Taiwanese America`s Best Dance Crew: Interview with Instant Noodles Crew
Just cause they`re the only Taiwanese American dance crew doesn`t mean that they can`t still legitimately be our favorite Taiwanese American dance crew. Right?
by Ada Tseng
Date Published: 01/31/2012
Instant Noodles. (Clockwise from left: Geo Lee, Chuck Maa, Mike Yang, Rob Tsai, Chris Kuo, Arthur Lien, Charles Lee). Photo by Rowena Aquino.
As soon as the b-boys of Instant Noodles showed up for our video interview, we were bombarded by a charming frenzy of infectious energy: seven energetic handshakes, seven bodies to somehow situate around three makeshift chairs, and seven friendly voices -- eager to answer questions, enthusiastically interrupting each other to add side comments, and of course, hyping each other up whenever they got a chance.
Featured on the sixth season of America's Best Dance Crew in 2011, Instant Noodles is a nine-member b-boy crew (the other two are Aya Lee and Tom Tsai) who most recently took home 3rd place at the 2011 Hip Hop International World Championship. According to their mission statement, the crew prides themselves on three things: 1) paying tribute to their roots, 2) aspiring to innovate, and 3) always remembering not to take life too seriously -- which might explain why they have named themselves after a precooked food product invented by Taiwan-born Momofuku Ando and adopted a hand sign where they throw imaginary noodles at their audiences.
We caught them in San Diego, in town to perform at the San Diego Asian Film Festival Gala Awards Dinner. The boys chatted about everything from dancing in Taipei American School, practicing late nights to prepare for America's Best Dance Crew, signing T-shirts (and body parts) for Instant Noodles fans, and dabbling in freestyle rapping.
What was that last part? According to Geo Lee, when they're stuck on long car rides between shows, they practice freestyle rapping. Lee, Arthur Lien, and Chris Kuo have started a new division of Instant Noodles Crew called Rap City Kings. ("Surprisingly, Arthur has gotten really good," Lee says. "He got to do a little bit of freestyle rap onstage at Hip Hop International. It was crazy.") They even started a Facebook page for Rap City Kings, which at the time of the interview had 35 "likes."
In our interview below, you'll see Kuo throw down the gauntlet: "Basically, when it reaches 50 [likes], we're going to make a rap video."
For the record, as of January 31, 2012, there are 54 "likes," seven freestyle rap posts, but so far 0 ridiculously awesome rap music videos. What's the deal?
Looks like they're busy dancing or something....
Interview with Instant Noodles
October 21, 2011
Interviewed by Ada Tseng
Camera and video edit by Brian Lam
APA: Can you start by telling us how Instant Noodles formed?
Chuck: Originally, it started as me, Geo, and Rob. We've actually been dancing for a really long time. We've known each other since 7th grade. [Geo and Rob] have known each other since kindergarten. We started dancing in high school just for fun, and when we moved over to America, we started Instant Noodles in '03. It was just us three, because we wanted to battle.
Geo came up with the name, [Instant Noodles,] after we were eating in a Chinese restaurant. We wanted a name, but we didn't want to make something too serious, like... Master Groundwork Control Team. [laughs]
Arthur: [laughing] That sounded really good!
Chuck: We decided to go with something really fun. A lot of the b-boys we looked up to had funny names, like Crumbs or Remind. They were names that didn't really mean anything, but because they were so good, we thought those names were the best names in the world. So we wanted the same for the name that we chose. [Pauses] Rob didnt' like it at first.
Rob: Yea. I thought it was a ridiculous name.
Chuck: But we made it so good that he likes it now! That's the whole point!
Later on, these cats joined in: Chris, then Mike and Charles. Arthur just joined a year and a half ago. We are all from the same high school [Taipei American School], so we have a good connection and the same type of background, and we get along really well. We started doing shows in '09, and then we were lucky enough to be on ABDC [America's Best Dance Crew]. And after ABDC, we did the HHI [Hip Hop International] World Finals, and we did really well there: 3rd place in the world.
Photo by Sylvia Gunde.
APA: Can you give me an image of what it was like dancing at Taipei American School?
