It’s been nearly eight years since the Jabbawockeez hip-hop dance troupe began their b-boy reign with a win on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. Since then, the troupe’s original six members have toured the world, shared the stage with Pharrell Williams at Coachella, developed a show for a theme park (as part of Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights event), and have appeared in countless commercials and music videos.
Their Las Vegas show, however, remains their flagship. Following in the steps of their MÜS.I.C and PRiSM shows, Jabbawockeez’ third Strip show, Jreamz: Journey Within, brings the crew back to the MGM Grand, where they made their Vegas debut in 2010. Phi Nguyen, one of Jabbawockeez’ co-founders and original masked men, spoke with Vegas Seven about the new show, refining his skills and the troupe’s continuing evolution.
How does Jreamz differ from your previous shows?
It’s a smaller venue than it was with PRiSM at Luxor, so we’re limited on space, and we didn’t want to come with big, clunky set pieces. We catered to the room. We were able to use a lot of video mapping and new lighting and technology that not a lot of the shows on the Strip have right now. To incorporate the video mapping with the dancing is how we bring you into our world. Watching parts of the show, it feels like you’re in space. And obviously, there are new routines, too.
A member of Jabbawockeez was recently featured in rapper Riff Raff’s new music video, “Brick Off the Balcony.” How did that come about?
It wasn’t planned. A couple of months ago we were in this studio shooting promo stuff for MGM, and after we finished, in rolls Riff Raff—or Jody HiGHROLLER, I don’t know what name he wants to go by—he sees us, and we’re out of our masks and gloves but we’re still in our Dickies, and he kind of recognizes us. He was like, “Yo, man, I’m a total fan. Yo, I’m shooting my video.” He had booked the studio space after us, and was like “Yo, who’s down to get down in my video?” So one of the guys stayed back and did it. It was an organic, accidental video shoot. [Riff Raff is] actually a super cool dude.
Jabbawockeez has a distinctive look. Have you seen any imitators?
Recently I was in a venue rehearsing, and when you’re in a venue for 14 hours a day sometimes you need to check out, so I stepped outside. I didn’t realize it was Halloween, and these dudes walk by all in Jabbawockeez masks. I’m standing right in front of them. Everyone is crowding around them and taking pictures. These guys are acting like us, minus the dance moves. It was cool to be a part of that—I was taking pictures, too. One guy shook my hand and [nodded] “what’s up” as he was miming. People aren’t supposed to know who we are. It defeats the whole purpose of the mask.
How has the group evolved over the years?
We’re a growing brand, so when we’re presented with, say, a Universal show and also at the same time opening up a new show at the MGM, we have to expand. There are six original members, and we’re still the same guys. We do the interviews, we do the commercials—whatever is on television is the original Jabbawockeez. But when we expand we hold auditions or bring in people that we’ve already been [considering].
A lot of us are choreographers and dance teachers, and have been in this dance game for a long time. There are a lot of students we’ve taught along the way that we’re able to implement into our show while we travel and do other things. We’re blessed with people who believe in our movement. No pun intended.
Jabbawockeez won the first season of America’s Best Dance Crew in 2008. Do you guys still compete?
We haven’t had the opportunity to compete [as a group]. A lot of times dance competitions ask us just to exhibit as Jabbawockeez. Individually, though, every one of us still competes to keep our tools sharp. We’re all hip-hop heads at the end of the day. We still even go to battle with each other.
What’s been the most rewarding part of being in the group?
Not a lot of people get to do their dream job, but sometimes if you do, you don’t get to work with your dream people. The most rewarding thing is being able to work with my best friends. It’s a cliché, but it’s so true. I have 20 years of history with these guys. I’ve seen them go from sleeping on couches to having wives and children. It’s beautiful to watch everyone grow into entrepreneurs and businessmen.
Also, teaching younger generations. At one point we were those kids. We never thought we’d have a show on the Las Vegas Strip. We were just dancing in the garage, because music was free and you didn’t have to pay for it—unless you bought your cassette tape, which was probably the only thing we paid for. Now our vision is to give aspiring dancers an opportunity to perform and express themselves through movement and dance.