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Las Vegas’ Zoologic Empire helps mold the b-boys and b-girls of the future

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Learning the way of the Zoo.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas / Courtesy

In a recent Macy’s back to school commercial, a group of kids runs toward the door, excited for their first day of class. A ballerina breaks a wooden plank with her fist. Another kid does a walking handstand. And at the end, you can see one of Las Vegas’ youngest b-boys, Babalu, going full beast mode, spinning on his head as if attached to a propeller. But there’s no engine strapped to his cranium. It’s just hard work and the way of the Zoo.

The brainchild of b-boys Eric Salazar, Justin Buenaventura and Steve Corral, Zoologic Empire training camp was born out of the three instructors’ passion for breaking and the goal of passing the skills and lifestyle to new generations. The name comes from the crew they’ve been a part of since the late ’90s, Knucklehead Zoo.

“We’re teaching the way of the Zoo,” Salazar says. “There’s a lot of basics that are general to all b-boys and b-girls, but we elaborate on that with what we’ve developed and how we dance.”

It’s been a big year for Knucklehead Zoo, currently celebrating its 20th anniversary as a dance crew. And it’s the sixth year of Zoologic Empire, the b-boy and b-girl training camp for 6-to-17-year-olds to which students like Babalu belong. The crew is currently raising funds and gearing up to bring 28 students and instructors to France, to compete in this most prestigious breaking competition in the world.

It’s the first Battle of the Year in which the Knucklehead Zoo instructors and the Zoologic Empire kids will be entered together, under the name Break Ninjaz. “A lot of money goes into the training; a lot of money goes into our gear,” Salazar says. “There’s a lot of expenses, especially taking a crew of 28 people and trying to put together a production that’s good enough to compete on a world-class level.”

Breaking didn’t used to be the kind of thing you could learn in a classroom. Salazar, who became a b-boy in Salt Lake City in the late ’90s, says up until recently, the dance was something most people learned on the streets. “There wasn’t a place to go learn,” he says. “You’d have to meet people that knew how to do it, and they pretty much blessed you with it. They wouldn’t teach you, either. You’d have to really know them, or they’d have to see something in you.”

Now Salazar is passing the baton, bestowing Zoo logic on anyone who shows up for daily classes at the crew’s Henderson studio. “I wanted to create a program that kids could come to all the time and actually become good at it,” Salazar says. “Since the beginning it’s been about community.”

Zoologic Empire At Body Focus Fitness, 7380 S. Eastern Ave. #109C, zoologic empire.com.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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