Ana 'Rokafella' Garcia
" I won't let it [Hip-Hop] be faded and discarded. I have no 9-5. This is my life." Rokafella
At the age of 11, Rokafella had already found her rhythm and was on her way to becoming a B-Girl. She co-founded Full Circle Prod Inc. in 1996 with her husband Kwikstep, who is also a B-Boy. She's not only a renowned dancer, but a poet, musician, filmmaker and entrepreneur who’s regarded as a pioneer for B-Girls and B-Boys on stages across the world.
Photos courtesy of Yu Wadee and B Fresh Photography.
As a pioneer of Hip-Hop, representing the pillar of breakdancing, where do you draw your inspiration from? Who were the dancers, musicians or artists that inspired you?
Rokafella: …Childhood inspirations—People like Iris Chacón, Rita Moreno, and Celia Cruz gave me a lot of inspiration as a young woman growing up. My parents, who immigrated here as agricultural masters, adjusted and kept adjusting to the ever-changing NYC atmosphere, and they impacted me the most in my work ethic and trust in the universe. My teacher, business partner and best friend Kwikstep inspires me daily since he has made this up as he goes, trusting that Hip-Hop will always have his back as long as he keeps bravely carrying the torch. As a married couple we have faced many obstacles and weathered many dance scene "games," yet we always root for each other and try to be honest with each other regarding past and future steps we will take. Hip-hop artists who inspired me are KRS-One, MC Lyte, Run DMC, Roxanne Shanté, Rakim, Lauryn Hill, Tribe Called Quest, Common, Queen Latifah, Rha Goddess, La Bruja, Lah Tere, Queen GodIs and so many to name here. But they ALL helped to re-activate my mind towards the possibility of a better life by giving me knowledge and building my self-esteem.
Can you pinpoint a time when you knew you were a part of a historic moment? When you recognized that a new genre and art was being defined?
Rokafella: There have been many moments as a woman that I have felt the impact of my participation and contribution to this community. I have been in Daily News and the New York Times—not just photographed but actually in the articles. But I do remember early on in my Breakdance (B-Girl) life, dancing on the street and hearing the audience gathered, clapping at the end of my solo—which was rare up until that point since I had minimal eye-catching moves compared to the guys who were street performing. One of the more monumental moments I think for me was being asked to judge the International Battle of the Year—it's a Breaking contest in Germany—the biggest gathering of B-Boys to this day. The host announced my name and the sound of the 8,000 people in the Volkswagen arena took away my cool. I blanked out and couldn't even hear the music. I was so shocked they received me like that. I felt like I had come so far with this and finally I could feel the love even if it was just for 20 seconds while I danced my dazed out moves [laughs].
The moment I knew a new art and genre was being defined was when I was at theater festivals—after a theatrical performance I was asked to describe not only what Hip-Hop theater was but also what it was like to be a woman in a male dominated scene. Those were new questions I had never heard before. I have been asked these questions ever since and I have always tried to be as clear and honest as possible. Hip-Hop is naturally theatrical and how being a woman is not much different in regard to the competitive and training elements, but more so in the social aspects. Many guys still find it hard to accept a woman's participation in a physically demanding genre, so it is not easy to counteract the negativity. But if you really love something you love the good and the bad parts that come with it—like the injuries [laughs] and anyway, eventually if the women stay in the game long enough the skills and the respect always come together.
How has Hip-Hop evolved since you began as an artist and how do you feel about its current direction?
Rokafella: I have seen it go through so many phases and I know that there is the mainstream path and there is the underground path. Both check each other out, but keep distance since one is formulaic and the other is independent. With the birth of the internet, Hip-Hop has managed to create powerful connections that would have been difficult in the past. I know there is still much to be done to create real careers for Hip-Hop heads, so we can own property and pass down history and information about our past. I am excited with what I have seen locally and nationally regarding Hip-Hop as an educational tool (like at NYU—Martha Diaz) and real improvements with Hip-Hop in the Theatrical realm (Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Claudia Alick). The mainstream still misses its target because the Hip-Hop cultural practitioners are not invited to consult on industry programming, so until that happens much of what is passed on in TV, in film and in magazines is hollow. And all that means is that there is still more to come and I hope in my lifetime I can see that shift happen.
Where do you see Hip-Hop evolving in the next 40 years?
Rokafella: I believe Hip-Hop will shift towards a community of art—not products—and help to heal and resolve the many antiquated schisms that are destroying our attempts at moving forward as a whole. I think there will be schools, studios, museums, philanthropic institutions, senior centers and hospitals benefitting from Hip-Hop art and business practices.
In your opinion, what are some of the most influential contributions to Hip-Hop in its 40 year history? What do you consider your generation's greatest contribution to Hip Hop?
Rokafella: Hip-Hop’s biggest contribution is to compel people to be the captains of their own ship if they are truly skilled at navigating the waters. Before Hip-Hop, people in the hood were just frustrated and had no access or voice. Hip-Hop took its cue from Blues, Salsa and Rock music, grabbed onto the urgency of survival and made a poetic shift in the power dynamic of our lives. It told the world: “We are here, we are intelligent and we just want to feel the love.” My generation's biggest contribution was to continue producing and reminding people that this is forever—not just for the 80's. I came into this hard and have not let go because I remember the time when they said, “It’s played out." But my generation responded "Is Ballet played out? Is Opera played out? Is African Dance played out? Is Kung Fu played out? No? Then this will not be played out.” I won't let it be faded and discarded. I have no 9-5. This is my life.