Can you give us a basic introduction, where you're from, etc.
My name is SamO Soto, from Brentwood, New York. Originally from Brooklyn but basically raised in Brentwood.
How many years have you been dancing?
I wanna say I started at the age of 15 or 16. I can’t even remember which one it was specifically or what year that was. I wanna say maybe like 2000, 2001 was when I first started.
What would you say the styles you dance are?
I started off with Breaking and then I kinda did Waving and throwing fireballs out of my hand and swallowing hearts, you know. But yeah, mostly Breaking, that’s where I dwelled as far as dance goes.
How do you define Breaking?
I have plenty of definitions but I feel my definition of Breaking is taking full advantage and control of your body’s momentum - like I feel that defines Breaking as a whole in terms of any style of Breaking that you want to look at it as just knowing how to control ourselves while moving at high speed, you know.
How’d you find it?
I found it in high school, thankfully I went . People would think that living in Brooklyn, I would get all my elements of Hip Hop but I literally learned, from the music to the dancing, everything in Brentwood, in Long Island. We had at least, in our neighborhood, I think like 20 B-Boys at a certain point in time. Even when I got into high school there was like 15 of us students and there were people before me and what not that dwindled.
Breaking was just a thing to do in my neighborhood. I don’t know what it was, it was just a lot of kids that knew how to Break, even if they weren’t necessarily B-Boys. I would go to a school dance at any given time and there would be 4 or 5 people there that could do windmills. It was just a thing in our neighborhood and literally just our neighborhood, close by neighborhoods had some dancers but it just wasn’t at the capacity of people that we had in Brentwood.
So what made you first start dancing? What was like that “aha” moment for you?
I started dabbling in it when I went to my first school dance, I think it was like 7th grade, and when I went is when I saw Breaking for the first time. I saw people freestylin’ in the circle for the first time and I think it was that exact day that I just started trying it. For whatever reason, I was usually a shy kid but when I walked in there, it was just easy, it was easy for me to just--
I walked into the school dance and one of the first people I saw do windmills was Mighty Bear. Y’all know Mighty Bear, he’s part of Dynamic but he doesn't Break anymore, I don’t think he does. But anyway, at the time he wasn’t part of Dynamic (Rockers) but he’s like one of the first people I saw do windmills in my face and I was like “WHAT’S THAT!?” And I’m looking around like there’s a cypher going on with different B-Boys, then there’s another cypher going on with dudes Popping & Glyding and all that stuff, and it was just like “Yo, where am I?” You know but right away, right then & there, it was just easy for me to pick it up. I remember going off to the side trying to do windmills like that day, that day. But yeah, I got glued in right away.
I think the dance after that, I found out that one of my cousins knew how to Break, or not even Break, he just knew how to Glyde and what not but he started showing me some moves. And then from that point on, I was just -- it was like every school dance, like “Yo I’m going in if you can get down.” It’s funny but at the time, I wasn’t even really thinking of Breaking like that, it’s just like “Yo I just wanna do those moves” or whatever. There was nothing broken down to me just yet, you know.
What does Hip-Hop mean to you?
What does Hip Hop mean to me? Yo, it’s a lifestyle. I don’t really know how to define it any other way just because I’m living in it - it’s music, it’s the way we dress, it’s the way we walk, it’s how we talk, it’s so much. It’s almost like walking-- if you walked into a neighborhood that’s very Hip Hop driven, you feel it when you walking through it. It’s almost like walking through Chinatown, “Oh yeah, Chinese people be here.” You know what I’m sayin’?
You can walk through any environment and know that Hip Hop was a big influence in whatever case. Whether it’s a place or a neighborhood, or a venue, or an event, whatever.
How is Hip Hop different back then than from now? Before YouTube.
Hip Hop at the time, it was almost like -- I don’t wanna say mystery but it was like, you had to, if you wanted to know something, you literally had to go and experience it. To a certain degree you could still do it from sitting behind a TV and just watching but that was such a small aspect of what Hip Hop had to offer, you know?
Seeing DJing, Dancing, and even the graffiti were the elements that nobody realy spoke about openly at that time, Obviously the rapping was on TV but aside from that you had to seek out the other elements.
What about battles or jams? What was different from back then to now?
