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RapidChat: Keegan Loye

Breakdancing may have originated as a communication tool for gang members in the Bronx in the 70s, but now it’s a popular family-friendly dance form with a growing scene in Grand Rapids. Keegan “Seoul” Loye owns 61Syx Teknique Street Dance Academy where he’s an instructor by day and a b-boy by night performing around the country. The crew’s 10-year anniversary is August 29 at Louie’s Bar and Rocket Lounge (we’re all invited) so it’s the perfect time to get to know Seoul and understand the past and future of hip hop.  
Keegan Loye

Ten years ago Keegan Loye found his people at Blues on the Mall. After years spent watching music videos and teaching himself b-boy moves, he discovered a group of hip-hop-loving-dancers. He’s been breakdancing with the 61Syx Teknique crew for a decade and we’re all invited to join the 10-year anniversary celebration on August 29 at Louie’s Bar and Rocket Lounge. But in the meantime, let’s get to know Seoul, owner of 61Syx Teknique Street Dance Academy and hip hop enthusiast.
Rapid Growth: So were you born and raised in Grand Rapids?

Keegan Loye: I was born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted when I was four months old and then raised in Cedar Springs. So my birthplace is where I get my nickname from; I go by Seoul. Also, growing up, my favorite singer was James Brown and I collect shoes. So Seoul fits me really well!

RG: Have you been back to South Korea?

KL: No, not yet. The breaking community is giant in Korea. Jams are broadcast like sports on TV and the dance is government funded. It is still so underground over here. It would be cool to experience breaking in Seoul.

RG: How did you get into breaking?

KL: I actually first learned it existed from a Christina Aguilera music video. Back in high school she had a video with some b-boys. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I recorded it on VHS and I would rewind it and watch it and rewind it and watch it. I learned a couple moves from the video.

From there I went to a store called Mr. Rags in Woodland Mall. Every month I would buy a different Freestyle Session competition recording on VHS. I started by copying the moves. I would watch and be like, “I want to learn how to do that!” In 2005 I learned other people in Grand Rapids were breaking. I was the only one in Cedar Springs so it was exciting to learn there was a crew.

I met the crew in 2005; they were dancing at Blues on the Mall. They were training for a couple shows and they’d performed at a couple concerts. I started going to their practices and it just spawned off from there.

RG: It is rare for someone to start something so young and still be doing it ten years later. So you and this group of guys have been dancing together for a decade?

KL: The crew has grown a lot; it was five or six of us originally. We are still a crew; those guys are my brothers, my closest group of friends. We have 19 members in our crew right now. The youngest is seven and the oldest is 32. There are seven kids in our crew. We connect with the kids and the families. We’re great role models for the kids and the parents love that. We’re really close with the whole family and we’ve all developed great relationships.

RG: Do people ever misconstrue your crew to be gang related or influenced? That sounds harsh, but it seems it would be easy to perceive connections to gang behaviors.

KL: It does sound harsh but it’s true. The dance and the breaking community have evolved so much since it all started, but it did start with gangs.

Breaking started in the 70s in the Bronx. DJ Kool Herc would throw these block parties and they were the place to be. The point was to promote peace and love, so it was an unspoken rule that gangs didn’t fight. They would get territorial and do dance battles instead of fight. It would often get violent but the point was to promote peace and love. Dance battles grew a line of respect that having gang wars in the Bronx couldn’t do. So hip hop actually helped decrease gang violence in the Bronx.
People often see breaking in a negative light. They think we are all thugs but now it’s not like that. There are places all over the US where dancers can have businesses based off of this. Back then it would have been unfathomable for people to think that breaking would turn into something you could do with kids.

RG: What inspired you to start the 61Syx Teknique Street Dance Academy in 2010?

KL: It wasn’t actually my idea and I wasn’t the original owner. It was started by a crew member of ours; his name was Raze, and he passed away in 2011. Raze ran the studio for a year. In that year, we grew to be the premier crew in Michigan and Raze wanted to go to a place where he wasn’t at the top, so he moved to Las Vegas.

