evolved as much. A lot of dancers seem to be doing the same moves. Rewinding old videos and doing the same thing.

There are different styles.

At the time they threw everything under the umbrella of Breakin. Youíre a Breaker, but the guy came out doing Pop-Locking. He got labeled a Breakdancer. Itís media confusion. Itís the ignorance of people not knowing that there are different styles.

Itís still confusing to me. I guess Iím just too white bread.

That really didnít have anything to do with it. The thing I liked most about Popping as an art form was the unity. That was one of the reasons I stuck with it. Itís something that can unite all of us. I saw that at a very young age. This was something that was unifying among the different races. Back then everybody was with their own crowd. If youíre a Preppy you ran with that crowd, if youíre a college frat boy you ran with that crowd, if you were a gangster you ran with that crowd.

It was divided in school. At lunch time people would sit in their little groups. With dance all those worlds came together. Theyíre still coming together. We have that one unifying thing in common. It gave us a chance to learn from each other and our different cultures. I got turned onto that because I realized that being African American there were stereotypes out there. I didnít want anybody to fear me before they knew me.

That wall was broken right off the bat. They see me smiling and dancing. I was basically putting it out there. Iím user friendly donít fear me. It opened up the door for me to meet so many different people from different backgrounds. If people were part of the Hip Hop thing it didnít matter what color you were. Hip Hop gave birth to a lot of different artists and they werenít all black.

At school they use to have contests to see who could do the best Robot, the Centipede, and the RoboCop.

Or The Running Man. You used to dance.

Some of the kids would put their cardboard on the floor and I couldnít get to my locker with their spinning.

I use to see that at clubs. Those people who were seeing the dancers. They would get frustrated. With Breakdancing they were a little bit belligerent to command their space on the dance floor. They would run into people.

Is Breakdancing more aggressive?

Very much so. Itís more physical and more aggressive.

Your category of dance is known more for Popping and Locking.

"Breakin" was a ground breaking film. They wanted to make sure that they had well rounded dancers that featured everything that was going on at the time. "Flashdance" had come out a couple of years before. In that movie they highlighted a little bit of the Breakin and the Popping which New York called Electric Boogey. We tried to learn all of the dance forms that were out there.

While we were with the Lionel Richie tour we got together with a group of people from the New York City Breakers and we would practice. We would exchange styles. They got us into some of the basic floor movements, some poses, and stuff like that. Youíll see it when you watch "Breakin" and "Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo" youíll see my version of what I knew was good for the ground stuff like the Breakdancing. My specialty was my Animation, my robotic movements, and my Floating.

You probably get tired of people asking about the incredible broom dance scene in "Breakin 2"?

I never get tired of that. Itís nice in this day and age especially in Hollywood just to get noticed. Thereís so many people doing independent films and trying to make a name for themselves. I am referred to as the "guy with the broom" it put me on the map. It was choreographed by the great Jaime Rogers, one of the original cast members from "West Side Story".

You had choreographers on the "Breakin" films?

They knew we already had our dance style polished. They added creative advice. As far as staging I look at Jaime Rogers as more of a person who directed the staging of the numbers. He just let me rip and do my thing. As a kid I was just messing around a lot on the set. I was a 24/7 livewire.

One day I was balancing a broom on my finger. I was floating in a circle and balancing this broom upside down. Jaime Rogers and the director said, "If this kid can get the broom upright it can be like a number from Royal Wedding which was one of Fred Astaireís pieces." Sure enough they had a prop guy drill a hole through the broom and attach a fishing string to my hand. With the magic of editing I made that broom come alive.

In "Breakin 2" youíre dancing on the ceiling which is in the same room they used for "A Nightmare on Elm Street".

That room was used in the original Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire and a lot of other films.

What about the rapper Ice T on the set?

He was doing his thing and making his name as a rapper. I know he was cutting music. I think I was kind of a loner in a sense because of my age difference. A lot of them were a lot older then me when I made the film.