It was really raw, like super raw. So much so that you would question whether there was gonna be some type of fights, sometimes, not all the time, but just the energy that was like war, like yo, it really felt like war coming up opposed to now where everybody’s cool with each other. Its is fine with me cause I’ve always been cool with everybody but there was just more hostility and like, just battle. It was literally like “Ima take your head off and I’ll give you a high-five afterwards.” But yo at that moment, it felt so real. Like now, I just go in and I can just skip around and just have fun and laugh and then try a round. But back then, there was nobody laughing!
Nobody was laughing while they were Breaking. It was weird but I just don’t know that kids from today would even be able to relate to any of that. I don’t think a lot of kids would even be still involved in the scene if they were part of the scene at that time because it was just way too real. It was like thug people that were Breaking, you know, people from the hood and stuff like that. Having these college B-Boys and all that stuff now, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just new and I feel like that’s one of the bigger reasons why the scene softened up. There was definitely a very small population of nerds Breaking back then, you know. And I’m a nerd myself, so I can say that cause it’s cool.
What were some of your major inspirations growing up?
I would have to say Breaking because that’s all I really cared about as a kid. Inspirations? I mean my crew was a big inspiration like-- I was about to say, “Until I got down with them”. No, but it was like I met my crew at a young age and at a time where I didn’t even really know if I wanted to get down. Getting down with them wasn’t even a thought because they already sat on a throne in my neighborhood. At first I wasn’t even cool with all of them, like all the older guys, like Danny INFMS and Mike Stylez, like ooh, I couldn’t stand those guys.
So eventually when I got down with the crew, and at that point, I was more exposed to Breaking. So I saw B-Boys from other cities and other states. I don’t even know if breaking in other countries even existed at that time, you know. To me it was a only select number of people from other countries that I would be like “Oh yeah, that guy.” But like, the B-Boys from the states were “those dudes.” Nobody really cared about anybody else, that much at that time so I didn’t really watch or feel inspired from any B-Boys from over-seas until later on.
Did you ever have a moment where you said to yourself “This is what I want to do”?
When I wanted to start taking over the commercial world a little more it was after I did Battle of the Year. That’s when I wanted to take the commercial world more seriously and because most of the guys that were on the movie had their feet wet in the industry and I was hanging out with these guys for the first time ever. A lot of these guys were like my heroes coming up, you know, so that was a big wake up call in my Breaking career because I was like “Oh that’s what master level looks like.”
It was my first time being around these dudes like K-Mel and Flea and Abstrakt and seeing them in 'turn-it-on mode'. They were before my time so even K-Mel, who's from here but by the time I came up he didn't live here anymore, you know? And then getting to see these guys in person really showed me that I was like nowhere as near the level where I could just even put myself on any type of pedestal.
I was like “Oh yeah, I am definitely small fry.” But then, commercially, I started taking it a little more seriously because they were telling me all the time like “Yo if you lived here, you would work like crazy.” but I never really put the work in. And a couple of the guys had mentioned it, so I thought that I should probably take it seriously now. I had already dabbled in it, I was signed to an agent beforehand, all that stuff, and I was just like “I don’t know about this?” But I was pretty much convinced at that point for sure..
So as a judge, what do you look for in battles?
Many people would think like “Oh he’s looking for musicality”, like nah bro. I’m really not. I look for people to really be free and have full control of their freedom. I find that if you’re not in full control and you’re relying on things that are practiced to make you dope, you need some more work in. It’s almost like I wanna see how good you are without doing your signatures. Like how ill can you be without doing any of your moves from your move list. We all have a list of moves but is that really the only part that makes you dope? Like do your have to get to the floor before you’re actually dope? How can you be dope before you even start dancing? You know? Those things are factors that I feel other people don't think about and I find that the dancers that do have that factor, it’s just super-natural.
Like ain’t nobody can practice it, like it’s just something that comes, you know what I’m sayin’? Yeah.
What are your favorite aspects about the dance? The community, the parties, sessions, battles, etc.
Definitely community. It’s it’s own world and literally, you don't know shit about the dance world unless you’re in it. There's only so much you can find out from the internet or whatever, you know. That’s why I don’t care about “e-boys” or people that troll on the internet, like dance trolls, it’s so interesting to me that they even exist. It’s almost flattering because there’s people out there who don’t know anything about our culture and they swear they know everything. Like that’s how you know we got fans, it’s crazy.
