Robot Wars

A thriving Arizona break-dancing culture rediscovers the state's grandmasters of boogaloo

Flash, whose fertile L.A. Lockers also turned out choreographer Toni "Hey Mickey" Basil and Fred Berry ("Rerun" on the TV show What's Happening!!), comes from the same "make 'em laugh" school of entertaining to which Shields subscribes. The Lockers, in fact, remain best known for their Basil-choreographed, break-dance-meets-ballet performance on an early Saturday Night Live, which had the baggy-pants street dancers back-flipping over tutu-wearing ballerinas to the music of Swan Lake.

But as Shields, like many of his generation, sees today's hip-hop kids spinning on their bandanna-wrapped heads, and shrugs, almost defensively, "We already saw all this stuff in the '80s," the fortysomething Flash buzzes around the room, making contacts with many of the dancers, convinced these kids have discovered new, profitable directions that the original break-dancers never imagined.

"I'd love to get into commercials, for stuff like Gatorade, Pepsi, Nike whatever," he bubbles. "I see that they're respecting our art right now, even in things like that. And all the videos you're seeing are really showing it. I saw Wiggles in the latest Missy Elliott video he's a friend of mine. And that's cool. You're starting to see moves that were made popular by guys like me and him and people are actually starting to seek us out!"

MTV-ready: Hollie Morgan-Garcia (a.k.a. Hollie Wood).
Emily Piraino
MTV-ready: Hollie Morgan-Garcia (a.k.a. Hollie Wood).
Robot originator Robert Shields now owns a design studio in Sedona.
Robot originator Robert Shields now owns a design studio in Sedona.
Old-timers Flash X, Flattop and Robert Shields check out the new breed.
Emily Piraino
Old-timers Flash X, Flattop and Robert Shields check out the new breed.

Watching old-timers Shields and Flash arrive at the event and spin off into entirely different directions is like monitoring a fascinating sociological experiment. Two influential figures are dropped into a scene they helped spawn and, within minutes, one assumes the role of a professor as the other transforms into a card-collecting groupie. While Shields spends the rest of the evening brainstorming ideas for bringing the show biz back to break-dancing, Flash rushes about, meeting the young dancers and circulating his e-mail address, jonesing for a spot in the next Pringles commercial any of them may catch wind of.

"What wonderful, lovely bodies to mold and make into stuff," beams Shields, getting ready to head back to his second home in Scottsdale. "But there's so much more they could be doing!"

"Here's my address," Flash says, handing a flier to a group of kids standing by the table where a vendor sells break-dancing videos and tee shirts. "E-mail me!"

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