I.aM.mE: Inspiration, motivation and energy at Performing Arts Centre

I.aM.mE’s Brandon “747” Harrell, James Derrick, Edson Juarez, Jaja Vankova, Tam Rapp and Shorty (front to back) / I.aM.mE


I.aM.mE, a dance crew that found its start in the U.S., is touring through Ontario and arrived at the PAC last Friday night. The group was founded by Phillip Chbeeb, Di Moon Zhang and Harrell, but has been building upon the group with those who performed in St. Catharines and more. In 2011, the group won America’s Best Dance Crew, a television show that brought American dance groups into competition with one another for a grand prize. They championed the 2011 season, titled “Season of the Superstars”. Since their win, several members have gone on to make appearances in television and film, the most notable being the fourth and fifth films in the series Step Up.

One of the dance group’s primary forces, Moon, said in an interview with online publication Asia Pacific Arts, from the University of Southern California, that he started dancing at 16 —relatively late to begin a career in professional dance. Moon explained that he was watching another dance crew, H.O.T, perform on TV and wanted to do what they were doing.

“I just bought a lot of DVDs and I played DVDs at home everyday,” said Moon. “I tried to learn the moves from them and, you know, when you look at the TV the moves are the opposite way — so I had to learn them backwards.”

After making the move to Texas,  Moon began to meet other dancers who performed self taught routines on the streets of Houston. Moon noted that one thing that makes I.aM.mE so unique is that it is mostly made up of self-taught dancers. The name did not immediately come to the crew, but they instead went through a few different titles until finding the right fit. After changing from “Short Fuse” to “Lunch Box”, the group made a final switch to their current name, which stands for “Inspire.Motivate.Energize.”

“What we try to do is inspire others,” said Moon. “Because a lot of people, when they’re really young, they really want to do what they love to do, but right now, the problem is their parents are going to tell them ‘No’. To them, dancing is just a hobby. It’s not a job. You cannot do it professionally. But,  things have changed, but the parents don’t understand. So that’s why right now there are a lot of Asian Americans trying to bring their parents to watch the show to see their kids perform on stage, for them to see that all those other Asian kids can be really successful, and do what they want to do.”

Last Friday night, the group performed at the Performing Arts Centre. The group that is currently stopping in some Canadian cities is comprised of Edson Juarez, Tam Rapp, Brandon “747” Harrell, Jaja Vankova, James Derrick and B Girl Shorty. After a short introduction, Juarez took the stage to talk a little bit about the inspiration behind the night’s routine: the anxiety that comes the night before performance and the joy that comes with dance. The group performed solo, duo and group numbers, while lights and imagery highlighted the varying threads of ideas throughout their dances.

The dance group was enthusiastic, as were the young children and families that came to view them. I.aM.mE welcomed five young children on-stage near the end of their performances to compete for a prize, as well. Each child was paired with a member of the crew, dancing and playing a game of “keep up” until a winner was found. The group’s performance was fun and clearly for families — the night was enjoyable because both the dancers and audience members put forth good vibes and strong energy.

Although much of the routine simply matched the standard of any dance crew routine, there were some exemplary moments when individual dance talents were represented. Shorty, the crew’s newest member, headspun for a full minute and thirty seconds — an incredible thing to see! Vankova’s popping was also clean and tight, and she was able to showcase those unique talents in moments where she fronted the group as well as during the introductory performance — a solo of her popping. Juarez also shone during a performance that incorporated contemporary dance.

Overall, the show was an excellent event for families to come together and watch. Although the dancing itself often lacked in any exploration of the art itself, the energy of the crew was high and their enthusiasm apparent.

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