“You don’t wanna throw out too much, you gotta pace yourself,” says Waka of Legendary Brickheadz, the dance hosts of WBEZ’s fourth annual Winter Block Party for Chicago’s Hip-Hop Arts.
Holding something back matters in battles, where “you have to throw out the little guys first,” Waka says. Though an individual b-boy dance bite is usually only 30 to 45 seconds, saving some sensational moves for the finals—in case you make it that far—is just common sense.
At last year’s block party, the battles were so popular that this Saturday, at Metro, they start at 4 p.m. on the main stage with 3-on-3 prelims. Brickhead Shon Roka (aka Shaun Ortega) deejays—and says that if Brickheadz “were made up of body parts, Waka would be the head and I would be the heart.” The contest continues at 8 p.m. with the semifinals and finals and a history lesson that includes interviews, archival footage, and Waka—a legend internationally and nationally, according to Shon—and the other two judges in their own showcases.
The Brickheadz crew has been active for about 15 years, Waka says—and “got the ‘legendary’ status about ten years ago.” There are “maybe nine or ten dancers. But we got a big family, about 20 in the crew total, including the MCs, DJs, old-school guys.”
“We got guys from the Ukraine, Mexicans,” says Waka. “And we all dance way different from each other.”
Waka, 35, says that at this point there’ve been three generations of Brickheadz. He’s part of the second, while in the third the oldest is “maybe 21.” And the first generation, the founders? “Between kids and work—those kinda things—the guys don’t break anymore.”
Born Huascar Alcantara in the Dominican Republic, Waka moved to Humboldt Park at 11. Back in the old country, he saw the movie Breakin’, but his grandma told him no way he was doing that. Here, he says, “it’s been 23 years and going.”
Though he started in grammar school, “I didn’t really get into breaking until I went to a party in the early 90s where guys were battling,” he says. That “first encounter” seems to have made a big impression: “It got me—it was too much at the time.”
“A lot of guys are more traditional. I like to create my own moves, I like the dark side—my style, I’m more aggressive.” Asked to describe it, he says, “You have to see it!”
Though breaking focuses him mentally and physically, Waka says, “Don’t get me wrong, dancing at 35 gets challenging sometimes. But that’s life! Believe it or not, dancing is the fountain of youth. So let’s drink up.”