After his first knee surgery in his twenties, Yvon “Crazy Smooth” Soglo remembers how excited he was to get back to dancing. Recovery time was short. He still felt invincible. The founder and creative director of Bboyizm, the landmark Canadian street dance company, didn’t really think about any consequences, physical or otherwise—until his second, third, and fourth surgeries.
“I always say it's a gift and a curse, at the same time,” Soglo tells the Straight, on the line from Gatineau, Que. “Because, for me, every surgery or every injury that I've had has made me better—in the sense that I understand how my body works better… Fortunately and unfortunately, you get closer to your body when these things happen.”
But, he continues, “there's also just the simple mileage that one person puts on their body. It must have been my third or fourth surgery, I remember the doctor telling me, like, ‘Well, yeah, you're 30-something, but, you know, let's just be honest. You have the mileage of someone that's older because of the type of activity that you're constantly doing.’”
The experiences inspired Soglo to create In My Body: Bboyizm’s profound exploration of the journey and effects of aging in hip hop and street dance. Debuting in 2022, the award-winning piece confronts a topic that has remained taboo in a physical art form that celebrates youth, athleticism, and bravado.
There’s an identity crisis that artists can go through when they’re not capable of pushing themselves to the same limits they could before, Soglo adds. It can prompt questions of self-worth, if they still offer value to their community.
Soglo has luckily never faced those things himself. “My instrument of measure or excellence is something that I call izm, and that's why my company is called Bboyizm. It's not tangible…The je ne sais quois. So, I've always aspired to that,” he says. But he’s seen those pressures surface in various ways when speaking to his peers and elders.
“I remember Don Campbellock telling me, ‘If I can't jump on the table, do a backflip, land in the splits, do how I did it, there's no point,’ which is a different perspective,” Soglo recalls of the late locking pioneer Don Campbell. “Everybody has a different outlook on it.”
Through expressions of community, vulnerability, survival, and resilience, three generations of dancers, ranging in age from their early 20s to late 50s, convey the physical and emotional battle against time in In My Body. There are young Olympic hopefuls; established dancers in their mid-30s to late-40s, like Soglo, a group he describes as “the bridge”; and trailblazers such as David “DKC Freeze” Dundas and Natasha “Tash” Jean-Bart.
“All three generations were key for me to tell this story,” Soglo underscores.
“I quickly realized that the cast is the main character of the show, and simply by virtue of being who they are and where they are on this timeline. That's what I wanted to show on stage: the magic of our community and how the interactions between each generation is always there. We can't move without each other.”
Alongside physical movement, other mediums work together to make In My Body the full experience it is. There’s spoken word poetry written by Alejandro Rodriguez (“Words can go places that the body can’t,” Soglo notes), original music by DJ Shash’U, and multimedia projections by minari studio that map the body as the dancers commit “daily warfare” to their muscle and bone.
To be at peace with the journey—to find acceptance in the beauty of it—is ultimately what one has to hope for, Soglo says.
“I think it's an important show, because in hip hop and then in street dance, it is partly taboo for us to talk about the darker side, the vulnerability that one has as they grow older in this world, because the bravado that is imbued from the genesis of this culture is about being larger than life and showing your Superman status. But the truth is, most of the time we live like Clark Kent. So, we don't often see that.”
He adds: “And so, one of the reasons that I really think this show is important is because it's a rare opportunity for people to take a peek in our world and see what's happening to us and maybe reflect on—because aging is a human condition, of course… Aging doesn't have to be a bad thing. And from the beginning of the show, the title is In My Body. But I think, and I hope, by the end of the show, the title is more like In Our Body, because we're a community.”
The BC premiere of Bboyizm’s In My Body takes the stage on March 17 and 18 at the Vancouver Playhouse, presented by DanceHouse. Tickets are available online. Yvon “Crazy Smooth” Soglo is also teaching a MasterClass at Harbour Dance Centre on March 16.