It’s hard to believe it when Julio Velazquez describes his younger self as being shy. These days he is just about everywhere there is music in San Diego, whether that’s hyping up a crowd at Balboa Park from behind the mixer, on the local news at the center of a giant “Footloose” mall flashmob, or teaching class at A Time To Dance.
Julio, also know as DJ BodyRawK, is on a roll. His mission? Unity.
We sat down with him (over some bowls of ramen) to talk all about his dance journey, staying happily challenged, and his hopes for San Diego’s dance scenes.
Q: What got you started with hip hop?
BodyRawK: I grew up in a San Diego neighborhood called West Spruce Apartments located in Middletown between Downtown and Old Town. I grew up with kids who were older than me and would play this music all the time. And I credit Alejandro Vegas, who is now part of my family, for playing this song called Planet Rock from Afrika Bombaataa. I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever heard. That song, along with with Moby’s Body Rock, are where I get the name DJ BodyRawk from. Together, they define what I want to emulate as a DJ.
The movie Beat Street was the talk of the neighborhood. We were obsessed. It has this dance scene when they’re battling at the Roxy club and we would set up cardboard and try to do the moves. I was the only one who could do what they call a coffee grinder/helicopter – and it felt really good, especially as a shy kid, to have everyone react to that.
Throughout the years listening to hip hop music, I started to learn more about the history and collect records. Before I was a DJ, I would burn CDs and go to parties and, because the DJ would be whack, I’d be like, “Dude, play this! This is the new stuff.”
So I was always digging records and collecting music.
Eventually I got my own equipment and started to DJ. With hip hop, there are 4 different elements: hip-hop, DJ, MC, and graffiti.
Now I am more involved in the culture.
I’ve performed on stage with KRS1, I’ve met the likes of Lauryn Hill, and I’m still active with local artists like Kiyoshi and choreographing music videos – just being involved and living the hip hop way!
I believe the essence of hip hop is just to be something out of nothing. I can easily say it saved my life when I could have instead been influenced by a lot of negativity.
Q: When you teach, what do you want people to get out of your class?
BodyRawK: My class isn’t much about showcasing choreography. It’s about making sure my students grow. I gauge their level as soon as they enter, so that they feel comfortable and open and can leave feeling better than when they came in.
So after I read their level, we go from there. I give them more challenges. If they can do it, then I give them more. For me, I just want to show who I am as a person and performer so that they can perhaps be inspired.
But, guaranteed, if they’re coming in, they are learning that essence and where to start – they’re listening to the music, they memorize it, they incorporate the body, then we do some drills and techniques. Sometimes exploration is open.
It challenges them and also changes them mentally because they walk in feeling shy. When I was a kid, I was shy. Dance has given me the experience of feeling confident and boosting my self esteem.
It’s not like you’re just teaching the choreography.
BodyRawK: Yeah, sometimes in studios there’s a lot of choreographers that show a routine and expect the students to miraculously learn it.
For me, I really like to guide it. The more I share, the better I get. Students don’t care how much you know until you show them how much you care.
I mean, I’ve taken those choreography classes. It’s good if you have the mentality that it’s going to train you on your pick-up, but that just isn’t everyone’s mentality.
As an instructor, I want to make sure my students get what I felt was missing from many of my experiences taking classes – I want to make sure they get the feeling of dancing rather than a take-it-or-leave-it approach.
Q: You’ve been dabbling in the latin scene as well. What has that been like and what are some of your goals for that?
BodyRawK: Right! It’s almost been a year since I started going social dancing in San Diego. It’s been a blessing.
I had no idea the social dancing scene was so super active. One dance leads to another dance. It’s like different languages – this dance exposes you to this dance, and then that dance brings you to another dance.
I was exposed to hip hop which introduced me to house. From there I found new style hustle, etc. You are able to partner dance to house music.
I was with a group that wasn’t that active and I wasn’t feeling it. Then some old fiends popped up and told me I should come through with salsa and bachata.
Funny thing is, I worked with A Time To Dance in the past for 5 years and I’d been exposed to these dances before and wasn’t into it. This time, I was open to it and welcomed the change. Falling into social dancing where I don’t know anything was very humbling. It made me fall in love with dance again because I was learning new things.
The touch of contact from hand to hand also sparked those memories from my college degree at San Diego State learning modern jazz, ballet, and contact improv. Our brains are made to learn. It’s fun! I’ve also applied it in the real world with how to listen, respond, react, and celebrate people. It’s a bonding experience that you remember.
Being exposed to the music has also given me new skills. Now I’m DJing events. At the same time, of course, I have to respect the culture. Learn the history, learn the songs.
I just like where am now and I’m proud that I’m doing this and going social dancing almost every night! It’s making me happy. My goal is basically to see where it leads and stay happy!
Now I can mix it up wherever I DJ. I was playing at Balboa Park and I played a remix Taki Taki bachata. I played a bachata record at an elementary school dance and that was really great. Now I always think of songs that could be bachata remixes.
Q: Are you going to make your own remixes?
Maybe! Might as well. I want to make my own music eventually. That is definitely a goal.
I think I am one of only a few dancers in San Diego that has ventured off into all these different music and dance scenes. I can hang with the poppers, the krumpers, the house and modern people, new style hustlers, salseros, zoukers, bachata dancers, and I kind of invite people into the different scenes they don’t know about.
But I’m not out there to prove anything. And if you’re going to fuse things, you have to really understand the original style, not just water it down.
That’s definitely a big conversation in every genre of dance. In salsa you have the divisions of On1, On2, Cuban, etc and in kizomba you have the traditional and the urban camps.
BodyRawK: I had this conversation with Lauryn Hill! She has a record called the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and she said she wanted to make a record with what she grew up with and what’s current, and people were trying to tell her to stick to one niche. Me, I like everything, so just do it all!
There are records now that they call hip hop but it’s more turn-up trap. With real hip hop, you can hear the difference. Or with house music and EDM. There’s a difference. If you know the difference, you won’t get confused.
Q: We’ve talked before about unity within the different dance scenes and how we can improve as a community. What are your thoughts on that?
BodyRawk: It’s a great problem to have. People like to talk about it as competition, but I think it’s just a thing that can make the community grow. Man, out-of-towners come to events here. What I’m seeing now is people incorporating other genres into their socials.
San Diego is very team oriented and each company has their own way of doing things. That’s cool, but if you’re stuck in a matrix, that’s all you know. There’s always room to improve as a community.
I’ve DJed at zouk, salsa, and bachata socials and I hear the same thing – we should have a night where we include all music. Cool, but you guys should contact these people over here or those people over there, because they have an army of people.
If everyone talked and showed up, it could happen. An event that is playing a certain type of music needs to come with the people who dance that music.
That’s what I’m seeing. I would like to spark some dialogue between the organizers to have this kind of conversation and have more collaboration.
Q: Any final thoughts to share?
BodyRawk: If there’s anything else I could say, I think it’s great that there’s all these events happening in San Diego. I want San Diego to be the place out-of-towners want to come to. At the same time, you have to go out and learn elsewhere. Make your home your home, but go explore the world too!
Julio Velazquez (DJ BodyRawK) teaches hip hop classes at A Time To Dance and DJs a bachata/zouk night at Tango del Rey every Wednesday night. You can find him pretty much anywhere there’s music, including Korea, where he’ll be performing at EDC Korea at the end of August 2019.
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