At that time we had over twenty students and it wasn’t something we could let go. I took over after he left. Ever since then it has been growing so fast.

The business has been a success. I’ve never had to pay rent out of my own pocket, we have a place to practice, and we’ve expanded to 1200 square feet. It’s becoming a spot that people that travel all over the world want to come to, to teach our kids and see what’s going on. Ten years from now our Grand Rapids breaking scene could be on a level with New York, Chicago and LA. We get the kids so young now. We teach kids as young as 4 years old. If they are 14 and have stuck with it, they are going to be amazing. The kids we have are unbelievable.

RG: Do you ever want to move somewhere with a bigger breaking scene like Raze did? Why do you do this here?

KL: I tell people all the time that if we were in a different city it wouldn’t work. I constantly compare us to Chicago because Chicago has a gigantic b-boy scene. It is so oversaturated there; it is hard to grow like that. You have to offer more than one style of dance to be a success in Chicago. The studios there teach seven or eight styles of dance and we only teach breaking.
The crew is recognized in Grand Rapids and has been for so long, we have a following. People have met us or seen us perform so they have positive feelings about what we do. We have so many opportunities because of the city we’re in.  

RG: Other than breaking, what do you like to do?

KL: There are five elements of hip hop: b-boying, djing, mcing, graffiti, and knowledge. So I am into spoken word poetry, I love lyricism and writing. I also DJ and I’m just now getting into legal graffiti. If you do one thing in hip hop, it helps to do everything or at least try everything. The djing helps you understand music a little bit more, being able to visually see it, graffiti teaches you how to create something out of nothing, breaking helps you exercise your body and mcing helps you exercise your mind. All of our crew likes to immerse themselves in the elements of hip hop.

Most people when they think of hip hop, they only think about the genre of music but it is a lot more than that. It’s “hip” because it is always in the now and “hop” because it is a movement.

RG: What are your signature moves and style? (Note: you can watch Seoul dance here.)

KL: Everyone has a signature style – that is always a goal. Like a lot of art forms, you want to be as original as possible. I like to have a stacked flow…. I like stacking move on top of move, going directly from one move to another, and finding a unique way to go into it but still having it smooth for people to understand exactly what I’m doing or saying during my round.

RG: So you have your party coming up. What are you most excited about?

KL: Breaking jams and battles aren’t like in the movies where they happen in the streets… we do them in schools, community centers, churches, and bars. We are so pumped for this jam because there is a trend right now of wondering “what happened to the parties?” Now everything is competition-based, it’s a sport. In the Midwest there is a huge oversaturation of competitions, so our jam is at a bar, late at night, women are free admission, there is alcohol… we are doing our best to make it a party and get back to the roots of the culture.

RG: What is the hardest thing about having a business that is completely intertwined with your passions?

KL: Having an off switch. Breaking and hip hop really are my life. It’s something that fell into my lap: I never planned on it, I never really thought about the repercussions or what it would mean to shape my life around this culture. Sometimes I find myself in situations and it is hard not to talk about it. I am fully in it, I do it every day, I think about it every day. If I’m not thinking about the actual craft, the dance, I’m thinking about the business – events, scheduling, etcetera.

This year, traveling has been difficult. I’ve been gone every weekend since February. I’ve been all over the U.S. I host and judge a lot of events. We went to San Diego this year, Miami, Nashville, I battled in Houston a couple times, New York a few times, and then Chicago and Detroit all the time. Detroit and Chicago are my second and third homes. I’m also part of a crew in Chicago.

RG: Any advice for other business owners?

KL: The best thing I’ve realized, is that even when other businesses are doing the same exact thing as you, following in their footsteps never works. We are the only dance studio in the Midwest that only teaches breaking; there are only six in the U.S.  The businesses that I’ve seen succeed are the ones that are doing something just a little bit different. I learned that from the hip hop community: if you want to be a b-boy or b-girl, you have to be unique.

Molly Crist is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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