Geo: We started outside of a gym. It was an outdoor kind of area, and there was red brick and tiles. Back then, we were really young, so we'd just dance on this really hard ground. No knee pads. We didn't really know what we were doing. We were just trying moves that we saw in videos, but it wasn't until we met one of our other crew members, Aya, who still lives in Taiwan now, that we were introduced to the b-boy scene and history. He introduced us to the fundamentals and culture of b-boying, and that's when we really grew to appreciate and love the b-boy style and b-boy culture. It all started at TAS. From there, after we graduated high school, we came to America.
We didn't meet [the rest of the crew] until we went back to TAS during our college summer vacations. We'd go back to Taiwan, and we realized there was a younger generation of Taipei American School [dancers], and it was really cool how we connected. After they graduated, they ended up in Southern California. So it's really awesome for us all being from Taiwan, all starting in Taipei American School, and now being out here and representing.
Rob: While we were in school, we actually had the first IB [International Baccalaureate] dance program which started in 2002. A lot of us knew that we liked breaking, but it was through IB dance that we learned about dance from a cultural standpoint. And because of that, we were able to appreciate other forms of dance.
APA: Did you guys [the younger "generation," Arthur, Charles, Mike, and Chris] grow up with a similar type of experience?
Charles: My dance experience at TAS was pretty much the same that Rob described. In middle school, they have all these elective classes, like Woodshop, and there was Movement. For all three years -- 6th, 7th, 8th grade -- I kept getting put in Movement class even though I wanted Workshop so bad. [laughs] By 9th grade, I realized I didn't mind taking another year of dance. It was a confidence booster. The teachers there know how to teach dance through passion -- not just "You need to point your toes. You need to do this and that." They said, "You need to love dance, and you will be really successful at it." That's what really matters, and that's what really stuck with me.
We also had our little group of breakers. The first reason for starting to break together was to show off and be cool -- you know, trying to get girls. [laughs] But after a while, you realize it's about more than impressing other people. After a while, you start losing yourself in it. Aya taught us that there is more to dance than just headspins, flares, and the gymnastics and athletic sparks. The feeling of dance, the creative process, there's so much to it, and he made me realize that dance is limitless, and you can go forever and ever with it.
Arthur: Before I started dancing at TAS, I was really, really chubby. [laughs] I didn't start dancing until my senior year of high school. I knew Mike and Charles, but I actually didn't meet Geo until I went to UCI [University of California, Irvine] with him. For me, it's really crazy that I became a part of this crew, because when I started dancing, I really looked up to them. I didn't know them, so I never thought I'd be a part of their crew.
Charles: Back in the day, when I would watch trailers of the Instant Noodles Crew, and there were only three people in it. [laughs] You don't really watch it because you want to be wow-ed by cool tricks. If you're in love with breaking, you want to watch people creating different things. Watching Instant Noodles, especially knowing that they're from Taiwan and they're my seniors, it was cool to see what kind of dance they prefer. And it was similar to what we were doing and what we liked. Knowing that these guys [Instant Noodles] were out in California, [Mike and I] were like, "Oh, when we get out there, we'll have a crew to battle with!" And Instant Noodles was like "Sick!"
Photo by Sylvia Gunde.
APA: How did you guys come up with your the Instant Noodles hand sign?
Geo: It was [Rob] and Tom.
Rob: This hand sign.... Some people see it and they're like, "God, it's so stupid. Come on." [laughs]
Basically, there was one time in a battle, where somebody did this [a derogatory hand gesture] to me. In the b-boy battling culture, it's a diss. So what happened was, I looked down, and [the hand gesture] was like a bowl, and then my other hand [making a peace sign] was like chopsticks, so I was like, "I'm throwing my noodles at you!"
[laughs] So much of it is spontaneous. The best things that happen come naturally. When we have to force things, we realize that's the worst thing ever.
Arthur: Geo would like to explain why our hand sign is the best sign ever.
Geo: Yes, the Instant Noodles hand sign is the best hand sign because it's interactive. A lot of times on the show, even from far away, they'll hold the bowl at you, and they can interact with you. They can throw the noodles at you, and people get really into it. Other hand signs are sometimes harder to do, or they're not as interactive, or it's stationary. Ours is interactive! People love interaction!
