Adrian Alicea’s family moved from the rain forest of Puerto Rico to the Bronx when he was three-years old. As a young kid and adolescent, he was popping/locking in the Bronx (“yeah, always a Bronx boy”).
From watching TV Olympics, and classical dance on PBS/Dance in America he was inspired: “We were too poor to afford dance classes so I just trained myself. Every day I did something else – a push up, a sit up, a split, a stretch, something.” In 1988 he saw Willi Ninja Vogueing at the Palladium Club and quickly learned how to Vogue and joined the “House of Ninja,” performing at the clubs and on concert-stages.
Alicea, at 6’ 3” (“pretty tall for a Puerto Rican,” he laughs) was known for his stretch, elegant lines and precise placements. In Check Your Body at the Door. the performs an eccentric “banjee” form of popping/locking-Vogueing.
From Vogueing, he worked as a runway model with top European designers Thierry Mugler, Paul Gaultier, then with Yohji Yammamato and Patricia Field. He shifted into fashion photography and design, and in 2001 co-founded “Nico & Adrian,” a New York-based fashion label of ready-to-wear and couture designs, for men and women, from underwear to outerwear, as seen in magazines including Vogue Italia and Vogue Russia, In Style, Spoon, Numero and GQ.
In 2011, he launched his own fashion line, “Adrian Alicea.”
Cindylee “Asia” Moon
Cindylee “Asia” Moon, moved from Korea to NYC's East Village. Bound by her Korean family’s traditional views about the female roles she rebelled, struggling to define her new Americanized "body and soul." The Salsa and street Hip-Hop bursting out in the lower east side "were the most exciting things I'd ever seen," and Asia immediately started tagging along with friends to clubs when she was about ten years old. Fundamentally self-taught, she mimicked what she saw on TV (“how I also learned English”), picking up styles ranging from Baryshnikov and ballet to MTV to Hip Hop/rap (Asia is also a rhymer).
She attended LaGuardia High school of Music and the Performing Arts (she is also a visual artist), where she was on the gymnastic team her sophomore year, and, she also took some classes at Alvin Ailey. Restless and curious she kept moving from "club to club," in all five boroughs, searching for great music and dancers from House to Reggae to Salsa and jazz. Describing her style, she notes: “I’ve taken so many different kind of dance classes and mimicking from TV -- there’s no name for it. If there is a phrase to describe the way I dance, I feel the beat, the rhythm, like bongo drums in every part of my body; [I] will move with the drum beat.” About three years after filming Check Your Body at the Door, Asia went “Missing In Action” as the expression goes in the club community.
The other dancers’ reactions to this became an important part of the film. However, Asia reconnected to the House community after 2007, coming back as a successful actress and having toured Korea and Europe as a dancer. Now an actress in film, TV, and theater, she has worked with such directors as Spike Lee, David Platt, appearing on “Law and Order,” the “Chappelle Show,” the “Cosby Show,” “Sex & the City” (among many others).
Iriena Herrera was inspired to dance as a young child by her mother and aunt, both of whom were great Salsa dancers. A native of NYC’s Lower East Side she grew up in the hotbed of dance activity in the Alfred Smith Housing Projects. Herrera started clubbing when she was about 13-years old.
"Dancing was the one area of my life I was always proud of, the only thing in my life I could always do right” she remarks. “You can’t take that away from me.” During the filming of Check Your Body at the Door Herrera was in full control of her life and her dancing during a long period of remission from her drug addiction, as she openly talks about in the film.
As an activist and social worker in the early 1990s, she worked in a drug outreach program of the Hispanic Aids Forum in the Bronx. Her goal was to reach out to women-at-risk in order to address their specific health needs. Currently “Missing In Action” the Check Your body at the Door family sends out love and support wherever she might be.
Kris Buxenbaum was born and raised in Brooklyn and studied martial arts since he was 13-years old. He took some dance classes in high school, and started club-dancing seriously when he was 18-years old. He goes to clubs to relax: “I grew up in Brooklyn. I can see a shooting any time. So why go out on the weekend and see it again?”
Buxenbaum was seeking a good time, a place to dance and not “worry about beating somebody up, or being beaten up, or worry about someone’s bruised ego.” He found that kind of ambience in the early days at the Garage then, very soon afterwards, at the Loft, which became his real dance home. He met Archie and Bravo and all the Loft(ers) and worked, for a while, for DJ David Mancuso, the brilliant DJ and host of the Loft. “It was a family-type atmosphere,” he explains, where the dancing evolved from “hanging out, and we built off of everyone.”
Buxenbaum loved the “freedom of expression, physically, that you had -- which I had never experienced before. I enjoyed being able to walk around on my hands and do splits and not have people sit and stare at me like I was a lab specimen.” Buxenbaum signature moves are his soft yet precise 180-degree stretches that he uses vertically, horizontally, and when in his split-leaps or straddles-out on the floor. Attentive to his body’s form, his arms are balanced, and his big movements connect to each other with small two-steps. Buxenbaum has been a martial-arts instructor and personal trainer for many years.
Currently he is trainer/owner of his own training studio, “Strivers Fitness” where he follows a philosophy of personalizing the moves to best develop the individual’s mind and body.
Courtney “French” Ffrench
Courtney “French” Ffrench was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Early on he watched his cousin’s ballet classes when she was babysitting him, although “I wasn’t really interested in that.” But when he 12-years old, he saw the Hustle as it was performed by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, which interested him greatly. Once he perfected his personalized version of the dance, the somewhat introverted Ffrench won a dance contest at school. “So from 12 on, I pretty much danced every day, even without music.”
