Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quiñones is a man who needs little introduction. In the world of dance and pop culture, he is a legendary figure. As am award-winning Choreographer/Director , he has amassed an impressive 30 plus years of experience in the entertainment industry. Shabba-Doo has worked extensively in creative and executive production capacities for highly successful feature films, television shows, major concert tours, and Broadway musical theater productions. In the early 1970’s, Shabba-Doo, danced his way into a lucrative professional career, making his initial mark as a founding member of the legendary street-dance troupe, The Lockers, forefathers of contemporary urban dance (Hip-Hop).
After several successful years with the fabled troupe, Shabba-Doo embarked on a stand-out solo career, starring in and choreographing a string of high-profile internationally televised specials and feature films, including: Breakin’ (Cannon/MGM); Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (Cannon/Tri-Star Pictures); Lambada…Set The Night On Fire (Warner Bros.); and The Big Show (NBC). The success of his trend-setting, box-office smashes impelled the authoritative Dance Magazine to dub Shabba-Doo “Hip-Hop’s first matinee idol.” This distinguished recognition of his visionary dance talents, led to collaborative working relationships with a wide-range of superstars such as Madonna, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, Bill Cosby and even ole blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra!
Shabba-Doo isn’t the type of artist to sit back and let life pass him by. To broaden his artistic scope, he attended the world-renowned American Film Institute as a Directing Fellow. Upon his subsequent graduation, he secured the financing, co-wrote, choreographed, and made his directorial debut with the independent feature film Rave…Dancing to a Different Beat, distributed by New Line Cinema. His thirst to create lead to the formation of Cognitive Media LLC, a California based corporation that integrates new media technologies and practices with traditional filmmaking methods to efficiently produce visually stimulating entertainment and marketing packages that will enlighten a global audience. In addition to inter-media production activities, Cognitive Media offers specialized theater art workshops, and related seminars. Shabba-Doo has recently conducted master classes and performed in Poland, in Russia for HHI-Russia, in Rome, London and Wales and will be conducting master classes in Sweden, Rome and the UK again this fall. Additionally, a Street Dance Instructor Certification Program is offered to qualified dancers. This 12 week master program certifies teachers in Lockin’ 5.0 and Waackin’. He has several projects currently in development including a reality-dance competition television series and “Planet Dance,” a reality series focused on global dance. Shabba-Doo’s recent choreography projects include the Yari Film Group production “Kickin’ It Old Skool,” starring Jamie Kennedy, now on DVD, and a music video for rising star J McCoy.
Even with 40 years of entertaining under his belt, it seems his incredible story has only just begun as this ever-evolving performer has his sights set on new horizons. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Shabba-Doo to discuss his early years, his never-ending dedication to his craft, the career milestones which pave his epic career, the 35th anniversary of Breakin’, his upcoming film; ‘A Breakin’ Uprising’ and much more!
Your work has had a tremendous impact on pop culture and people around the globe. Let’s start by going all the way back to your early years. What are some of your first memories of music and dance in your life?
When I was three or four years old, I used to dance for my family at parties and holidays for change. I grew up in a mixed household, part Puerto Rican and part Black, so I would listen to James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Tito Puente, all in the same moment.
Who would you cite as some of your biggest influences in those early years?
In terms of what I was watching on television, which was my main influence, we used to have musicals playing on Saturday morning television. My early influences were Cab Calloway, The Nicholas Brothers, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Ray Bolger, who was one of my favorites, and of course, James Brown. James Brown was a huge influence, along with Jackie Wilson. Those were my influences in terms of dance when I was growing up.
What was it about dance that drew you to it and ultimately lead you to pursue it professionally?
Ya know, I guess it was in my blood. Again, even at three and four years old, I just had a natural connection to dance. As I got older, my younger sister Fawn, who was also Soul Train Gang members, we used to dance together as a duo all over Chicago. Dance was just something that was in my blood. My Mom would dance and music was always playing. Music has always been a part of me and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t!