Arthur: Maybe people just like noodles.
APA: As a crew, do you guys each have your own specific roles and specialties?
Geo: What I really love about our crew is that it's often a group effort. A lot of dance crews will have one or a few choreographers that choreograph everything, but we really like to work together to develop our pieces because we want everyone's input. I always feel that our best work has been a collaboration of everyone's ideas. We'll find different parts of the music that will feel like certain people's styles, and certain people's artistic visions can create the best [moves] for the music. And whoever has an idea can head that idea, and everyone can chime in and improve that idea. We do go through arguments and opinions, but I feel like it's worth it, because the extra time we spend on it allows us to create something that we're all proud of. I think that's what produces a more unique style for us.
Mike: I feel like all of us realized who we were through our ABDC journey. Throughout the weeks, you get about two days to put on a show. You get the music on Thursday, and on Saturday, the executive producers have to see it. And that really forced us to work together and separate the songs into parts. From that, we learned that by working in pairs, it was easy for us to get everything together.Me and Arthur -- the way we think about things is similar. Rob and Charles focus a lot on movement quality, so that makes them a good pair. Geo and Chuck focus more on steps and musicality. So that's how everyone works together in our group.
Photo by Sylvia Gunde.
APA: What do you guys feel you bring from your Taiwanese background that's different than other dancers?
Rob: It's kind of hard to answer that question sometimes, because Taiwan itself is in such a gray area. Not just their identity as people, but political identity and social identity and global identity -- as well as whether Taiwan exists, in terms of being recognized by nations. So what is Taiwanese identity? Being thrust in the limelight the way we have has made me question that more because people ask a lot. And we can't really be like, "Well, salsa is the cultural dance that we have in Taiwan." You know what I mean?
It's hard to pinpoint an exact thing that is Taiwanese that we put into our dance. For me, the question of Taiwanese identity has always been in my head, even if I wasn't conscious of it, and I think for all of us, there's the idea of personal style, developing a personal way of dancing, knowing that when we move the way we want to move, that we're making a choice about our identity. And that is kind of driven by the thought: "What is Taiwan? What does that mean to me?" That's why dance means so much to us: it's something we know for sure we can call our own.
APA: You guys are kind of putting a face to Taiwanese dance.
Rob: That's crazy. It's funny, because on a flyer, somebody recently put "Featuring Instant Noodles Dance Crew, the best Taiwanese dance crew in America." And we were like, "I think we're the only Taiwanese dance crew in America." [laughs]
APA: How have your lives changed after America's Best Dance Crew?
Chuck: Being able to not audition for things is definitely nice. Having people want us to perform is really cool. We have some mediocre fame within the Asian community. When people come up to have us sign their caps of T-shirts -- or bodies -- it's always like "You want my signature? [laughs] You sure you want to ruin this shirt?" It's crazy to us that we have that type of impact on people. People coming up to us and saying we inspire them, makes it all worth it.
Geo: The kind of pressure changed. The difference is that after we did ABDC, it put us in the forefront of representing Taiwanese Americans or Asian Americans in the American dance culture, and I think that's a different kind of pressure. Now that we represent Taiwanese Americans, and we have so many Taiwanese fans or Asian fans in general that go "Yay, Go Instant Noodles!" -- there's a bigger picture.
When we went back to Taiwan, and we got to perform for people in our homeland, it was the craziest thing. They were so proud that we went to America, and we reached a point of success where we could represent Taiwanese Americans on such a big platform. I think it just gives us a responsibly to work harder, because we're representing a bigger cause. Whereas before, we were just doing it because we love to do it. And we still love to dance, but now we're a representation Taiwanese Americans who are pursuing dance and pursuing art.
Chris: I know a lot of Asian families have difficulties with their kids pursuing art, which is weird because a lot of Asian kids take piano classes and violin classes and are touched by art at a young age. My experience was opposite, because when I found dance, my parents were actually really supportive. I don't know why. I think it was because my parents grew up here [in the US] in the '70s, and they were kind of like hippies. [laughs] But my aunts and uncles questioned it more: "Why are you letting your kid dance?"
My dad was always like, "Why can't my son dance? The world has dancers. The world needs dancers. He could be one of them."