David Elsewhere


On the Dancefloor
With B-boy extraordinaire, David Elsewhere


The first time I saw David Elsewhere Bernal dance I thought I was watching some kind of doctored video clip that had been enhanced with special effects. It was a clip I received via email of David performing at a dance event. The clip—one of the most widely circulated Internet video clips in recent history—shows one of David’s memorable performances at an event called Kollaboration.

David Elsewhere gets up on stage like an innocent kid wearing a dorky orange sweathshirt and tight jeans. At first glance he looks like someone that has as much rhythm as an 80-year-old grandma. He starts dancing like a total amateur, but before you know it, Shazam! He’s busting out with jaw-dropping, out-of-this-world moves that make him seem like he’s part human, part rubber band. The crowd goes wild as David Elsewhere dishes out one mind-bending move after another.

It’s obvious that David believes in pushing the envelope. He puts few limits on what his dancing should incorporate or be defined as. He puts even fewer limits on what his body should be able to do. It is this creativity and open-mindedness that set him apart from your typical breakdancer and pop-locker— and which has quickly made David Elsewhere one of the most popular dancers on the B-boy scene.










Tell us first of all how you got started in dancing?
Well it was a combination of a lot of things. Partly because I’d seen a few guys in my school doing it. Fridays during lunch time they would play music at “The Quad,” which is essentially the school’s central point. People would go down there and just dance. There would always be a little circle down there and some guy would go in the middle, usually these house dancers. It was around this same time that I was going to raves and dance parties, and I saw a lot of dancing and realized that dancing kind of made you cool. If you didn’t know how to dance then you were a dweeb. All these things put together made me want to get started. Especially at the raves I would see the breakers there and that really struck a cord with me. I didn’t really have the desire to be a weird, crazy dancer. I just kind of wanted to know how to dance so I could fit in. That interest in dancing kind of blossomed into more of a wanting to impress the shit out of everyone. It became my lifestyle, my whole way of living and thinking for a good several years there in the beginning. I just basically started in my bedroom recording myself on a daily basis.

How old were you then, and how heavily did you get into it at first?
I would say 17. It was my junior year of high school. That summer from my junior year to my senior year I was pretty much dancing non-stop. I think I had a job, but it was pretty much job and then straight home to practice. I was really motivated to be a good dancer. I had seen this one video at a friend’s house. It had this one dancer, this Asian guy with a blue windbreaker. He was at a contest and was, by far, the most talented dancer there. He really struck a chord with me and influenced my dancing. He was sort of the basis for my style in the very beginning. Then I pretty much…it’s kind of whacked, but I copied what he had. But one of the things I noticed when I was trying to copy him was that I couldn’t copy it exactly. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t copy exactly what he did. At first it was a frustrating thing, but then as time went on I learned that, that was a good thing. That was actually me putting my own spin, my own style into it.

As time progressed—probably two or three years—I realized that the overall consensus within the dance community was to be original. Being original is virtuous. Copying is a bad thing. The combination of realizing that originality was held in such high regard and the fact that I was failing at copying made a light bulb go off in my head. I decided I should just create my own style. More and more I just fed into that mentality and developed what I have now, which is, I think, a semi-original style. Of course nothing is purely original. You get influenced by a lot of things. One, obviously, is all the people in the breaking scene.

What other kinds of influences have you had?
There are a lot of things that have nothing to do with dancing, but which drew my attention. For example, I like mimicking a lot of things in nature or the way machines move. Like the way the wind moves certain things, the way water moves and creates waves, or animalistic types of movements.

Would you describe your style as unique?
I think it’s unique and not at the same time. I know a lot of other dancers that do pretty much the same thing I do: get influenced from external things that are not related to dancing. A lot of people in the Detours video I’m in have that same mentality. But it is unique in the sense that everyone gets influenced from completely different things. So it really varies from person to person. I don’t think any two people would have the same influences because everyone has different interests and different ways of looking at the world. In that sense what everybody does is unique.

How long did it take you to get to the point where you felt comfortable performing?
Well…comfortable? I’m still not comfortable. I still get really nervous when I perform, although not as nervous as I used to get—especially now that I’ve gotten several TV gigs, which are pretty nerve-wracking. When I do get nervous I tense up and just do what I know. That’s why people that have seen my clips have seen me do some of the same moves. When I’m not as comfortable as I could be, I tend to do things that I know I can do.
The first time I really performed in front of a big crowd was probably a year after I started dancing. It was in front of my school at The Quad, which I described to you earlier. My friends basically pushed me into the circle. I actually took out this house dancer, this guy who would go in circles and try to show off. I basically shut him up because he didn’t know how to break…all he did was his house dancing. I got a pretty big ovation from the people and that day really stuck with me. It was a huge, huge confidence booster.