For those who don’t know, how did you end up with the name Shabba-Doo?
Before we were The Lockers, we were all friends, associates or rivals in some way, dancing in the night clubs in and around the Crenshaw strip in Los Angeles. My street dance name at that time was Sir Lance-A-Lock. So, I am dancing in this club that is famous for locking called The Summit on the Hill on Crenshaw Boulevard. The club was next to a motel called The Summit Motel. We called the area, The Summit. One night the R&B group Bloodstone was playing. In those days, we didn’t really dance to records. Records were something that were played in between the band’s set, so the band would have a little break or whatever. I had grown up dancing primarily to live music. Bloodstone was playing and they started riffing with “Shabba-Dabba-Do-Bop, Shabba-Dabba-Doo, Shabba-Dabba-Do-Bop-Bam!” I said to Greg “Campbellock Jr.” Pope, I want to change my name. He said, “What do you want to change it to?” I said “Shabba-Dabba-Do-Bop.” He said “Well, uh, that is a little long.” [laughs] He then shortened it. He said, “Why don’t you call yourself Shabba-Doo?” It has been kind of an evolution with the spelling of my name and the actual pronunciation of my name over time. Before it was just Shabadoo. I would spell it Shabadoo and now it is spelled Shabba-Doo. It happened around 1972, when my name was changed from Sir Lance-A-Lock to Shabba-Doo, which is the name that everyone knows at this point.
You mentioned “Soul Train,” which was a big part of your career early on. How did you get involved with the show originally and what impact did it have on you as a performer at that stage in the game?
“Soul Train” originally started in Chicago. It was broadcast on a UHF channel. My sister and I made an appearance on that show. When it moved from Chicago to California, shortly after, because I was a bit of a wayward kid and my Mom wanted a new environment for us, moved us to California. It was there where we entered a contest at the Black Student Union. It was in that contest where we met what would later become one of our fellow Lockers, Campbell Lock Jr.. We became friends that night. He took first place and my sister and I took second place. We went on “Soul Train” within a few weeks of that contest and became part of the original Soul Train Gang.
How did the transition from Chicago to Los Angeles impact you?
Oh yeah, it was a big transition. In Chicago, the Midwest and New York, in those days we didn’t have social media and a lot of the things which connect people instantaneously like we do now. We had different styles across the country. In Chicago and New York, we would wear clothes for autumn, winter, spring and summer. That was one thing! [laughs] When we got to California, people just spoke differently. I remember the first time someone called me “Guy.” I was like, what is a “Guy?” We didn’t use words like that. We would call each other “brother.” We didn’t hear black people calling other people “guy.” Like, “Hey, guy. Do this or that.” That was really odd to me. The choices of clothing were odd to me, you know, in the Fall, people wearing lime green shirts and things! [laughs] It was odd to us! We were like “What is this?” California was a big, colorful and flamboyant place. A lot of those outfits that I became famous wearing, we wouldn’t be caught dead in while in Chicago! Basically, people would have thought we were weird! [laughs] We grew up in the inner city, Cabrini-Green projects and ghettos of Chicago, where you were very conscious and aware of what you wore and how you appeared to other people in the neighborhood. We wouldn’t wear some wear some of those things or talk they way they did in California because we would be considered soft and would lead to a lot of bullying, fighting and so forth.
The period of time where you were on “Soul Train” and with The Lockers were certainly interesting and productive times. What are some of the highlights that spring to mind?
