United in Hip-Hop

Name: Nightmare, Kathleen “MK” Perry, Christopher “Check-It” Lim

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Topics: Hip-Hop, Break Dancing, Music, MC, Battle, Youth, Dancing

Quote: “Hip-Hop allows for my accent! Hip-Hop allows for me to say the word ‘fresh’ at my age. There are no barriers. There are no age barriers, height barriers, weight barriers, nothing! Just freedom!”

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Meeting Hip-Hop

K: My name is Kathleen. My Break name or B-Girl name is MK which stands for “Momma Kat.” I have been dancing my whole life. I’ve lived in New Mexico my whole life. Not this kind of dancing… I started with Spanish dancing actually, and then as I got through my years and had my kid it was that he began Break Dancing and I watched for years, probably 3 or 4 years. Finally, I was like, “Uggh, I don’t want to sit here anymore!” I got up and I tried it! It was really hard and it’s still really hard today to do, but I kept trying. And I fell in love with it! And so now I have been battling for some 20 battles. I have traveled with my son. I’ve battled with my son. Battled against my son, and battled away from him as well. I’m in love with Hip-Hop now, and it’s something that I just absolutely adore.

Nightmare: My name is Diego and my Break name or B-Boy name is “Nightmare.” I’ve been Breaking for going on 7 years. I have been dancing since I was 3 years old and I am 13 now.

I started with a dance team with my mom’s dancing and then 3 years down the road I was watching a movie called “Breaking,” and there is a scene where he walks on the wall and I was like, “Mom, how can I walk on the wall? I want to do that really bad!” And she was like, “Ok, I will find you some break dancing classes.”

And then I started doing that, and now I have been with Check-It for a year and a half, almost 2. I have traveled to L.A., Colorado, Arizona, Houston, Austin, Sacramento… I have traveled and battled in a lot of places.

C: My name is Christopher James Lim. I am the owner and main instructor here at The Dancing Turtle. I’ve been B-Boying for 23 years. Growing up I was in a lot of different activities. I was a 4 sport varsity athlete. After high school I joined the military. I was a U.S. Army Veteran, 54 Bravo Chemical Operations Specialist. When I graduated from the military is when I started traveling for Break Dancing. I was in the U.S.A. team from 2003 to 2005, so I was fortunate enough to travel and train and compete against some of the best in the world. I moved here to Albuquerque about 5 years ago, going on 6 years. And about a year and nine months ago, I opened up The Dancing Turtle.

I was born and raised in Chicago. My wife and I, we both are from Chicago. We came to visit Albuquerque during our honeymoon. We did a tour of the southwest. We experienced Albuquerque’s nightlife and culture and scene. And we completely fell in love with the scene! In 2011 we decided to make the leap of faith. We put our house on the market, we quit our jobs, had nothing lined up, and just packed everything up and just moved out here. It’s been an amazing experience ever since!

Comparing Albuquerque to Chicago… Chicago is a very big city, so it’s hard to feel safe, secured in a place like that compared to here in Albuquerque where the community and the culture is very strong and deep rooted. Things out here are a lot more welcoming at a lot more relaxed pace. We felt comfortable out here and establishing deep roots compared to being in a big city where everyone is struggling and everyone is stepping on each other to get to the next level up.

Nightmare: When I first started [Hip-Hop], I immediately fell in love with it because it was freeing! I had been doing routines and being choreographed to do stuff, so the second I got my hands on just doing what I wanted to do, it was completely awesome! My dad really helped me a lot with Hip-Hop because he listens to a lot of 90’s Hip-Hop/Rap and he knows a lot of that stuff. Once I started getting into it he started showing me songs. And then I started getting into the knowledge of Hip-Hop and little bit later on I started figuring out more knowledge of the actual Breaking culture. I just loved it because it was freedom and it’s what I wanted to do.

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Importance of Mentorship

Nightmare: It’s really important to have a mentor. I have 2 mentors; my mom and Check-It. It’s been really good to help me out with some of the things I go through, because I go through ups-and-downs of stuff where sometimes I feel like I am not doing good anymore and they help lift me back up. I have grown a lot in the past 2 years that I have been here with Check-It, I think more then I was in my first couple of years of Breaking. I think it’s really important and I love having these 2 mentors with me.

K: I think what made the difference was with being a new mentor. We have lots of people who we have been with who have helped us out through this. The difference here is that Check-It gives back. There is this give-and-take that he has with everyone. He doesn’t treat us any different than he treats anyone else. The give-and-take is there with every one of his students and with all of his parents. That’s the great part of it. He makes him [Diego] feel good, he makes me feel good, even if I don’t feel good. Even if I am like, “I can’t do that.” He’s always telling me, “Yes, you can.” But then I can’t, but then I do it anyway. Having that kind of person there is very helpful to me to help him. This triangle is beautiful.