What about the origins of your character's name in "Breakin"?

I was Turbo because I did everything fast. Shabba-Doo was named Ozone because his character had airs, he was uppity, dominant, and his ego was so big.

How old were you when you made the first film?

I had just turned 17. That was a lot of responsibility to pull off a lead part in a film. Not only did I have to concentrate on pulling off my dance style. I also had to read my lines. People have always since then referred to me as a Breakdancer, but after two films and holding my own I crossed over into acting.

There seems to be a difference between the movies.

Thereís a big difference.

Is there one you like better?

I like "Breakin".

I do too. Thereís something about "Breakin 2" thatís a little too over the top.

To be honest with you they didnít know how long the dance craze was going to last or what the demand for that kind of movie was going to be. They were trying to hurry that script out to capture the audience from the first movie. You can see from the wardrobe how they made it more glamorous. They got a different choreographer. It was more of a "Vegas" type of "Carnival Cruise" thing.

Thereís something better about the movie "Breakin" to me.

Itís more true to what was going on with the Hip Hop movement. I donít knock "Breakin 2" because it was another job opportunity and another chance to continue being on the screen. It just goes to show you how someone can exploit Hip Hop. It was that old saying, "Keeping it real". You could tell they werenít "Keeping it real", but we didnít have any control over that. We were so green in Hollywood. You get a movie offer, you keep your mouth shut, and you do it. To this day Iím glad that we have two of these movies that helped start the dance movement in Hip Hop.

The title to the second movie seems known than the movie. Where did the name "Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo" come from?

The producer David Zito told me that a lot of the film crew which was an Israeli film crew Golan-Globus/Canon Films. They were talking amongst themselves because my nickname is Boogaloo Shrimp. They were saying this guy moves electric. Heís an Electric Boogaloo guy.

So the movie is named after you?

He was saying that they named it after me. The way I dance.

Youíre very comedic in the film.

Itís exactly how my life was. It made the acting easy. They made the dialog around how my life was. They had me do my comedic improvising. Thatís one thing about my personality if Iím having fun they can capture it on tape. They captured my childhood.

They captured you.

That was me. You couldnít fake that.

There was an electronic music side to the "Breakin" movies.

We were heavily influenced by groups like Depeche Mode. It was the whole electronic funk thing that was going on. Whatever was happening in the 1980ís in Hollywood at the time. It even influenced our wardrobe, the spikes, and the hairdos.

I had forgotten about the ear clip too.

Remember that?

You donít hear the electronic funk as much in Hip Hop anymore. Do they still dance to that?

In certain circles they are. Hip Hop has definitely changed. It was because of the Gangster Rap thing. That spawned a lot of the Hip Hop artists that got really known really fast. Theyíre pushing all of their idealism on America because they can. Theyíre at the top of their game.

The thing is Hip Hop took a turn into the Bling Bling. Get your bitches, get your hoís kind of thing. Thatís not what we were about. That was a bit too militant for America and it wasnít how we were living. Iím still consistent to the way I was then in what I project. Iím more neutral.

You didnít grow up with the Gangster thing.

It was one facet of life in the so called hood, but it didnít represent everybody. For a time people were just looking for whatís the next thing with Hip Hop. Oh, letís focus on the Gangster stuff. It was underground. It just sort of weeded itself into the mainstream like a disease or a fire.

Now everyone wants to go back to the 1980ís. You look at the TV commercials people are doing the Robot for DSL. You see it on the Gecko insurance commercials. Itís nice to see that people are looking into the happier or better side of Hip Hop.

You think it was more of an innocent time?

Exactly, everything was innocent. We were just having fun listening to music.

In the "Breakin" movies nobodyís shooting each other. Of course there are Nunchucks in "Breakin 2"

It was a prop used not by us, but by the other crew. We took it away from them in that scene and threw them into the trash. There was a message there.

