He is known as one of the pioneers of the break-dancing scene, and a revolutionary choreographer. He back-flipped into a pair of Levi’s jeans for a national commercial, and was featured in a Run DMC music video and the movie “Step Up 2: The Streets.” His name is Jacob “Kujo” Lyons, and he and his California dance troupe, Lux Aeterna, are coming to Costa Rica.
The group of five dancers will be performing at the 2012 International Arts Festival, but they’ll also be hosting private workshops in low-income neighborhoods surrounding San José. The overall goal, Lyons said, is to entertain while also helping at-risk youth. Lyons enjoys sharing the knowledge and inspiration that helped him – and many others like him – rise out of poverty. The original hip-hop movement was cultivated out of poor areas with gangs, drugs and frequent violence, he said.
“The message that we bring is the same message of hip hop in the 70s: make something out of nothing, and more importantly, something beautiful out of nothing,” Lyons said. “In these places where there is poverty, crime and other problems there needs to be beauty.”
Lux Aeterna will host workshops and public performances at the Liberty Park Foundation, a complex of community outreach and education centers in the 32-hectare park that borders the communities of Desamparados, Curridabat and La Union. The foundation, funded by the Culture and Youth Ministry as well as private donors and other public grants, aims to provide free activities for thousands of people living in the area. Those activities can include anything from art to science and now hip hop dance.
Lux Aeterna is being brought to Costa Rica through sponsorship by the U.S. Embassy and a U.S. State Department program called Arts Envoy. In recent years, the same program brought to the country other acts such as a New Orleans jazz group and another set of urban dancers from the historically black Hunter College. According to U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer Oscar Ávila, Lux Aeterna’s potential to have a positive influence on Costa Rican youth through dance is one of the primary reasons the group is coming.
“We were trying to find … a group with very high artistic quality that can stand up to any group in the United States, but also [a group] very accessible to youth,” Ávila said. “They started as break dancers in the street without any formal training, and they ended up a very famous group, essentially starting from nothing like a lot of these kids.”
Lyons, speaking from personal experience, hopes dance can help others in the way it helped him. He is completely deaf in his right ear, and hard-of-hearing in his left. He was bullied over the disability while growing up in Los Angeles, and dance was his escape. It provided him physical fitness and a sense of fulfilment, and became an outlet for his anger and frustration. His difficulty hearing eventually resulted in a unique dancing style that helped him make a name for himself.
“It was new and unorthodox,” Lyons said about his technique. “Not everyone liked the way I danced, but they all remembered me.”
Those were the days when Lyons was breaking into the break-dancing scene. Now he and his group have expanded their routines to include head-spins, handstands and hip-hop moves. The routines Lyons and his group will be showcasing in Costa Rica are centered on contemporary dance and the circus arts, and they will mix a wide range of dance specialties with acrobatics.
“We think we’re the only group in the world where the artists are trained in all of those things,” Lyons said. “It’s a lot of work to do in one show. It’s a challenge, and it’s meant to inspire as well.”