But yeah, community, I feel there’s a lot of factors, in more recent years, that have made me realize how strong our communities can be and unfortunately I’ve realized that those are times when people have passed away and how affected the whole scene can be by someone passing. I just find it really interesting that it can be people that we don't even necessarily know. If we count a total of how many times we’ve had interactions with some of these people, we can probably count it in 3 minutes maybe, you know, and but a lot of times we’ll find ourselves being so hurt about some of these people passing. So yeah, the sense of community is super real. It’s a little deeper than what typically people would call Hip Hop cause yo, in Hip Hop, people get celebrated and then “poof, you know, “another one gone” type of thing, you know? But in the Breaking scene, or just in the dance scene in general, it’s held in a higher place.
And it’s bugged out to me because I've met plenty of people who talk so bad about their crew, or like “Oh I don’t really… I don’t talk to this person, I don’t this, I don’t that...” and I’m like “How!?” Like y’all supposed to be -- I don’t know, my crew is so strong, in terms of bonding, like Yo, it bugs me out that some of the biggest crews in this dance world don’t fuck with each other. And it looks real different from the outside but like yo, the things that I would hear about how crews would split apart and how people would stab each other and all this stuff, and I just be like “Yo, y’all don’t know what that is.” It’s bugged out.
So you have X amount of years dancing, with this wealth of knowledge, what will you and your peers do to push forward the youth?
Keep pulling the youth in. That’s literally the only way that this-- Well, our legacy can continue. Fortunately, and unfortunately, I learned this by watching other elders who didn’t do that and realized like “Oh, that’s why this crew didn’t last that long” or whatever the case may be. And it was obvious, like “Oh” Well if we want to continue pushing forward with our lives but still keep something alive we’ll have to bring the kids in cause they’re the only ones that can further the legacy.
Is there a separation between being a House dancer and someone that breaks, because I feel like people know you for having vocabulary that's all kind of footwork-based, but also as being versatile. I feel like B-Boys get stuck in their heads thinking they're not allowed to step outside to other vocabularies.
Like it was just what I knew, know what I’m sayin’? The crazy thing that when a B-Boy comes up to me and asks me for advice, one of the first things I always tell them is “Learn a new dance style”. Because what that does is, it forces you to move to music differently, right? You’re moving a whole other way, maybe it’s some of the songs you already know, maybe it’s a whole other genre that you don’t even listen to and at that point you’re being expanded, you know.
I find that, first off, most B-Boys don’t dabble into other styles because they’re afraid at being wack at them. Like they’ll get to the certain level of dopeness and think “Oh yeah, I’m like nice” or whatever the case may be but they don’t want to bring themselves back to zero to learn a new style. That vulnerability of a B-Boy makes them so stubborn - like there’s no reason for you to be defensive about being wack again. It’s a whole other world, you know?
You know, people talk about breaking like "Oh is it a Sport or is it an Art?” I consider it more of like Martial Arts. So it’s like if you learn one style of Martial Arts and you learn another style of Martial Arts, that makes you 2 times crazier, you know what I’m sayin’? And I feel the same way about dance, always add more into that pot. So if you’re just doing one style, it’s like only putting salt in it only or just boiling water.
There’s so many layers to dance and understanding dance and how much other dance styles can help one specific style in general, is crazy. Think about about how many people make the crowd go crazy and they ain’t doing no moves. Like, there’s not many people who can do that, not many people, but most of those guys know other dance styles. It’s like, yo that’s the B-Boy’s secret weapon. If you could learn how to master another dance style, I promise you you’re gonna move different, and I say that to every type of B-Boy. Whether you’re a powerhead or what, it don’t matter. Learn a little dance style, step out of your territory for a second because then you’re gonna step back in a whole new person.
It was interesting too because when I was coming up, I was always into other dances. Growing up, before I started Breaking, I knew how to dance other stuff, not that I was a pro or anything but my interest was already there so I started doing other styles in with Breaking, and occasionally I’d see other people doing it too. When I was a kid, I used to watch Do-Knock do the Running Man and I was like “That’s so cool! I know how to do the Running Man!” And I would start doing that shit, you know? And people would be like “Yo that’s not Breaking!” And I’m like “So what bro? Like why’re you taking this so seriously?".