It was more of a "Dance Off"
 

Slowly, but surely Iím seeing with the dancing coming back a more uniting, hopeful outlook on Hip Hop. Hip Hop has had such a negative stigma attached to it because of the thuggish and gangster stereotypes, and all the problems that have come from Hip Hop events. No one ever wanted to book the events in their city. They were like, "Oh no. Itís going to be one of those."

Then you have to check for guns.

With the dance especially back then everyone was having fun. A lot of the time kids were too busy working out and too worried about getting fit to do drugs. They were pure, sober, ready to dance, and have fun.

You think the Meth or drugs has been a bad influence.

You see it in the music videos. Iím going to smoke when I want to smoke. All that stuff is set in the minds of young people. These are the images MTV and BET has been flashing over the years. The young kids are like these are my role models and this is how I should be. Iím going to be real, real down and real, real hip. That whole attitude has got a lot of people in trouble. I like whatís going on now. It seems like a resurgence of the happy times again. You have "Dancing with the Stars" and "Jam Kids". All these vehicles were people are doing dance where itís a happier, Hip Hop thing.

Youíre also possibly in production with "Breakin 3: Breakin Revolution"?

I have nothing to do with that yet. I got a proposal online from someone saying they have a treatment for "Breakin 3" and would I be interested? I donít hold my breath on those things. If they give me a money offer or a script that is decent thatís fine. If everything looks good then Iíll give it a green light.

I will tell you what I have been working on with the writer and creator of the movie "Breakin". Weíve been making appearances at these art cinemas where they screen the movie. Weíve been traveling around the country with a Q&A thing. Our next one is supposed to be in Texas.

How did that come about?

We have been working together since last September. We wanted to reconnect because we noticed there was a big demand for another film and to see us all working together. So we said okay lets test the market and see the response. Itís been overwhelming.

You also have credits on TVís "Fun House" and "Family Matters".

Those are jobs I picked up after the movie "Breakin". I was a co-announcer for the Fun House. I was on "Family Matters" or the Steve Urkel show for 4 years. I did the Steve Urkelbot and I did some stunt work because I was able to mimic his body movements. I did the part as the robot. I did it as another vehicle to promote and keep my art out there.

So many people who have seen that episode said, "Wow, we didnít realize a guy in a suit could move that well. It took it to another level." The Director told me I didnít know that by using a Pop Rock dancer it cut a lot of the cost on the effects. All of the cast were fascinated by me. It wasnít me clowning around or what an extra would do. I was really pushing my dance style to make it believable. They brought me back for another one. They kept bringing it back.

You were also in a Nancy Reagan music video about drugs.

That was a very, very big deal. It was the Entertainment Counselís first music video for Nancy Reagan called "Stop the Madness". It features me with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Heís supposed to be nice.

He was really nice. He said, "Oh, you need to eat". He had done "Terminator" and I had done "Breakin". We were both at the top of our game. In the music video thereís tons of artists that leant their time for this anti-drug video. I was the star of this Nancy Reagan video and invited to the White House.

Iíd really like that video to resurface. Itís Nancy Reaganís anti-drug video "Stop the Madness". Iím Popping in the video, but Iím also playing a character. I have camera time with Nancy Reagan at the white house. Iím with the girl who played Michael J. Foxís girlfriend in "Back to the Future". Itís a pretty impressive video.

Did you do stage stuff too?

We did an off Broadway thing called, "Jam on the Groove". It had me and some of the guys from "Beat Street". It was the first Hip Hop musical.

Thereís a creative spark that comes out when you dance.

Michael Jackson and I were having this conversation from the first day I started working out with him and teaching him. He asked, "How did you get so good at such a young age? I practice and have done so many things and worked with so many people and choreographers. You just have this spark and all these movements. How did you get so good?"

I told Mike, "We go out every Friday night. We go out every chance we get. We practice at the clubs. You have the music blasting, the crowd hype, you want to show off, and the girls. You have everything there. You go out there and you improvise. Then the crowd gets hyped. You know that the latest move you just did was good and you keep it. Michael was like, "Wow, I really wish I could go out like that. People just donít understand that I canít go out anywhere without my bodyguards." I was like 14 when he told me that. I thought, "Wow, thatís so sad. He canít hang out with the fellows at the club like we do."