Stepping into the position of parent liaison that has been super great and I don’t even think he knows this but it made me feel… I don’t even know how to express it. I feel so great and so empowered to help other people go through this because being on my own was rough. Trying to figure out how to get him into a battle, how do we travel, how to do these things. Nobody is really there to show you how to do it. So, to have somebody there through it is great. We have called him on trips where we are not knowing what we are doing and he has helped us through it. He has not made anything a secret, which is really nice. And then I get to pass it on to him. And I decided to be courageous and do what I do. I have no idea how or why or what makes me do that, except for I love it. I love it more when I am battling. If you see me in normal life and in a battle, it’s 2 different people.

My battle persona is just very brave for some reason. I am scared once I step into the floor, but I love battling. That’s something that I really love.

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The Dancing Turtle Studio

C: I didn’t know what to expect when I first opened The Dancing Turtle. I tried to stay fluid, always set new goals, both short term and long goals, not just for myself but also for the community. Just as much as they view me as a mentor, because they encourage me so much with the things they achieve and the things that they do, I view them as my mentors as well. As an individual, it motivates me to keep doing my best so I can provide more and to give more.

Nightmare, has grown as a team leader here in The Dancing Turtle, it really encourages the youth to do their best. The way that we have it set up here at The Dancing Turtle, Nightmare is like the varsity, he is the team captain. The young kids view him as… when he walks in the room the kids all start whispering, “Oh that’s Nightmare, he’s so awesome.”

It’s the same thing when MK walks in. When she walks in the room the parents know that she is a mom that is involved, she is a mom that truly loves her son, and is going through this walk of life every step of the way, and that’s motivating. Having them a part of this community is amazing because it empowers everybody, including the business, including myself, and everyone that is a part of it.

Before I opened The Dancing Turtle, I worked in the exotic reptile industry. So when I opened The Dancing Turtle, it was not meant to be a dancing studio, it was meant to be an exotic pet store. And because of my dance background, I just decided I wanted to teach dance in the back room, kind of make it as a side revenue. And within the first few months, I realized that it was changing, that there was a strong need for the youth and their families, too. In trying to stay fluid and keeping up with that need, it has purely become a dance studio. I do have animals in the studio in the reptile gallery, which I feel is important because that’s a part of the original vision and it’s what makes the dance studio different from any other dance studio in the world. There is not a single dance studio in the world that they can say that they have a reptile gallery that these animals are growing up with the youth that are growing up here in the studio. The youth have come in and say hi to animals just as if it was their own pets. As the studio grows, our goals are starting to grow.

At first it was just trying to get established, now we really do have goals of getting the parents and the youth into the competition level locally, regionally and nationally. Just within the last month we created a new 10-year goal with trying to focus on getting our team, our community, more on an international level. On to a level where we can represent the United States on multiple facets. If you haven’t heard, in 2018, they just added Break Dancing into the youth Olympics, which is going to be in Buenos Aires and then in 2020 is going to be in the United States. So Break Dancing is definitely on a level to where governments and countries are starting to realize that this is something that is extremely beneficial for community. People of all different ages, people all different colors, and all different backgrounds really get together and it’s something that is really positive. Especially being that it is one of the most physical dance forms in the world, it attracts a certain kind of personality.

The people that are a part of it, some of the youth really need something like this. When I was growing up, I was a knucklehead, I needed Break Dancing to help me focus and to center myself. I see it with a lot of the youth that come into this dance studio. I think their parents and families just need something like this. By getting the parents involved, it helps build that up a stronger bond within the family level, as well as a community, too.

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From Challenges to United in Hip-Hop

Nightmare: We lived in Santa Fe our whole lives and commuted 3 years and then moved to Albuquerque. We had to make a trip 45 minutes back and forth every day for 4 to 5 days a week from Santa Fe to Albuquerque during the 3 years we commuted just to go dance. Santa Fe had outlets, but there wasn’t too many. Albuquerque had way more! We had so much time in the car to talk that one day I just said that I wanted everyone to be united, not divided, and I just want all of us to be “United in Hip-Hop.” It didn’t even mean for it to happen into a shirt, it just kind of rolled into that. I was just making a design and she brought it to one of my friends who was a graph writer and he fixed up a little bit and then we brought it to a guy next door to The Dancing Turtle that did printing. He went on to his computer and fixed it even more. It took a long time between the back-and-forth to get the right image, and once we got it, we decided to print the shirt. We got our first prints in December of 2015 and we just hit our 1 year anniversary.