Throughout my forty plus year career as a dancer, I have had baskets full of highlights. Of course, being on “Soul Train” and being one of the original members of The Soul Train Gang was certainly a highlight. The actual formation of The Lockers as the first professional street dance troop was definitely a highlight. Working with Frank Sinatra was an incredible moment for me. We opened for “Old Blue Eyes” at Carnegie Hall and having Frank basically summon us to his dressing room was mind-blowing! I had met James Brown on “Soul Train” and that was certainly big as well but meeting Frank Sinatra was something extraordinary to me! [laughs] Opening for Dean Martin at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas was another highlight. Being a co-presenter on the Grammy Awards with Aretha Franklin, “Soul Sister Number One,” and presenting the award for best disco song of the year was amazing. The song, by the way, was “Fly, Robin, Fly” by The Silver Connection. The Lockers, we were co-presenters with Aretha Franklin, which was mind-blowing. There were so many of those types of moments with everyone we would meet; working with Bill Cosby, Cab Calloway, Lucille Ball, and Dick Van Dyke. It just keeps going on and on and on. It is a gift that I have been fortunate enough to receive and it just keeps on giving. Every day is a highlight! As an example, I have a weekly class and workshop. Working with kids every week, I must say, is a true highlight for me! It is something very special and dear to me; working with young lives and talent. It is another whole space and set of highlights that is difficult for me to describe. It is other-worldly.
You accomplished a lot with The Lockers but eventually you all went your separate ways. What can you tell us about that time period and the process of going solo? Was that a challenge for you?
Yes, it was a challenge. It was a challenge and it was a bitter breakup as well. The breakup had overtones of “The Five Heartbeats” to it, the film with Robert Townsend. At one point, within The Lockers, Toni Basil had gone off to pursue a recording career. Fred Berry, who we called The Penguin but the world knows him as “Rerun” went on to do “What’s Happening” series. I was just kind of saddled with the management responsibility. I was basically guiding the group at that point. Two of the guys, Campbell Lock, Jr. and Leo “Fluky Luke” Williamson approached Don “Campbellock” Campbell and said “Hey, we want Shabba-Doo to be formally the leader and manager of the group.” Of course, that didn’t sit well with Don and he threw a conniption fit and said “Why don’t you go form your own group and call it The Shabba-Doos.” I said “Ya know, OK. Why don’t I just do that?” Our last show was the Dick Van Dyke Show. We were rehearsing in my garage and I was living in Anaheim at the time. I finished the show and went solo. It was a bit scary and bad because I had been with them from the beginning. It was a tearful moment but I got my first major break out of the chute as a soloist with Bette Midler and her “Divine Madness” show. I had also been working as the lead dancer and assistant choreographer with Toni Basil and her “Follies Bizarre” show and touring with her with her hit song, “Mickey.” The rest is history. I did the show on Broadway with Bette Midler and was discovered by a friend, the late Steve Allen, who was doing a television series for NBC. I met with the executive producer and I was given my own television series with the late Nell Carter and Graham Chapman of “Monty Python.” I would choreograph and star in these huge numbers. I did the collaboration with David Winters of “West Side Story.” Everything just took off from there!
It is amazing to hear about all the talented folks you worked with through the years. I can only imagine it was a terrific learning experience.
Yes! It was magical and awe inspiring!
That leads us to the period of time you are best known for. It is hard to believe it is the 30th anniversary of the release of Breakin’. How did you get involved with the project and did you have any idea the film would become the cult hit that it did?
First off, I have to tell you I am absolutely thrilled to be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the film and I share this feeling with my other cast members. It is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and knowing we did something really quite unique and something that will be remembered by generations to come. I feel extremely grateful and blessed to be able to have that as an asterisk on my resume because ‘Breakin” was more than just a dance film; it launched a cultural revolution. In that way, there is no other feeling quite like it. In terms of whether or not I thought the movie would have been a success back then; absolutely I did. I already had some fame going into the film, more so than any of my other cast members who were basically in my dance crew; Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers, Bruno “Pop ‘N Taco” Falcon, Ana Sánchez and Lil Coco were all part of my dance crew. I also had my extended family like Timothy “Popin’ Pete” Solomon and The Electric Boogaloos and those types who were in my shows. I knew it was going to be a hit. I felt it! I knew that it would be. I knew that the time had come and finally the respect level was there. Sure enough, opening night was something to see on Hollywood Boulevard! Seeing the lines wrapped around the building; doubled! The film went on to pull in more than a million and a half dollars a day after that. It is quite remarkable because there was no social networking, no cross platform marketing and all of that. It was basically an independent film that went event picture all of a sudden! It was a sleeper hit!