My whole life I’ve been kind of the shy guy who doesn’t say too much—except when I’m talking about something I’m interested in. That performance sparked confidence in me because I showed myself that I could actually perform and do well in front of people. From there on I started performing a lot more often and it snowballed into more and more performances, gigs, and talent shows. I would go to parties, clubs, and breaking events.

David Elsewhere

How much would you say your style and abilities have changed since you started out?
It’s hard to say…probably not a whole lot, just because since pretty early on I decided to create my own style and develop something unique. Since then I’ve pretty much stayed on the same wavelength—looking to myself to create instead of looking to other people. I’ve always been into that weird kind of eerie electronic style of music, and it kind of played into the way I danced. I come off in an eerie way. My intention is to make people uncomfortable in a way that’s interesting…so they don’t fully recognize what they’re seeing and they’re taken aback by it because it’s weird. It’s unknown. It’s something new to them.

How does your family feel about your dancing, and how did they take it at first?
They’re kind of used to it now. When I first started doing it they were pretty cool. If anything my dad was a little bit against it. My dad is a very practical type of person. He grew up kind of poor, and he doesn’t want me to waste away my life on something that’s not going to pay the bills. So he was a little more wary of it. But once they saw how I loved it, for the most part, they were pretty supportive They even stopped putting their cars in the garage so that I could have my little studio.

They must be proud of you now that you’ve gotten national TV appearances and movie roles?
I don’t know. They haven’t really patted me on the back too much. I’m just guessing that they’re really proud of me. I hope they are. From what I hear when people come over they have my TV appearances on tape and show everyone.

How much do you practice?
Well it’s changed. When I started it was everyday, as much as I possibly could. I would come home, open the garage, and practice until it was dark. Then when I started college, it took less of a priority, but I was still doing it on a pretty regular basis. Nowadays I almost never set time aside to practice. I practice whenever I feel like it. It’s spontaneous practicing. Whenever I’m listening to music and I hear a good track, I get off my ass and practice in front of the mirror for a good two minutes. Right now it’s not a big priority, because I have a job now and I’m doing other projects that kind of take away from my dancing.

You were recently on the Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and Steve Harvey shows, so it seems like now that you don’t put as much time into it is when you’re getting bigger publicity.
It’s very ironic. Now that I’m kind of settled down all these gigs are coming up. It’s not upsetting though. These gigs are cool and all, but I really don’t see it happening forever. I never really expect mainstream society and the media to take what I do seriously. I think the reason I’m getting a lot of gigs now is because it’s something new. It’s something different. People are used to seeing the regular styles of breakdancing, but then when something a little bit different comes along it’s like, wow! After a while people will know who I am, and then I’ll be old news. The thing about dancing is that it takes so long to develop these styles and moves. I’ve been dancing for eight years, and I’ve experimented for countless hours. Some of these moves have taken me years to perfect, but they only take a few seconds to perform. And then if people see one of your moves a couple of times they say it’s old. Talk about a lot of work for not that much pay off. Dancing is for people that want to do it for the love of it.

How the heck do you come up with some of those crazy moves?
In one word: experimentation. It’s experimenting with the potentials of what your body can do. Some come very easy. Other times I have a concept for a move and I have to develop it by practicing it until it looks the way I want it to. It varies from move to move. There are moves that I basically thought of in a second.

David Elsewhere

Your body seems like it’s double-jointed.
I’m not double-jointed at all. The only place where I am double-jointed is my thumbs, which doesn’t even matter. I would say I’m probably a little more flexible than most people in certain areas, mainly my shoulders and my ankles, but I wasn’t born that way. Those areas became flexible because of years of practicing.

With all the people and dance styles that have come before you, how do you stay original?
That’s hard. I think that in the very beginning when most people start, it’s kind of necessary to copy people. But once your dancing matures I think videos can be a little unhelpful. You can watch them over and over again so you’re kind of brainwashing yourself into wanting to dance like that. I’m not saying that videos are a bad thing. I’m saying that they are good to some degree, but I just think that they are easily abused.