K: That’s all it was going to be at first, just the shirts. And we were like, “Why couldn’t a kid do this?” A lot of times, people say that kids can’t do these things. And I didn’t think people could understand what kids can do. We did the shirts and not even a month later…

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Nightmare: … Again, in the car, I was like “there is always kid battles in the side, but not a kid’s event. Or Breaking kids or Hip-Hop kids.” We had just previously gone to an event in Houston called the “B-Girl City,” and we had met a kid Dj, 2 kid Dj’s from Houston and I was like, “We already have our DJ’s, all we need is judges.” I can MC, and I didn’t even… I was so shy. So we brought the idea to Check-It knowing that he was an MC and an event coordinator. He was like, “I can train you on the mic.” So it took a long time for me to get going or feel comfortable in the mic in front of people. 2 months later, I was on the mic for my first event, “United Hip-Hop Kid’s Edition” in August, 2016.

K: We had kid DJ’s, we had kid judges, we had kid MC’s, we had kid graffiti artists, it was all centered around the kids. The neat thing about it was that Check-It was Nightmare’s mentor for that, so he was behind him MC’ing with him. We had all the kid judges with a B-Boy mentor and helping them out throughout the whole entire process. It’s a difficult time to judge. All of these kids, I think were all under 16. He [Nightmare] was 12 at the time. Most of them are all around his [Nightmare] age range. We had an exhibition that was just for kids. We ended up with 250 people in the building to come see the event.

Nightmare: Just to think that we got all of that done together… it was really shocking to see 250 people there! When I got on the mic, Check-It was like, “You got to announce 10 minutes into the battle.” And I was like, “10 minutes into the battle [somber voice followed by laughter].” It was super low and no one even heard me. Throughout the night I was cracking jokes and talking to people. At the end of the event we cleaned up and we had everyone lined up to go outside and eat, and I was like, “We just did that!” It was pretty surreal, but it was super fun.

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Finding Identity in Hip-Hop

K: I think growing up, the way we had to grow up with the way we had to lose our accent, so that we can answer the phone. I tried getting a job where to sell things of my own native background and they literally wouldn’t hire me. That was my first interaction with “yucky” stuff. I was young, I was 16.

Fast forward to 3 more years and I did get a job as a receptionist. It was fun, I was having a great time, and then the owner came up and took me to the side to tell me, “Your accent is really thick. I am going to need you to lose that, so that people can understand you.” And I wasn’t really speaking all that… I mean that I can tell. People did understand me. And so I lost my accent. I learned how to pronounce things differently and really be careful how I am talking. I thought it was sad, but there was really nothing I can do about it because I needed money. I had to do what I had to do.

Coming here [The Dancing Turtle] and being with freedom…

Hip-Hop allows for my accent! Hip-Hop allows for me to say the word, “Fresh” at my age. I still can’t really say it, because I think I’m too old to say it, but it still allows that. There are no barriers. There are no age barriers, there no height barriers, weight barrier, nothing! Just freedom! I wish everybody could feel what we feel! You get addicted pretty quick.

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C: Being part of the Hip-Hop culture as a whole, really helped me identify with something that really empowered me. Both of my parents are from the Philippines. They moved to Chicago from the Philippines. Because of the hard life that they lived out there, they really made a conscious decision to cut all ties with their native land and raise my brothers/sisters and myself as Americans. But being a Filipino-American I obviously look very different compared to everyone that was in the community around me. I really felt lost growing up.

When I found Hip-Hop, when I found Break Dancing, there were no barriers, no cultural barriers, it was its own cultures created by young minorities. The music and the dance is what linked all of us together. By being a part of that culture, it really helped me find myself and confidence in myself to where I was able to grow as an adult and to help empower other people. That’s what we do here in The Dancing Turtle. Now that I am a studio owner, a big focus is that no matter what background that each family comes from, when they walk into this studio, they are a part of Hip-Hop. It’s important for us to acknowledge each one of our backgrounds, because we all bring something really important to the table. Getting everyone to understand that this is a really strong melting pot. Everything is important, everything will blend, everything will make us better people and better dancers. The more we are open to that, the more open we are to learning and sharing our culture.

The things that are produced are very magical. I can experience Native culture, I can experience African culture, Latin culture without even having to go to those places. Here [The Dancing Turtle], it really helps people to express themselves, to share those things freely. Having so many dancers here from many different backgrounds, you start to notice that no matter who you are or what you look like, there is always a love, a passion, the drive is the same not matter who we are. We want to embrace that. We want to give a space to people where they can embrace and cultivate to see what happens.

