Brooklyn's Kim-A-Kazi rocked onto the 1980s hip-hop scene as a part of the Dynamic Dolls, an all-female dance crew that originally included Latin freestyle singer Brenda K. Starr as a member. Following her clubbing days at famed NYC nightspot the Fun House, Kim joined the legendary Queens-based Dynamic Rockers before later teaming up with the Body Mechanix. Eventually she helped found the Dynamic Dolls and performed side-by-side with Dynamic Breakers, an offshoot of the Rockers crew. As a part of her dance career, Kim made it to the finals of The Big Break Dance Contest in 1983, and performed on the historic Fresh Fest tour as well as the Kennedy Center Honors. She is currently writing a book entitled A B-Girl in a B-Boy World, and will appear as a panelist at our screening of the TV special The Big Break Dance Contest at Maysles Cinema, March 28th, 2013, 7:30 PM. (Get tix, HERE.)
How you were introduced to dancing?
Kim-a-Kazi: I have been dancing my whole my life. I used to go to the clubs. There was one called the Fun House. It was a club where you would see just about every group perform - from Run-DMC, New Edition, Madonna to Grace Jones and Jimmy Spicer. We had a little crew called The Juice Crew. John “Jellybean” Benitez was the DJ at the Fun House. He actually gave us the name The Juice Crew. We were just a whole bunch of dancers. Little by little, more of the break dancing started creeping into the Fun House. One night I saw one guy popping there who was amazing. I thought, “I have to do that.” I went home and I just practiced, breaking down my body parts. Two weeks later, I’m at the Fun House again and the song I had been practicing to came on. I’m showing my friends what I had learned and next thing I know, I had a huge crowd around me screaming, “Do more! Do more!” That’s really how it started, right there.
What sort of styles were you into?
Kim-a-Kazi: As a dancer, I always wanted to learn all kinds of dances. I loved it all. I started with popping but I had already been doing some footwork but no real break dancing yet. When I went with the Dynamic Rockers, I started getting more into floor work and practicing backspins. Later, when we broke out with the Dynamic Breakers, I started doing “lift-moves” where I would spin somebody on my head. I didn’t like to use too much gymnastics and acrobatics because I felt it was cheating. Break dancing is break dancing, and gymnastics is gymnastics. That’s how I felt personally.
How did you get down with Dynamic Rockers to begin with?
Kim-a-Kazi: I used to do a spin on the ground, which looked like something an ice skater would do where they go around really, really fast. I was named Spinner because of that spin. One night [at the Fun House], there’s this guy who calls me over and he tells me, “My name is Spinner. We’re going to have to battle for that name. Why do they call you Spinner?” I showed him my spin and he went, “The name is yours”. He was known as Spinner from the Dynamic Rockers. That was the night I met most of Dynamic Rockers and became a part of that crew.
What can you tell me about your all-female crew Dynamic Dolls?
Kim-a-Kazi: We started with [members] Suzie, myself and Brenda K. Starr, who left to pursue her singing career. Following Brenda’s departure, we had another girl named Coco Pop. When we separated from her, we found Jae-Cie. We were never more than four girls in the group. Back in ’81, we were all in the Dynamic Rockers. When I left that crew, I went with the Body Mechanix. I didn’t know that several of the guys had broken away from the Dynamic Rockers to form the Dynamic Breakers. I found out about it the night [of the finals of The Big Break Dance Contest]. That night is when I joined back with the Dynamic Breakers. It was like going home and I had to go back. The Dynamic Dolls was a name our manager came up with. It was spin-off of the Dynamic Breakers and we used that name when we were just the females performing.
How was it to be a female dancer in a predominantly male environment?
Kim-a-Kazi: In the beginning, you weren’t really taken seriously. It was a struggle and you had to prove yourself. You had to do it like a guy. You had to dress like a guy, you had to be able to dance and move like a guy. I really feel that the Dynamic Dolls brought some changes to that. Once we had the respect, we started putting more feminine moves [in the routines] and wearing more feminine outfits.
What are your memories from The Big Break Dance Contest?
Kim-a-Kazi: This was the first [b-boy and break dance] competition that was televised and with celebrity guest [judges]. It was a really big deal. I was with a crew called The Body Mechanix, which was mostly a popping group. Only myself and [two others] made it to the finals out of our crew. I had choreographed a routine for the finals. The finals were actually what was filmed that night. The winners of The Big Break Dance Contest were going to be featured in the [then-]upcoming movie Beat Street. It’s a very long story why [the winners of the contest], Dynamic Breakers, are not in Beat Street. We were all supposed to be in it, but when the guys weren’t going to do it, Harry Belafonte [who produced the film] still wanted the Dynamic Dolls [to appear]. It wound up just being me and I didn’t return after the first day of filming. There’s actually only two small clips of me [in the movie].
You were also a part of the Swatch Watch Fresh Fest in 1984 – the first big national hip-hop tour which included Fat Boys, Whodini, Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC among others, right?
Kim-a-Kazi: Technically, I actually wasn’t. The Dynamic Breakers were hired to do the Fresh Fest while we were on another tour. Flip, who used to spin around the other guys, broke his ankle or his foot. I was the only other one who could spin two guys at the same time and I knew all the routines. Once Flip’s leg healed, I was out and he was in but I was on the tour for quite a while.
What are some of your memories of the Fresh Fest tour?
Kim-a-Kazi: In the beginning of the tour, before we all had our own tour buses, we would all roll on one big bus together. There was one time where, starting with the front seat and going all the way to the back, you had to rap two lines freestyle and then the next person picked it up. As you can imagine with all this talent on the bus, it was a really a historical moment. I was really happy that I was there to witness it. I always said that if I could have something on videotape of my whole life this would be one of them. It was amazing!
Did you freestyle as well?
Kim-a-Kazi: Oh, yes, everybody had to.
Do you remember any of the lyrics from those sessions?
Kim-a-Kazi: When it was Run from Run-DMC’s turn he said, "You’re blind, you can’t see, you need to wear some glasses like DMC”. Everyone started laughing. I can’t say for sure he came up with those lines right then and there but that memory has stayed with me.
As dancers what was your role on the Fresh Fest tour?
Kim-a-Kazi: All the dancers performed as an individual acts. They had two stages. One was in the top end of the stadium and there was another stage directly in the middle. The only group that were back-up dancers was UTFO, who later came out with the song “Roxanne, Roxanne”. They were backing-up Whodini. That’s how UTFO started out.
And how did you deal with waning interest in hip-hop related dance as the '80s progressed?
Kim-a-Kazi: As somebody put it, when a Flintstones commercial comes on and Fred and Barney are break dancing, it starts getting to a point where people are just done with it. I did notice a decline in the work, but I did this out of passion and love for dance. I wouldn’t have walked away from countless videos, movies and other opportunities if I was doing it for fame and money. When that time came and I saw it coming, I was really starting to pull back anyway. My partner Suzie that I used to spin on my head was married to one of the Dynamic Breakers. She became pregnant, and [for me] to go out and find another female to start training when everything was starting to dwindle just didn’t seem like the thing to do. That’s when I stepped away.
Meet Kim-A-Kazi Thursday, March 28th, 2013, at our screening of the TV special
The Big Break Dance Contest at Maysles Cinema in Harlem.
You can get tickets HERE.