He came to the states in 1984 -- and suffered major culture shock. In order to draw the shy Courtney out of his shell, another cousin took him to Club Zanzibar, where DJ Tony Humphries was spinning. Then Ffrench went to the Tunnel. He flourished in the vibrant NYC House dance/music scene, where Hip Hop, House, Voguing, and dances influenced by Salsa/ Merengue, the Hustle, martial arts and African classicism existed side by side. He felt free to blend multiple styles, ranging from popular-music videos (Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul) to African to House dancing styles of other great House dancers, like Bravo LaFortune, Ron Brown (a concert-dance choreographer and club dancer) and Keith “Shades” Williams. The result was Ffrench’s eclectic, unique style, unlike any other in the House-dance scene, as is seen in Check Your Body at the Door.
Ffrench began pursuing his BA in Media Arts from CUNY/ Queens College, which he received, and he worked with “Forces of Nature Dance Company,” re-connecting himself to his Afro-Caribbean roots. In 1997 Ffrench founded hisVISSI dance company. Choreographically, he maintains the same eclecticism as in his House dancing, weaving African traditional dance, freestyle club variations, contemporary modern dance into “a spiritual lock of expression and emotion.”
A playwright and author he published a book, Tide and Tears, in 2005 (Google Courtney Ffrench).
Omar “Kash” Kashim Henry
Omar “Kash” Kashim Henry is currently “Missing In Action.” He was in his early twenties when Check Your Body at the Door was filming at Lincoln Center’s Clark Studio Theater at Julliard. Born and raised in the Bronx and Manhattan, “Kash,” as he liked to be called, was a friend of Asia Moon.
Self-taught, Henry’s story follows the same paths of learning as the other self-taught freestylers. He began dancing when he was about seven-years old, learning from the TV, old movies with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and watching all the dance-variety shows on television, picking up information from MTV and the classical dancing he watched on PBS/Dance in America. Growing up in the Bronx and Manhattan during the explosions of street dancing, with its magnificent inventions quickly-evolving styles, he hung out on the streets.
Yet, he does not make the claim that he was ever a break dancer. However, he adds, “I always, watched. I always listened. I always learned.” Generous and observant “I credit my peers and everybody in this documentary.” Like his club-elder, Brahms “Bravo” LaFortune, Henry says: “It’s how you feel when you do it. You might think you did nothing at all. But a person looking at it says, ‘Oh, that was nice! That was slick! Let me try that in my dance routine.’” Henry realized value all around him in everyday people, in everyday motion.
Willy Pinedo was dancing strong and hard during the 1970s when he was 15-years old. He was also part of a group called “The City Slickers” who accompanied all the DJs to heat up the floor. But even now, he says, “You know it’s weird. Because, wherever I go, whatever club I go to, I can always clear a floor-- not because I’m better than them, but it’s because my style is different, it has a different kind of feeling.” The 1930’s and 1940’s movie-musical dancers like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers inspired Pinedo inspired him. His own style is “a kind of fast-type of ‘soft shoe.’
My favorite moves are doing quick steps and jumping into splits. Of course you can’t dance like them. But you can do it your way.” Pinedo’s generation bridged the last of the disco era and the beginning of the strong House-dance scene -- which was the same generation that populated the early 1970’s Loft scene. In 1974-5 he went to the Loft for the first time “in a suit,” because a very popular dance at the time was the New York Latin-style Hustle, where the women spin out and are quickly twirled back, her skirts flying. At the Loft, however, “everyone was in sweat pants and sneakers!” When he looked over the crowd, he saw the communal vibe: “They all seemed to gel. It was amazing” (he never wore a suit again). Pinedo is adamant about correcting current misconceptions being perpetuated about the so-called “Loft” style. “‘Loft’ is all kinds of dancing. It’s not just one dance. I mean you stereotype it and call it ‘Loft dances.’ But a Loft dancer has got jazz in him, he’s got gymnastics in him, he does anything and everything. That’s the way a Loft dancer used to dance.”
Pinedo has worked for the US Postal Service for many years. Trim and flexible, Pinedo is still physically fit and dancing. “They think I’m crazy at the post office because I’m always moving around. I’ll pick up a piece of mail and I’ll put my leg up and stretch out. You know, I keep myself in shape.” Long before wearing tattoos was common Pinedo designed a special tattoo for his arm spelling “Loft it Out.” “I was at my prime and I just wanted to remember and it will always be there.”
William “Quick” Reynolds
William “Quick” Reynolds is a New Yorker and self-taught House dancer. He has an unusual rhythmic sense, riding the longest lines of the musical pulse, purposely staying in tempo, then going off tempo but eventually coming back, exactly on the beat. The body is always relaxed, and his signature moves are multiple, fast barrel-turns, performed low to the floor, his body making spirals as he inscribes a larger circular pattern on the floor. Reynolds began serious club dancing with his brother when he was 16, learning on the spot, in the clubs.
He originally went to the Tunnel “to observe stuff, to see what was going on, and it felt real good. So every week I went. I tried to get a little bit better and better, and learned how to dance, just a little bit more, each time.” He is inspired by movement and “I don’t know too many people’s names. I respect the moves.” Like most Househeads, he admires smooth, powerful phrases “but it has to have balance, have a little technique to the style.”
Reynolds describes the physical and improvised dialogues of the cipher not just as “battling,” but as “playing with somebody. I mean, can you do that by yourself? Isn’t it about that give and take? Between you and that person?” This parallels the “play” sensibility of the capoeria’s roda, and it also describes the inclusive vibe of House, which is different to the hard competition of Hip Hop ciphers.
Reynolds sums up his commitment wth these words: “I think everybody was born with something they can do. And dancing is just what I was meant to do.”