People just mob him.

He conveyed that to me. That was a key factor to growing in this art form. If you were at a club and you had that brassy music and the audience there. You can just be out there free to express yourself. A lot of creativity came out of that.

The thing is I got out of that once I became a celebrity and became known for a specific style. The problem was people were starting to go to the clubs knowing you would go there to work out. Theyíd start taking their little super 8 or digital cameras and videotaping you and your moves. The next thing you know theyíre using your stuff that you havenít even put out yet.

Theyíre still doing it to this day. They go out to clubs and find these people willing to dance and show all their great stuff. Theyíre paid choreographers theyíre going to go out their and videotape and just check it out. Theyíll use certain movements and then it becomes thereís.

I learned at an early age to stay away from the Hollywood scene and practice at the most remote places where people didnít know me. I would be somewhere in the desert or at a Karaoke bar. There was nobody there that was a threat to my career.

You were able to stay away from drugs.

That was easy for me to realize because I was so young. A lot of my friends I wonít name in any names. A lot of people go down because of drugs and too much partying. All I wanted to do was have fun, but yet still be professional. I donít want to end up being just another unemployed African American male partying his life away.

I see these guys who have a big opportunity to make a difference and be respected in this world. Theyíre flaunting how much jewelry they have and chasing women. My father was a military man so I wanted to be a little more respectable. I didnít pursue that. I was just trying to pursue a professional career. Itís been a difficult road. I wouldn't compromise myself and portray certain things people wanted. Iím the way that I am. For many years I focused on putting the best work out I could as a dancer. I started getting into music.

You sing too.

After being on tour for 9 months with Lionel Richie and the Pointer Sisters and the whole musical environment I was influenced by them.

Did Michael Jackson have big parties?

Everything was professional. Weíd work out together.

Who else have you touched base with celebrity wise?

Thereís Tony Curtis, Diana Ross, and Madonna. I met almost everyone who was popular in the 1980ís. In Hollywood at that time I was unique in their crowd I was unique in and of myself. They thought this is the guy.

Did that open up clubs that were over 21?

I was part of that group of kids who were underage and allowed into their clubs. We lost a lot of great artists because of that. The hottest clubs in Hollywood I was there. The good thing is thereís no way I could have been on any substance to pull off the dance moves I did. I would have spontaneously combusted. Everybody invited me into the clubs because they knew I was going to rip it up that night. That was a workout.

 

The 1980ís are seeing a resurgence.

I see a lot of my contemporaries that started off with me getting a second chance at their careers. Iím trying to grasp this whole wave of people from the 1980ís who are being given a second chance. I want to get out there and be visible.

I want people to know I wasnít just a dancer. Iíve accumulated all these other talents along the way. Iíll always dance. Itíll always be part of my heart. I know this is a very good time to showcase my acting career.

Growing up who did you have a retroCRUSH on?

When I was growing up I always liked Wonder Woman. That was the play list that they had on television. Youíd watch "The Bionic Woman", "Wonder Woman", "The Incredible Hulk", and "The Six Million Dollar Man".

We were backstage at Lionel Richieís concert. Lionel was at the top of his game. Youíd come up the stage in the green room and thereís Rod Steward, Stevie Nicks, and there was Prince. All these people were back there. Iím sitting there and boom. Next thing I know sheís back there, Lynda Carter. She walks up to me. Oh my God. I was speechless. I didnít know what to say to her. I said, "Hi". She looked like a 7 foot tall Goddess Amazon woman. She was just beautiful. That picture of the dark hair, the blue eyes, and the nice firm body. She was definitely the one I had a crush on.

-Randy Waage
randy@retrocrush.com

How to tell if someone is on drugs.


Check out Michael's official website at: boogalooshrimp2001.com
 

     
     
     

 

 


 
 

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