Hip-hop culture coming of age on Kaua‘i

With the help of Kaua‘i Underground Artists, Westside break dancing crews can now pursue their art.

“Basically we provide a platform for (hip-hop) dancers to have a reason to learn and practice,” said Lila Metzger, founder of KUGA.

That platform comes in events occurring every three months, mainly in the form of “battles” or competitions.

“In preparation for events,” said Sarah Ahn, co-founder, “we will have some kind of education-dance classes to get kids prepared.”

“KUGA is the only place that teaches street hip-hop and break dancing for all ages,” said Marisol Burkhart, co-founder.

A three-day workshop begins today at the KUGA House with sessions for interested participants from age five through adult. The sessions are being held at their studio in Kalaheo.

“B-boys don’t really come to class,” Ahn said. “They usually form crews and practice at home or find a practice spot somewhere to get ready for the next event.”

“Radical Habits Crew” is one such group of B-boys that has found a spot at the Chinese pavilion on the Kaua‘i Community College campus to practice. Originally a member of a Westside crew called “All in One,” Nathan Bueno said he and his friends asked members of another crew to “jump in” to form their own crew.

The new 12-member crew includes B-boys from Kapa‘a to Waimea. The crew has one girl and ages range from an eighth-grader to recent high school graduates.

Bueno said there is no leader; they just “need one guy to keep the whole thing together.” For the most part, he is that guy.

“We don’t believe in leaders,” said Steven Sanchez. “Everyone is equal in the group.” Sanchez, who is from Kapa‘a, said their two crews were the biggest rivals.

“We never liked each other,” Bueno said. “Then we combined and created one super hero crew.”

Bueno said they were more into hip-hop before, but KUGA encouraged them to participate in an event at the Parish Hall. They have been focusing on breaking ever since.

They practice whenever everyone can get together and practice “until the sun sets.” They have a performance on Sunday at a party and would like more such opportunities.

They need funds to get their own studio. They would also like to go to the Mainland to challenge crews.

“(Here) we only challenge junior groups,” Bueno said. Challenging crews at a higher level would allow them the right to be awarded B-boy names.

KUGA supports their efforts by bringing in talent from the other islands and the Mainland.

Metzer was born and raised on Kaua‘i, graduating from Kaua‘i High School in 1998. She left the island and when she returned, “nothing was going on” in the hip-hop scene.

She remembers running into four guys breaking at Lydgate pavilion on the cement floor. They had to bring a broom and sweep up cake from the parties before.

When she met Burkhart, who is originally from Puerto Rico and had experienced the hip-hop scene in New York and San Francisco, Metzer found someone who shared her vision. They began to teach hip-hop in gyms, garages, anywhere they could gather students.

Ahn is a 2001 graduate of Kaua‘i High School. When she returned home after attending school on the Mainland, she met Metzer at a dance class. Though they barely knew each other, they began to talk about teaching dance classes.

They started KUGA in 2005 and later acquired non-profit status. They were awarded a “Healing Our Island” grant from the county, providing alternative activities for at-risk children and teens. They have partnered with Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School to offer classes in poetry, breaking and hip-hop choreography. They continue to provide classes at schools around the island and for groups like the Boys and Girls Club.

“It didn’t start off that we were hip-hop heads (wanting) to build the hip-hop scene (on Kaua‘i),” Metzer said. “We wanted to do something positive.”

“Hip-hop is what we fit into,” Ahn said.

“It’s a way to relate to kids,” Burkhart said. “It’s the language they spoke that we understood.”

“Our goal and motto is to plant seeds of creativity through dance, music and lyrics,” Metzer said.

Hip-hop is an umbrella term. The written word of hip-hop is graffiti, or colorful art. The spoken word is MC-ing, or rapping. The music is DJ-ing, or the soundtrack. The physical demonstration of hip-hop is B-boying, or break dancing.

The events KUGA plans allows for expression in all aspects of hip-hop. In May they featured Zane One from California at The Lotus Lounge. They invited four local MC artists to open.

“It was an awesome show,” Metzer said. She said she felt like a “proud mother” because she could see how the local MCs had grown by “leaps and bounds.”

Metzer said that the show also provided something for the “forgotten gap” of young adults, ages 21 through 35, who “don’t have anything to do.”

“Everybody was so hyped and happy,” Metzer said.

Outside promoters are taking notice of the growing hip-hop community on Kaua‘i and are beginning to take the risk of flying artists from the Mainland to perform here, Metzer said.

“It has been a natural development on how it has come out,” Metzer said. “Whatever was in us started coming out looking like hip-hop dancing, sounding like hip-hop rapping.”

Bueno and Sanchez’s crew can be happy it did.

“Come check it out; come support our events,” said Bueno.

For announcements of events, workshops and classes go to the KUGA Web site at www.kuga808.com

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com


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