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Future Plans

Nightmare: In 10 years, I will be 23… I hope to at least have gone out of the United States and made a name for myself. I think that I want to travel and do as much as I can before I am little past my peak of where I can just go anywhere. As of United Hip-Hop, I want it for it to be known out of the surrounding states. Have people outside of the country wearing the shirt, knowing what the brand stands for. Hopefully we can bring everybody united as I wanted to.

K: I would like the same things as Nightmare… I would like to travel out of the United States. Do a little more United States. We want to go to the east coast, because we haven’t been there. I’m slowly making a name for myself. I would like to continue on that path. I really enjoy what I am doing, so it would be kind of cool to keep going. With United in Hip-Hop, we definitely want to be in other cities! We would like to spread to other places in the United States. And hopefully to see our shirt outside of the country… that would be insane!

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C: Here at The Dancing Turtle, because of the culture that we are a part of, B-Boys and B-Girls, we are warriors. Speaking on behalf of the Filipino culture, being a warrior on such a small geographical location, it was expected for the warriors to leave to experience life and to learn as much as they can. At some point, they would come back to their homeland, and share that experience to make the community as a whole stronger. And that’s what I view in the next 5 to 10 years in The Dancing Turtle.

My role here as a coach, at this stage in my life, is to be grounded and to grow roots, but I am here training warriors. I am training people like an MK or a Nightmare and encouraging them to go travel, go experience life, go make a name for themselves. When and if they decide to come back to New Mexico, it’s only going to make our entire community that much stronger!

Nightmare: I would like to finish by saying thank you to my mom and Check-It. They are really important in my life and I want them to know that. My mom, she takes me everywhere I need to be, on time, and 7 days out of the week. Maybe we get one day off. Maybe. She is always there for me.

K: Being in this parent liaison role, I hear a lot of parents be like, “I can’t do that.” And I tell them that I am doing it and so they can. And I know he [Check-It] is very strategic. He puts people in roles where they should be. Even at my age, he has helped me grow into a leader that I didn’t even know I was. I think it’s so sad that sometimes as adults, we forget how to be curious and that is why we are sad.

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Nightmare: Check-It is really strategic. He’s like a chess player!

K: We always trust him [Check-It]. We trust what he’s going to do. We may fight it. He puts us in strategic places where we are going to be able to grow and help the community out more.

C: I do have a chess board here in The Dancing Turtle [laughter]. Nightmare, MK, I love the two of you very much! I want you to know that. With everything that we do, with everything that you do, the history that we are creating will always be connected. I feel that it is important for people like MK and Nightmare have their moment to shine because they are amazing people. They have so many gems that they can share and wisdom that they can share with the community. The community needs this. We need people like this to be true leaders. Both in a local and global level. They really set the examples of how family should be. Having them here in the studio is truly an honor, because they don’t have to be here. They could be training with anyone else. They choose to be here. I know they have so many amazing things to say about the studio and myself, but the truth is that I appreciate them much more then they may know.

There has been times when The Dancing Turtle has been in some pretty rough moments, being a new business, and they came to the rescue. United in Hip-Hop was one of those moments. The business was almost at a point where we were not going to continue. We were not going to renew our lease. We were not going to continue teaching classes. And they came to the rescue through United in Hip-Hop. Without telling me, they made their event a fundraiser for the dance studio. Because of them and their hard work, we are still here. It’s community taking care of community. It takes a village… everyone plays a role from the youth to the elders. I love you guys for that.

Nightmare: Thank you Humans of New Mexico for doing a story on my current mentor/coach and my mom and myself. I also want to give respect to some people that are important. Number one has been the support of our family without their constant giving and encouragement none of this would be possible. To all of the teachers, dancers and friends in and out of state who have been giving and good to me and my mom. Some of my earlier mentors 1st teacher Pyro, then 3HC, UHF, Nato Rawk , Marshall’s, W508 , Zia queens, Manstorm, Tiger Style, Prophet, Trey, Jimmy, Joe , Chase, Tommy and so many more who have influenced my dance along the way – too many to name but equally important. Currently along with Check-It and my mom I have my god sister Amanda in Cali. My crew Flava Pheenz, and a very important mentor from California who always talks with me and guides me and stays with me when he visits New Mexico, my brother Artson. My mom and I are in debt to these people forever! I only hope I can be as great someday. We are United in Hip Hop we love our whole New Mexico community!

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Photo Credits: Jim Holbrook

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