A while back, I had the chance to meet Poe One at a class he was teaching. During the class he spoke about the importance of taking care of your body and how this body health/fitness awareness relates to dancers. This being a similar message that I try to convey as well, I struck up a conversation with him about that very topic. It was really interesting to hear about his journey. I wanted to share this specific part of his life, with the world.
His answers to my questions were detailed, with examples to illustrate points he felt were important. One may find the answers to be a bit longer than you would find in most interviews. However, I believe that is the beauty of this interview. It reads very similarly to what the conversation was like on that day. Reading the interview in text format gives the reader a chance to digest the topics Poe talks about, at their own speed. During a conversation, one receives information at the speed of which the conversation is being had. Reading an interview gives one a chance to return, and slowly digest what was being said.
Poe is inspirational to me. The way he dances, the way he articulates his thoughts, the way he takes care of his health/fitness, the way he is constantly learning from and contributing to the Hip Hop culture, and the way he has lasted within such a demanding art, are all reasons I am inspired.
FitMentality: What does your name mean? How did you get it?
Poe One: My name was given to me as a kid. It was around 1984. I was about 14 years old. The name came from two guys that were from Brooklyn; Puc, and Zoe. They took the “P” from “Puc” and “oe” from “Zoe.” Before that, my name was Nes, which stood for “Never Ending Style.” They used to call me, little Nes. It came from someone from Puerto Rico, who used to teach me, named Nasty Nes (Nestor).
FM: Why is breaking special to you?
Poe One: Hip Hop, in general, has given me so much. It has taught me so much. It opened a lot of doors. It gave me confidence at a time when I needed it. It was a time when I needed to believe in myself. It [Hip Hop] taught me this at a young age. I got into Hip Hop when I was 12 years old, at a time when I was searching for an identity. You have a lot of insecurities at that age. When you’re in a divorced family, you look for a father figure. My mother raised me. Hip hop gave me an identity on the block; an outlet. It was a way for me to let out whatever I was feeling, without realizing it was happening. At the time, I didn’t know it was an outlet. It [breaking] looked cool and looked like something that most people couldn’t do. [Breakers] were like superheroes. What they were doing looked fun, hard, original, one of a kind. It grabbed me. There weren’t days that I didn’t do it. The more I learned, the more I realized that there is so much more to learn. When I was younger, I was searching for that respect, from the people I respected from the block (my mom, sister, friends). Bullies would leave you alone if you were good. It feels good to get your props from your peers, the ones you admire. You work hard for that.
Now, it’s similar, but I’m not as insecure. I see the art form as a whole. I realize how much I missed in the 80s, due to lack of information. It’s dope to create your own way; find your own path. But at the same time, you should learn from guys before you. When you hear their stories, you realize there was another path that you missed. It’s dope to learn steps I missed before. I’m learning how connected everything is: jazz, lindy hop, swing, etc. It’s important to research, find steps similar to ours. We didn’t have resources to learn breaking. We couldn’t videotape other people in order to bite their moves. Back then, there were TV shows with actors who were a triple threat. Actors had to be able to act, sing, and dance. For example, Shirley Temple, The Three stooges, Fred Astaire, The Nicholas Brothers. TV shows were constantly pumped into our heads, as we were kids. We would see people jump in the air and land on their chest. We would watch shaolin kung fu movies.
To me, I realized that’s what breaking means to me. It’s much more than just spinning on our back and head. There is such a beauty and soul and struggle that comes from the youth. It’s [breaking] a youth voice/creative voice that the youth expressed. It means everything to me.
FM: What can breaking learn from other styles of dance?
Poe One: Every dance is related in some way, shape, or form. The only thing that changes is the approach; how you do it. It’s a necessity, a must, that bboys and bgirls learn how to groove. Learn the social aspect of this dance. Learn how to go in a club and learn the dances of the actual songs that are playing. This is missing in today’s breakers. Not all, but the majority. When the Brass Monkey song comes on, do the Brass Monkey! Do the dance, do the feel. Do the Pee Wee Hermen. Do the Roger Rabbit. Do the Running Man, the Guess, the Earth Quake. Do dances like the old school Dougie, the Robo Cop, the Push and Pull. Do the Charlie rock, The Roof Top, the Cabbage Patch, the Scare Crow. People now would say, “what are you talking about?” All these dances taught me how to groove, how to dance.
We learned how to roller-skate and dance. We used to go to Cal Skate in Milpitas, and Disco Patin in Puerto Rico. In the 80s, while everyone skated at the roller rink, the DJ would turn the floor into a dance floor. That’s missing now. [By learning dance steps in history] so many breakers would learn how to actually dance, and relate it to the actual top rock steps. When you’re able to do it with the approach of breaking, but still get that rhythm, the two-step will look very different. You’ll find grooves to make your own. It’s very important to learn other dances. If you’re doing the salsa rock step, relate it to salsa. The Salsa Step, or Salsa Step Out. The Latin Rock is from Latin Hustle. At a class I just taught, everyone could do the Latin Rock with the jump, but most couldn’t hustle. People could rock, but not hustle. I told them to go to a disco, in order to learn to switch speed in the same spot. Walk, jog, and run the step. Most breakers RUN the step. Most of them can’t walk with style. Many breakers have only one tone of breaking. Learning how to dance, teaches you how to do different tones. It’s like speaking in a different tone of voice. When you say something, you have exclamation marks. If I’m happy and I say “YO, ISAAC!” Then I change it to, Yo, Isaac,” like I got something serious to tell you, it will sound different. It’s the same words, but different sound. Depending on the tone of the song, is how you’re going to step. These guys/girls are doing one tone. One speed. Many are off to the races. Other dances will help them to learn how to groove. Not just movement, pay attention to the “groovement.”
