Dance movies always have a love story. Battle of the Year (out today) is no exception, but co-star and local b-boy Jon “Do Knock” Cruz says it’s not your typical boy-meets-girl. It showcases real dancers and their love for the art and lifestyle of breaking—wrapped in an underdogs-take-on-the-world drama starring Josh Holloway and Chris Brown.
Cruz, who essentially plays himself, has big-screen experience from other dance blockbusters like Stomp the Yard and You Got Served, and his small-screen legacy ranges from a record three-peat on Star Search to commercials and music videos for major pop stars. His b-boy cred comes from dance crews in Las Vegas and California and the global competition circuit. Before the midnight premiere of Battle of the Year, he shared his thoughts on the dance-movie genre, Chris Brown’s moves and the power of a name.
You started breaking at 9 and were good enough as a teenager that you dropped out of high school halfway through senior year to focus on dance as a profession. That’s a gutsy move, no matter how good you are. In high school the teachers didn’t really get it. A lot of people didn’t get it. The only people that got it was my parents and my family. So I had that support from the beginning. ... I was traveling the world, overseas, East Coast. I was competing in battles and the whole hip-hop scene.
But that doesn’t pay the bills. Once a friend helped you get an agent, how did it change your opportunities? I started working, doing music videos with Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez and stuff like that, and then a friend of mine was helping cast for Star Search.
You’re the only person to win that show three times, at $100,000 a pop. These teachers said that I wasn’t gonna make any money. And I was one year out of high school.
Your original crew, Battle Monkeys, joined Vegas’ Knucklehead Zoo and Full Force to form Super Cr3w. What was behind that? Back in 2000, it was a whole new generation of b-boys, and my generation was really the last before YouTube, so we still had that essence of how it was to be original because we didn’t have anybody to see. We just had us, the people that you hung out with and trained with. Then we met these guys from Las Vegas, and it was an instant connection. It was a group of guys that had the same mentality back then that clicked, so we became Super Cr3w to try to battle the big, big names.
The documentary Planet B-Boy got deep inside that real b-boy culture and heavily featured Knucklehead Zoo. Its creator and director, Benson Lee, took on the job of directing Battle of the Year for Screen Gems. You say the studio’s president, Clint Culpepper, gave Benson a lot of creative license. How so? The first thing that Benson said was, “You need to hire real b-boys and teach them to act; get their lives, their stories.” … Hollywood took a chance, finally.
On the subject of authenticity, I’m pretty sure you won’t find many basketball coaches leading dance crews. There’s always somebody calling out plays, being the leader and saying this is the game plan. … You pull audibles. It’s the same exact thing. That’s what coaches do. … Imagine taking that stress away from a b-boy and leaving it up to somebody else to call the plays and let me do my thing. I think a lot of b-boy crews would be majoring. … So that’s why I was like okay, I think this can work. Have a guy that comes in that has championship wins under his belt—he used to breakdance and has that love for the dance, but that’s not what he’s there for. He’s not gonna tell me how to breakdance. He’s not gonna tell me how to b-boy, ’cause he’s not a b-boy. What he can tell me is, “Get up off your ass. Get back up and do that sh*t again.” That right there is an amazing thing.
So what’s your beef with the modern dance-movie formula? What’s the first thing you hear about these dance movies? “The dancing’s amazing, but the story’s awful.” They’re not going to see the movie for the story. They’re not going to see the movie for the acting. Because they already know what to expect. They see the movie come out every year, Step Up 1, Step Up 2, Step Up 3, Step Up 4, Step Up 5, Step Up 6 I don't even know how many there are. How many times can you remake a movie like that? Let’s change that mode. Let’s change it and actually make a franchise and have people actually go in there and really dedicate themselves, because this movie is our life. … We had a lot of say in this movie, the b-boys. We said, “Hey, we wouldn’t say that thing; we wouldn’t act like that, like, ‘Yo, yo, yo!’ That’s not how I talk.” It went down even to our names.
You were cast as a character named Ghost. Why did you advocate for the use of your real b-boy name in the film? You’re feeding me this whole thing about how you want this movie to be so authentic, to be real, and the most real thing that you can possibly do is be legit with our names. Our names are everything. That’s our identity. ... I called the head of Screen Gems personally.
Even playing yourself, you still had to act. Did you get any pointers? They kept on saying, “You don’t want to go in that theater and watch yourself and be embarrassed. So don’t act—don’t act like a person that you’re not.” … It was hard to learn the lines, but I wasn’t playing Batman. I didn’t have to really go deep. All I had to do was just try to be me, and if I couldn’t be me then, dude, I’m the worst freaking actor in the world. (laughs)
Are you satisfied with what you put into it? If b-boys see this movie they’re gonna see the moves that I’ve done, they’re gonna see the way I dance. Not a watered down person or a sellout. They’re gonna see me. I think that’s what is golden. We have a diamond in the rough. This movie is so cultured, and the facts that they put in—it’s all legit.
What about Chris Brown’s moves? The first time that we saw Chris Brown we were shooting in France, a battle against the Russians. All of us were like, “Okay, let’s see what this dude got,” ’cause we would be the first ones to be like, “This guy’s garbage. This movie’s gonna be crap because they put all their chips into this one dude.” Action! The music started going, and everybody was like, “Oh sh*t! Look at this dude; he looks like a b-boy.” ... He really respected the culture and said, “I don’t want to look soft. If you guys see me looking crazy, looking like a beginner, let me know and I’ll fix it.” And we did.
How do you feel about the soundtrack? If you ask me anything that I have a problem with it’s that. I understand the time and day of our life and these teenyboppers, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and all that, so I understand why Hollywood would want to put certain songs in there. They do have some hip-hop songs, but they also have Flo Rida. On certain parts there should be some straight “Don’t Sweat the Technique” and all that dope sh*t, they should have that, but then again they want to have little kids come [and relate to it].
Other than that, are you proud of the movie? I feel like we accomplished something that has never been done in the dance-movie aspect because there’s no love story, but there is a love story. It’s a love story of how we feel about our own dance and what b-boying means to us. That’s our love story. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with a girl and us trying to save a rec center. It’s been done. They did that in Breakin’ 1 and 2, and that was back in 1984. … I guarantee they’re making Step Up 7 right now, but when they see how successful this is they’re gonna change and try to make their movie like our movie.
Did a movie like this inspire you? I had Beat Street and I had Breakin’. I was watching that and was in love with that, and that’s what started my career, and now I’m 30 years old. There’s gonna be a 9-year-old kid going to see this movie with his dad, and it’s gonna spark something in his life.