People put these rules on Breaking like “this is all it should be” and when somebody takes those words to heart, they've already failed, they failed so hard. Because then you see them get to a certain level of Breaking and they literally can’t get any further than that because somebody told them “You gotta stay in the box.”. feel that this style is like, my opinion, I obviously came in like the 2000’s and stuff like that, and I can’t speak for any of those guys before me but one thing that I always noticed about the OGs is that these guys were so unique at the time when they started that they were always breaking all types of rules and that’s what made them dope. And now by them preaching about following rules, i find that they’re fucking everything up, it’s fucking everything up. It’s like how can you have freedom in a style that’s supposed to be free but everything is coming from a textbook. With everything you know, all the moves and skill but 5% of your dance is freedom? … You’re trash bro. You’re so trash - that’s how I kinda see it if you don’t have a large percentage of freedom in your step. I’m not saying be free and do random shit but be free in your foundation, and that foundation can be whatever.
That’s why there’s certain power-heads that I would really acknowledge them and look at them and be like “Yo you are crazy!” Not because they’re doing crazy moves but some people are free in that shit like Lil DVS, my man’s free in his power and he’s like listening to the music and he’s being creative in the moment by taking the foundation that he knows and actually doing something different with it. There’s just not many people touching that. It’s disappointing, that’s why I don’t ever get really impressed with Breaking anymore.
Thoughts on the Olympics?
Well Breaking was really raw at one point, and then things got soft, and then they got raw again when Zulu Kings started -- You know what I’m sayin’!? Then that was a phase where everybody was like “Oh, I’m a real B-Boy” and all that stuff. So Breaking, like everything, goes through phases and I think - right now - its largely out of that "I'm a real B-Boy phase". I don't know if the Olympics will just be a phase for Breaking but I guess we'll just have to see.
Any thought on the future of Breaking?
The future of Breaking, future of Breaking... Yeah, honestly I feel like who’s popular and on top of the competition world doesn't matter so much, it all depends on who’s the person training the next generation. I know that everybody’s gonna have a different approach to passing on whatever they’ve learned. Yo some people didn’t really have a strong career but they had such an influence through teaching that they could push forward and spread out their legacy or whatever the case may be. And then there’s guys that have the strongest career and they don’t pass anything along, so it just really all depends on who it is that’s like pushing the envelope, in terms of having young minions.
Yo one of my favorite examples, I don’t want to say the only one or whatever, but one of my favorite examples of how you should be passing on a legacy is K-Mel, what he did with X-Mob. Those kids turned into savages super fast and they didn’t rely on jusr one aspect of Breaking, there were so many aspects of Breaking that they have within themselves and as a squad. It’s crazy that X-Mob was a full crew at a young age, like they were a full crew at 12? (I don’t know how old they were exactly.) It just boggled my mind that “Oh, they have their own set of superheroes and they all have their own superpowers.” And none of them may have it perfect but it was like a complete crew in terms of their energy as a group. You don’t really see that around here, having a complete crew with just young kids, I think that’s important. Trying to create a crew based off of your legacy and what you’ve learned throughout the years, that’s a lesson for all the dope B-Boys. It’s not X-Fenz taking 5 young kids and making them dope and putting them in X-Fenz, it’s SamO creating 5 new kids in the scene, it’s INFMS creating 5 new kids in the scene, it’s Uncle Will creating 5 new kids in the scene.
You mentioned to me that you played video games your whole life, can you elaborate on that?
Yeah, since I was like 5. I had every system. Yo, not one part of me can say that I had a bad time growing up because my mom got me every game system that I ever wanted and I can never say like “My moms was trash”, I can never say that!
I do think it helped me out a lot with my reaction time. Wooh! Yo! Every time something falls out of my hand, I swear I catch it and I swear it’s cause of video games! I catch everything, BAM! And there be times where I’m like “Yo I WISH people would be here to see me do this shit!” Cause it’s not normal, it’s either you learn that shit through video games or you learned it being part of the CIA!
You mentioned you watch anime... your favorite animes are?
Favorite animes, Naruto is probably number 1. Nah, definitely number 1 on my list. That shit changed my life.
Yeah, Fullmetal was fire but I don't know if it’s one of my favorites. It was fire. Right now, MyHero, Attack on Titan, Black Clover - those are dope... Bleach was stupid! In a good way.
Which anime character do you feel most represents you?
That’s a great question. Damn! …
Nah, no way, no way. I’m not even levels up to him. Honestly speaking, I’m not as dark as him. Yo, I would want to say, if I were to compare myself to anybody, it would probably be Shikamaru. Word up. Just like being in my head and always thinking of strategies, yeah, I would definitely compare myself to him, for sure.
When his dad died, I was like crying
You about to cry right now!?