Dancing for a spot on ABDC
By Jeannie Rodriguez
All-Stars Tumbling Gym is located in the heart of South Miami, harboring young talent in a small, inconspicuous warehouse. The laughter and screams of about two dozen cheerleaders can be heard from the outside as they practice routines on a spring floor that covers the majority of the room.
When the cheerleaders are gone, the gym becomes the practice site for a group of six young Miami break dancers. They call themselves Illmatik Phlow.
Four of the six members are current or former Miami Dade College students.
The group’s unofficial leader, Mario Toledo, steers Alain Marquez, Christian Olmtak, Jonathan Rivero, Rodolfo Feliciano, and the newest member, John Arias, in their quest for a little respect.
While Toledo was dancing for Ground Zero, a break dancing crew established in 1996, he found himself wanting to be more than just your average b-boy.
He didn’t only want to break; he wanted to dance. And we’re not talking about your local b-boy jam. He wanted to go big. America’s Best Dance Crew kind of big.
With their own priorities in mind, Toledo knew the chances of getting Ground Zero crew together to audition were slim to none. That’s when he decided it was time for a change.
“I thought about Alain, who’s very disciplined, Johnny who has always stuck with me no matter what, Christian who’s just hungry for dancing, and Rodolfo who’s a 10 year veteran,” Toledo said. “I thought if I take these guys and put all our styles together, we could make something really good and original.”
Thus, Illmatik Phlow was born.
After nearly a year of dancing together, Illmatik Phlow headed to Denver, Colo. on Dec. 3 for the first round of auditions for A.B.D.C.
“People thought we were insane for traveling to Colorado,” Feliciano said. “It was seven degrees. We were freezing.”
With auditions the next morning, the five guys- Toledo, Marquez, Olmtak, Rivero and Feliciano- all headed to the first dance studio they found, but were quickly kicked out.
John Stuart, a student for the Colorado Ballet, overheard the boys talking about their audition. In a whirl of good spirit, he took the crew in for the night.
During the audition process, the dancers were moved in and out of the studio, waiting for their turn to perform while fighting illness and the Colorado cold.
“Everyone got sick,” said Olmtak. “But we came together, performed, and everyone loved us. From Shane Sparks to the entire staff and production team.”
The crew made an impression on the judges. Nichelle Thrower, a dancer from the season four winner, We are Heroes, got up from her chair and started flipping with the crew as they celebrated the good news: Illmatik Phlow was headed to regionals.
“One of the producers told us that they had put us to perform last because they saved the best for last,” Toledo said. “She said we were the best in Denver. I mean, she must see over 500 crews a year and for her to say we were among the best was incredible.”
However, the good news didn’t last long for Illmatik Phlow.
At regional’s, MTV had the final decision on which crew would participate in the show. After the judging, Illmatik Phlow didn’t make the cut.
“We honestly had started practicing the routines full out two weeks prior to the audition,” Olmtak said. “We weren’t as clean as we could’ve been. When MTV saw our performance on video, it was easy for them to catch all our mistakes because you’re able to play them back. It was only logical that they wouldn’t pick us because of that. But they were all so sad to let us go.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Illmatik Phlow was disappointed, but not discouraged. Instead, they saw this as an opportunity to get better before the next installment of A.B.D.C., five months from now.
“I think they saw we had potential, we were risk takers, and that we’re crazy,” Toledo said. “They must’ve thought ‘wow, if these guys are good now, imagine them with five months more practice.’”
Arias, the newest member of Illmatik Phlow and a current student at MDC’s North Campus, was not a member during the auditions, and sees the cut as a chance to prove what he’s got.
“To be postponed to season six is a tremendous blessing for me because it’s allowed me to be part of the group,” Arias said. “It’s allowed me to train and bond with the crew, and just grow and learn.”
Within the last month and a half, the crew has begun a strict practice schedule, meeting four days a week during four-hour practices sessions. They also hired an endurance coach to help them control their breathing and get their bodies into top shape.
“Season six is already in the works for us to at least appear,” Toledo said. “I don’t want to go there for one or two weeks. I want to go on for all 12 weeks and win the show. I’ve been dancing too long not to get my credit, or for my crew not to get theirs.”
The crew hopes that their talent will get them far enough to support their families and friends. Olmtak, who moved to the United States just a year and a half ago from Suriname, a country in South America, dreams that one day he’ll be able to bring his former crew, Mystical, to the U.S.
“I want to give them a chance to explore their dancing abilities,” Olmtak said, “because there isn’t a lot you can do with dance in my country. I’m very thankful for what they’ve taught me and I want to make them proud.”
Above all things, Illmatik Phlow remain determined and optimistic as they look forward to a productive year.
On March 24, the crew will be appearing at the Winter Music Festival, performing during the Galaxy Music Gathering at 8 p.m. The event will take place at club 90 Degrees.
“You can’t give up on your dreams because you’ve failed,” Feliciano said. “You have to keep trying until you get to where you want to be. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, we’re going to keep trying until we win.”