What stood out as some of the biggest challenges you faced on set and in bringing the film to life?
The long hours that it takes to make a film, the grueling rehearsals and the touring to promote the film are challenging. I don’t think people are aware of what it takes to make a motion picture and to do a film that resonates with so many people. It was just really hard work. It was lots of fun, don’t get me wrong! I had lots of fun there but it was grueling at times and a difficult film to make.
After your many successes in the 70s and 80s, you stepped away from the spotlight for a bit in the 90s to pursue an education in screenwriting and filmmaking. Was that an easy decision to make for you and what can you tell us about that period of time?
The 90s, for me, are what I like to call my personal growth period. I was raising my children; I have a daughter and a son. I wanted to spend a little bit more time with them. I also went to School at AFI (American Film Institute) because I wanted to make films. I still do! I am in love with making films. I just didn’t have the skill set. I had worked as a choreographer and done some pretty major things in working with Lionel Ritchie, Madonna and so forth but I wanted to know how to make films from the ground up. I wanted to understand every aspect of filmmaking from seeing the idea, committing it to paper, writing the screenplay and what it takes in terms of putting together the right team necessary to produce a film. That is an education! Going to AFI was a humbling experience because I was in my 40s in school with kids half my age. I was a rare case for AFI. Their prerequisite was you must have a BA to attend because it is a post-graduate university. However, they equated my dance career equal to a BA or better and allowed me to attend. That was quite an interesting point in my life. I learned a lot going to AFI and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. The 90s saw me working on films, working on my craft, working on my abilities and reemerging. I lived in Tokyo for a few years. I ran and operated my own dance studio there. Around 2001 to 2002, I started to make the moves to come back out and make my presence known again!
Where are you now when it comes to your filmmaking projects?
I have written a screenplay and we are putting together financing packages together for it right now. The film is called A Breakin’ Uprising. It will be the accurate description of a street dancer. It will be much different from the ‘Step Up’ films. I would liken my screenplay, tone wise, to something like 8 Mile, which was more of an accurate depiction of a rapper than Rappin’, which was made by Cannon Films with Mario Van Peebles. It is what it is! [laughs] But then you have 8 Mile, which is closer if not being totally accurate about how rap kind of starts for people. I have taken that road, a very dramatic sort of approach, to the film. It will have break dancing and all those things in it. Enough with the dancing on Hummers and bungee cording of buildings and things like that! I think dancing is strong enough to hold its own and we don’t need all of this trickery. I am glad for Michael Chu and his ‘Step Up’ films, which in my opinion, are just derivatives of Breakin’. That is great, they are cotton candy versions and God bless him for that. However, I want a fair and accurate depiction of the life of a street dancer. We are shooting to roll camera for A Breakin’ Uprising in 2015. Originally, we were trying to shoot in the Fall of 2014 and it maybe rushing it a bit. The film, in my screenplay, is set in Chicago not Los Angeles. It is a different environment. Everyone has done New York and LA. I know that Chicago is a hidden gem, so I set the picture in Chicago.
That feeds into my next question. In the 70s and 80s, the dancers were really the focal point, as opposed to being in the background. Do you feel we are moving into a period of time where dancers are starting to take center stage once more and does that play into your timing for this film?