FM: Describe the role that fitness plays in your life and how it relates to your dance.
Poe One: Fitness now is everything. At 43, I have to stretch more. I have to listen to my body about what it’s capable of at that moment. I slowly breathe into the stretch. I listen to my lower back, my neck, my wrists, shoulders. I warm everything up. I drink A LOT of water. No soda. No fake juices. Even if it says 100% natural. How can it be natural if the expiration date can last a month? If you cut an orange right now, in one day it already looks and tastes different. The second day, it’s bad. I make fresh juice every day, in my blender. I blend water and fruits. No milk. I cut out all dairy. I cut out all breads. I cut out everything with dough; pasta. Only fresh veggies. I buy and wash them myself. I barely cook. I eat mostly raw veggies. I steam potatoes a little. I have fresh fruit every day. Our bodies are made of about 70% liquid. When you’re hungry, you might be just thirsty. I learned to listen to my body. I learned not to mix certain foods. I try to chew food longer, with less portions. It helps my digestive system. Getting a lot of sleep is very important.
It’s tough for hip hop heads to do this because jams last all day. They have hot dogs and chips. I bring my own stuff to the jam. I bring fruit, instead of chips. I’ll have an orange or a banana. Potassium is great for cramps. Gatorade? Naw; its not real. It’s not good for you. Have some water with sea salt, Your body will be fine. Get electrolytes from that. These things are hard, but they’re the key factor for longevity.
I get exhausted, physically spiritually, emotionally, when I don’t live like that. I didn’t realize how important it was.
When did you realize that fitness/nutrition played an important role in your bboy life?
When I went back to learning how to take care of my body, I had to re condition. I had to reprogram my brain and my body. At first, I got really sick. As you detox your body, sicknesses start coming out, that you’ve been covering up. When I don’t live right, I really feel it. I get more tired.
Take the time to step back and breathe. The race of always chasing the dollar. There is more time if you learn how to manage it better.
FM: Who were influences in the past, that played a role in the healthy lifestyle you live today?
Poe One: My mother is a vegan. My step farther is a naturopath. In Spanish, you would say Naturópata. They do different forms of healing. My mother was always healthy in the ways she ate. When they found a softball size tumor in her stomach, she said no to surgery, because she wanted to get rid of it naturally. She studied how tumors grow and what they feed off of. She learned that they feed off sugar. She eliminated all fake sugar and fake salt from her diet. I started seeing what she was doing and how she healed herself. I noticed how they [mother and step father] healed people around them. I started asking questions. They gave me little books. I learned about herbs from the mountains. This green grass helps this; this rose bud helps this.
I’m still learning. That’s why I went to the Amazon. I wanted to talk to the natives about how they survive without doctor check ups. They don’t even have electricity. Their houses are built out of banana leaves.
I go to Buddhist retreats. They give you this little bowl of food. It’s how you chew the food. That’s all they give you. They teach you to feel every vitamin and mineral in that food by the way you chew it, until it liquefies in your mouth.
I eat 4 or 5 smaller meals throughout the day. Your body only digests a certain percentage each time you eat.
Lots of people are out of shape these days. The portions we get at restaurants are huge. I don’t need that. Small meal sizes are like large orders used to be.
A homie asked me how I do it. How am I in shape? I told him that I don’t eat all that shit. It’s a matter of discipline. Don’t eat all these foods just because they are there. You realize how much food we eat because of a fast paced world. Most people are rushed. They eat cereal, or grilled cheese sandwich. Cheese and bread are processed.
FM: What advice would you give dancers who are not quite convinced, or maybe are starting to realize how important nutrition/fitness can be in their dance/life?
Poe One: Don’t wait ‘til it’s too late. Don’t wait until you get a major injury and you’re off for a long time. Start stretching. If you’re watching hours of footage of breaking on YouTube, search how to stretch and breathe. If you want to last long, look into that stuff. When you’re feeling sore, if your wrist hurts, or elbows hurt, work on different exercises to lay off the areas that hurt. There is a way to touch the floor that is easier. Learn to break the fall, so your body lasts longer. Like a stunt double, learn to fall, and not hurt yourself. I watch kids slam on the floor, forgetting about being smooth, swift, and having finesse. Take the pressure off of the landing. It’s important to learn that.
Some kids get into breaking, but haven’t played a sport. No basketball, skating. Sports teach you how to be swift and agile. You learn agility and get natural reflexes. If you haven’t done activities other than breaking, do other physical activities. Try swimming, basketball, jumping (plyometrics), learn how to land, absorb the landing. If you’re thinking about taking care of yourself, your subconscious mind is telling you something. Your spirit is telling you something. Listen to your gut. It’s telling you something. Don’t wait. Take it in. Take your time.
I tell people to warm up before class. Most people just sit in one position, like they are gonna’ do flares. You gotta’ do different movements. Move around. Loosen up in different ways. If you look ridiculous, but you know what you need to do, it doesn’t matter. You’re the one who knows you’re gonna’ be rocking 20 years later. I wish someone woulda’ told me that. Maybe someone did tell me. Maybe my mom told me, and I didn’t listen. Now I know the importance of it.
Don’t talk about it. Be about it. If you’re thinking about taking better care of yourself; do it. Don’t wait. Your body will thank you.
I feel it when I slack off. I feel when I don’t take care of my body. I know how important it is to me.
This interview was not meant to have everyone follow, step by step, how Poe goes about his own nutrition and fitness. This was him sharing his OWN journey and how he reached his own fitness/nutrition path. You are encouraged to look into what works best for you. Learn what your body prefers. Check with your health care provider about any specific health concerns you may have. This interview was simply meant to share one personal story.