Let’s wind back the clock. It’s the early 1980s and four street kids from the Treme and the 7th Ward find themselves – as so many of their teenage contemporaries did – consumed by the tectonic shifts in their culture, their music, their art.
They see the movies about people like them, hear music by people like them, wear clothes made and sold by people like them. And they dance.
Oh, man, do they dance.
They teach themselves the new moves and grooves busting out of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. Popping, locking, slipping and sliding. They practice – a lot. They hurt themselves – a lot more.
When they feel like they’re ready, they cut themselves a huge black and white square of checkerboard linoleum kitchen flooring and drag it over to Bourbon Street in the afternoons, after school.
They call themselves the Dragon Master Showcase. And they dance. On their feet, hips, elbows, knees, hands and heads. To categorize their act as mere break dancing doesn’t do it justice. It’s so much more – a frenetic routine of gymnastics, acrobatics, ballet and gags.
They work hard. They draw big crowds, make good money. They get noticed. They get signed. They do a long-term residency in Las Vegas. They tour the world for 10 years with the UniverSoul Circus. They perform for Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
It all started when Ronald Reagan was in his first term as President. Drew Brees was in diapers. Most telephones were avocado green. And the rest is – as they say – well, not quite history. Not yet.
Fast forward to 2019. Those “street kids” are now parents, grandparents. And they are still dragging that raggedy-ass linoleum square out to Bourbon Street and Washington Artillery Park three or four days a week, for three or four shows a day.
They’re still popping and locking, breaking and rocking. And not one of them has ever cashed a paycheck, had a boss or had to call anyone sir.
Well, except the cops who sometimes run them off the street.
The Dragon Master Showcase has been from the start: L’il Countrie, C-Los, Page1-NE, and Mr. Wild Style. Our own Boyz from the Hood. Still using a boom box, after all these years.
The youngest of the group is Wild Style – Patrick Anderson – 48-years-old with two grandchildren. The other three are in their 50s. For anyone who thinks Brees is too old to play football, at 40, go watch what these guys do.
All the stupid cliches come to mind. Death-defying! Acrobatic feats of astounding endurance! You won’t believe your eyes! And if you knew how old they were, you certainly wouldn’t.
But they still look like kids. Ripped. The kicks. The grills. The bandanas and sweats. The music. The jokes. And the cardboard boxes still filling up with money.
I first saw these guys on the street when I moved to New Orleans in 1984. When I saw them last month pulling off the same moves, the same stunts, the same show well, truthfully, it made me want to go home and take some ibuprofen and lie down.
But also find out how the hell they have pulled this off, how they can still do this approaching what some call…the sunset years.
Retired from the road, they keep it local now. “At this point, it’s not just for the money anymore,” Anderson says. “It’s still just so much fun.”
Lady Gaga said it well and perhaps best: Live for the applause, applause, applause. It’s a hard thing to give up.
So they don’t. Page 1-NE is currently sidelined from the group. He blew out a hamstring last year during a show. It was a bad landing after jumping over 12 people. All at the same time.
Try that, Tom Brady.
With the money he saved from dancing on the street all those years ago, Anderson put his wife Linda – his grade school sweetheart – through nursing school. But she worries about the risk of it all now, the injuries.
Linda tells him now: “Baby, it’s my turn. If you want to stop, I’ll pick it up from here.” He says he’s giving it thought.
“It doesn’t feel like it did when we were 25, that’s for sure,” he laughs. “Sometimes it hurts a little more.”
So that nursing school tuition might turn out to be the best investment he ever made. Other than that raggedy-ass sheet of linoleum they still drag around – the stage that gave the Dragon Master Showcase the world to see, to conquer.