If you haven’t heard of the JabbaWockeeZ, don’t worry, because you’ve probably already seen them. On any given day, these hip-hop dance maestros pop up on TV and computer screens around the world, captivating viewers with their ingeniously brazen dance moves and mysteriously looming masks. The JabbaWockeeZ were the first-season winners of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew and haven’t stopped dancing their way to the top since. In the past year, the hip-hop crew has gotten down at the NBA All-Star Game and been featured on numerous television commercials. Currently, the JabbaWockeeZ are on tour as openers for onetime teen idols the New Kids on the Block. The Indy‘s Sara Tan recently caught up with the JabbaWockeeZ’s Ben Chung to chat about his upcoming visit to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Friday, April 17, and in the hope that some of his skills would magically rub off (which sadly, they did not).
So, who would you say works the ladies more, New Kids on the Block or the JabbaWockeeZ?
[Laughs.] I don’t know - that’s a tough question. I would have to say it’s kind of equal. We have a younger fan base and the New Kids have their fans, [who] are kind of an older, more mature audience. But doing these shows together is kind of funny because their fans are becoming our fans and, at the same time, some of our fans that have never listened to NKOTB are becoming fans of them as well. It’s kind of a cool thing, combining our forces together.
How’d you guys land such a cool gig? Well, Phil already had a friendship with Jordan [Knight]. We were approached by NKOTB; they thought it would be a good idea for us to be a supporting act. Things sort of just worked out - we talked to the right people, took a chance on it, and it turned out to be successful.
Were you guys fans of New Kids on the Block growing up? Definitely. Being a kid growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I had a sister who was a huge New Kids fan, which made me a fan : the other guys, too. We grew up in the era where New Kids were the first guys do the boy band thing and be a huge influence on the pop scene. But, yes, I’m not embarrassed to say that I am a fan.
What’s the best part about going on tour? This isn’t our first tour, but it is the first tour that [includes] the entire crew. When we went on tour for America’s Best Dance Crew, there were only six of us. This show has the entire group on the road, in the bus, traveling across the country. Our crew is first and foremost a family - we are brothers and for us to experience this together is an amazing thing. We’re best friends. For us to do what we do, love what we do, see the world with each other, it really is a blessing. Not too many people can say that they can travel the world and see all these places and perform in front of large audiences and have them really love what we’re doing.
All we’re doing is putting our hearts on stage. It’s such a great feeling to do something you love to do, express your heart, and to have someone say they love it and appreciate the very thing that drives us. We’re performing in large venues and a lot of our fans that have been supporting us since ABDC come to the show just to support us. But we also have people come up to us who have never heard of us before and tell us how much they love what we’re doing. I think we are creating something big.
I’ve never really heard of a dance crew opening for a musical artist. Why do you guys think that this has never been done before? That’s a really good point. I’ve also never heard of a dance act opening up for a musical artist before. Not to say we’re the best dancers in the world, but I think what JabbaWockeeZ does and what we bring, as far as an entertaining show, is different. We incorporate all types of music, even though we are labeled as a hip-hop crew. If you watch us, you’ll see we have pop music, hip-hop, classical, everything. The type of show we like to do is where we can move to any type of music.
The element of us wearing uniform costumes and masks make it seem like a bunch of clones are dancing because no one knows who is who. It almost makes us seem kind of un-human, if that makes sense. People tell us they feel like they’re watching a real life cartoon. People are even saying we’re kind of like a new and improved Blue Man Group. But I think it’s more than that. We’re doing what we love to do. We’re focusing on music and movement. We were talking to Donnie [Wahlberg] and he was telling us that as soon as he saw us on MTV, he knew that we were something brand new that the world needed to see. He told us he was a fan of the show. He was the one that was pushing us the most
About that uniformity; how did you guys come up with the masks? Isn’t it hard to see or breathe behind those? Gary Kendall was one of the members of our crew who passed away before we were on America’s Best Dance Crew. It was his idea. It was something that he kind of did when he would do shows by himself. One day, randomly, he decided to throw on a mask and got such a great response from the audience, so when we formed the crew, he brought that idea up. People wouldn’t know who was who and it seemed like a fun way to perform. But it is very difficult. The first time we used the masks, we all said to each other, “I can barely breathe or see.” It really is the case, but I think after awhile, when you start dancing with it, you start getting used to it. It’s more a feeling that you have; everyone can just sense each other around.
I absolutely loved your performance with Shaq during the NBA All-Star Game and I also caught a peek at some videos of you guys dancing with Dwayne Wade and Kevin Garnett. So tell me, who’s a better dancer, Dwayne, Kevin, or Shaq? Kevin Garnett seems like he’s a dancer. He had technique and you can tell that back in the day, he probably got down. I’m going to have to say KG.
So, what can we expect to see from you guys in the future? As far as the JabbaWockeeZ, you can obviously expect to see us on tour. But also, we have a clothing line that we’re working on. You can find it at Macy’s or buy it online. We have a lot of new clothes coming out.
As far as dancing [goes], we’re really trying to push a bigger production show. What we’re doing with New Kids was our test run. If this works, we want to develop a larger show. You’ll definitely see us more on tour, doing stage shows and performances. There are a lot of other big things, but nothing I can reveal yet. But, if you ever want to know about us, hop on our Web site.
Have you guys ever been to Santa Barbara? Are you planning on coming out to the clubs to show us what you’ve got? I have been to Santa Barbara. It’s beautiful. I actually used to come up all the time to one of the skate parks when I used to skate. But, yes, we look forward to coming up and hopefully spending some time on the beach.