Yeah, I think you are exactly right. I think the world is going back and wants to go back to what is real. I think the world wants dance to be the focal point and not all of this nonsense with trick to a reward choreography that you see on scene today. I think people are looking for something a little more substantial. Structurally, I look at Breakin’,and I am aware of its structural problems in terms of its narrative and that sort of stuff but one thing was true is that the people in the leads, myself and Boogaloo Shrimp, were real dancers. You can tell that we were real and that is what people hung their hats on! That is what kept people coming back and keeps people looking for our film today. They appreciate that it is real. They say “This isn’t just actors playing dancers. These are real dancers in the lead roles.” Lucinda Dickey was also a dancer, a jazz dancer. Again, you get a sense when you watch it that you are seeing something real and not make believe. That is what people feel in love with.
It is truly inspiring to see how far you have come in your career. What do you consider your biggest evolution through the years and what is the biggest lesson to be learned from your life and times?
My biggest evolution was my education. That was a game changer for me. If I could tell anyone out there one thing; it’s that working on your craft is great, having the desire is great, passion is great but the match that ignites it all is education. Go to school, know your craft, know how it works and be in control of your destiny! Don’t just show up for the audition. Know how it works. Be the instigator for your projects and ideas. Education is everything. I think that is true for me as a person; I became more educated as a person about life and people through education and then my acceptance broadened. I don’t have to agree with you, your behavior or lifestyle but I do seek to understand. Through my understanding and education of lifestyles and choices, then we can stand on a level playing field. As a person, I found that to be true for me and that is propelling me forward. It has made me a better person and the key ingredient is education.
Obviously, you get to do a lot of interviews about your life. We have covered a tremendous amount of ground today alone. Have you ever given thought to telling your story in the form of an autobiography?
Actually, we have a book in the works and also a documentary. I think they will be bundled as a package; the documentary and the book. I have been approached by a couple of investors about doing a picture on my life. It would start from the late 60s and carry through to the 80s or 90s. That would be terrific as well. The interesting thing would be finding the right person to play Shabba-Doo in the movie. Obviously, it wouldn’t be me! [laughs] We would have to find some kid to play me when I was 16 years old through my 20s and 30s. You know most people don’t realize when I first started “Breakin’,” the character was written as an 18 or 19 year old and I was 30 years old then.
You definitely do not show you age! Even in recent photos, you don’t look your age. You must be doing something right! That could be a whole different book! [laughs]
Yeah! Right! [laughs] I have to give all the credit to my parents because I really didn’t do anything! I just kinda showed up! It’s good genetics! I was in a meeting recently for a project and the person I was meeting with was a high level executive. We were discussing the project and I said something like “I have been doing this for forty some years.” He said, “Wait. How old are you?” I said, “I am 59 years old.” He said “No way!” He actually rushed over and looked at my face about a foot away. He was really examining me.” He said, “I can’t believe that! What are you doing?” I said, “its genetics or dancing. I don’t know!” [laughs] I don’t know how it came about but here it is! [laughs]
You mentioned earlier that teaching has become a big part of what you do. What can you tell us about what you have happening there?
I am starting on thing, which is the brainchild of my publicist, which is called “The Shining Star Award.” In recognition of the youth who are trying to better themselves through education and dance, we are going to go around the country and give out twelve of these awards per year. I am really excited about it. The other thing I have been up to is an artist in residency position at the Performing Arts Center in Van Nuys, California. I offer affordable classes young people and adults who can’t normally afford my level of training. That is every Saturday between 12 and 3:30 PM at 7932 Haskell Avenue, Van Nuys, California 91406. For more information, call 818-779-0428. When it comes to charity work, I love talking to the kids. I get calls from parents asking me to speak with their kids. I will call their kids quietly and talk to them one on one.
That is awesome! It is always terrific to see someone who has had so much success continue to give back! Thanks so much for your time today, Shabba-Doo! I look forward to talking with you again very soon!
Absolutely! I have a few things in the works that are really tasty but I haven’t signed the contract just yet, so I don’t want to say anything to soon. When it’s time, I will contact you and we will definitely pick this up where we left off!
Amazing! Thanks so much!
Take care, Jason! Talk to you soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.