I like going to events and seeing someone dance, then going home and not being able to watch them again. When you don’t have the ability to watch something over and over again, your mind kind of manipulates the memory into something different. Then when you go home and have that vision in your head, it becomes your own interpretation.

To what extent are your moves choreographed versus just letting it flow?
It’s about…I would say 75% all freestyle and 25% pre-choreographed. But the thing is a lot of my freestyle is in a sense pre-choreographed because even though I’m doing things off the top of my head, they’re small routines that I already know how to do. For the most part when I do go out in a circle or during a contest, I’ll usually think of two or three moves to do during that set. I’ll have those moves like on standby in my brain. And then everything else in between those moves will just come off the top of my head.

When popping and breakdancing first became popular back in the day it was pursued mostly by blacks and Latinos. Today it seems like the scene is a lot more diverse. Is this true and why do you think it’s changed?
I definitely think it’s true. There is no doubt that the first people that started breakdancing were Puerto Ricans, blacks, and Hispanics in New York City. I think that the reason why it started off as a minority thing is because the inner city is fertile grounds for artistic expression to arise. Because of all the negative circumstances around you, like gang activity and drug use, there’s all this youthful energy that’s looking for a positive outlet. I’m from Santa Ana, California. When we battled other people from nice areas like Costa Mesa, we totally destroyed them.

So why is it more diverse now?
I think that a big reason is the media. We have the Internet, which is a huge way of communicating, learning, and gaining information. There are so many different ways to learn about the breaking scene online. You can live out in Kansas and still be in cahoots with what’s happening in the scene. You couldn’t have that back in the day. When it was first starting all you had was word of mouth. TV was there and when breakers did get on TV and the movies, that’s when it became mainstream. The reason it’s so diverse now is because so many people have access to it. It’s easier to know what’s going on, to learn the moves and to learn the names of the moves now because of the Internet.

But even though more people have access to it now, wasn’t it a lot more popular back then?
In the 80’s, yeah. Again that was because it was a new phenomenon. It was something that nobody had ever seen before, whereas now it’s been seen and some people consider it played out. I think a lot of people just appreciate it for the nostalgia factor. But at the same time if you watch MTV every other video has some kind of breakdancing in it. So I don’t know if it’s because of the nostalgia factor or just the fact that breakdancing is interesting to watch.
Maybe it will fluctuate on and off. I can’t really tell the future, but I think it will always be in a state of flux, fluctuating from semi-popular to underground. Just like everything else, things come in and out of style. But who knows, I hope it gets more popular.

Have you seen a notable difference in its popularity during the time you’ve been doing it?
It’s gotten more popular. When I started dancing it was around the time when things started picking up in LA (around ‘96 or ‘97). It’s not a huge, overwhelming difference, but I can definitely see that it’s more popular. For instance there are way more events nowadays then when I first started.

When it comes to street dancing, it’s not like there’s an Olympics or some kind of World Championship. What does someone like you strive for since there are few official awards.
I kind of like the fact that there is not one big event that dictates who’s the best. I kind of like that there’s a lot of different events and you might be the best at one event but you’re not at another event. Because I think it’s impossible to say, “This person is the best.” It’s like saying Picasso was the best, or Da Vinci was the best. Dancing is first and foremost an art form, and art is a subjective thing. Someone might like how I dance and someone might hate how I dance. Who is to say who is right and wrong? That’s the beauty of dancing and artistic expression.

The competitive aspect is good though. I like the fact that there is competition and battles, because that only makes you better. One of the big reasons I practiced really hard was for the sake of competition. I wanted to basically take everybody else out.

You’re kind off contradicting yourself then.
I am contradicting myself, and battling is kind off a contradiction. Every time there‘s a big battle at an event there’s always somebody that disagrees with the judges’ outcome. So it’s like you had Picasso and some other guy go up against each other. Each one has an empty canvas and 30 minutes to do a painting. Whoever wins wins. But is that the real winner? Everybody is going to have their own opinion on who’s the best.

How long do you plan to keep this up?
As long as I can, as long as I can possibly do it. It’s something that even when I’m an old man I’ll probably still do. It’s kind of an addiction for me. I seriously can’t go a day without doing moves. Not only that, but I think it’s the fountain of youth. It keeps you active. It’s good exercise, and it’s mentally healthy. It’s like a natural high for me.



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