The apartment, by nickname that stuck, is called “The Dojo.”
A second-story flat above a storefront, it has over the last decade through friends of friends and other connections been home and practice space for a rotating group of dancers connected with Chicago’s breakdancing community.
Intermittently over the next several weeks, we will be hearing the stories of several Dojo residents, past and present, about how they came to the apartment and to lives embracing hip-hop dance.
For B-Boy ManOfGod, who recently moved from The Dojo to Hong Kong, it started with a fused spine.
In the summer of 2000, Jarius King, the future ManOfGod, was a 15-year-old kid on the Southeast Side with severe scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine.
After doctors surgically fused his upper and middle spine to straighten it, there wasn’t much to do other than lay around, recuperate and watch HBO.
That was when “Beat Street” came on.
The 1984 drama is a celebration of hip-hop culture in the South Bronx. Graffiti, DJing and, of course, breakdancing. He had seen the movie before, but as a bedridden teen, the movement spoke to him.
“The battle scene in the Roxy night club, I was just like, ‘Yo, I wish I could do that,’” ManOfGod said. “I was always into martial arts. I love the back and forth, the camaraderie, even the respect that two enemies or rivals can have for each other, so I thought that was dope. And just to see that exchange — it was something I could relate to more, versus fantasizing kung fu stuff.”
His doctors advised he wait a year before starting to breakdance. He waited four months.
“Even for like the first few years into it, the first four years into the dance, I didn’t do a lot of like the windmills,” he said, citing one of the more gymnastic and dangerous breakdance moves. “And a lot of crazy moves I’d have to stay away from because it was just too much for my back to handle and it was too much of a risk and I was too afraid.”
As he continued breaking over the years, around the country, around the world, he became less afraid. And less. And less.
He was attending a selective enrollment high school in West Englewood, miles away from his home on the Southeast Side. So it was a surprise when he found out a classmate — a classmate who knew how to break, no less — lived exactly one block north of him.
The friend showed him some moves and gave him an instructional video.
“I just kept practicing with that videotape for a while and then found an online forum called chicagobboy.com and met up with some folks,” he said.
From the forum, he found out there was a practice space at Bessemer Park, just five blocks south of him.
“I started meeting breakers and watching them, and I would practice around them. South Side Brickheadz and dudes from Indiana. I would just watch them and I would practice too, because it was a community practice space. Then a couple of the cats kind of took to me,” he said. “They would always help me with moves and show me stuff, just put me onto some knowledge and share things with me.”
He later moved to North Lawndale on the West Side to live with his aunt. One day on AOL Instant Messenger, a stranger reached out to him based on the B-Boy reference in his user name. They started chatting.
A few weeks later the stranger, Skripture, invited him to practice.
“He invited me to come practice with him at his basement. In his basement at his crib. He was like, ‘Oh, we practice at our crib and stuff.’ I was like, hmm, if he wanted to do some weird stuff or kill me or whatever…” ManOfGod trailed off, laughing. “I was like, ‘Yo, I had been talking to him for weeks and building with him. This dude really knows his stuff about breaking, so I don’t think it’s fake.’ It turned out it wasn’t, thank God.”
The Word of God
ManOfGod took a moment to pray over his sandwich. The name’s not an affectation.
He didn’t start as ManOfGod. His first B-Boy name was Ravenous, a name that gets both him and his friends laughing as they sit around The Dojo’s dining room. It was teen affectation, a name he gave himself because he thought it sounded cool.
“Ravenous” later became “7-Up,” due to his friends’ repeated ribbing that he looked like Orlando Jones, the soft drink’s pitchman at the time.
“I didn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Yo, you’re all Latino. You’re just saying that because I’m the only black dude you hang with,’” ManOfGod said, laughing.
He fought “7-Up” for a year or more until he attended a Christian teen camp that was “like 98 percent black.” When the first thing he heard stepping off the bus was someone yelling Jones’ slogan at him (“Make 7-Up Yours!” for you retro nuts), he decided it might not be a race thing.
Embracing it, he had his B-Boy name, his identity for dancing.
“But they switched spokespeople after a year or two and I was without a name,” he said.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the nameless B-Boy would see an old high school friend and fellow believer. They were part of a cohort attending college together through a scholarship program called POSSE.
When she would see him on campus, she would yell and joke about “There goes a man of God, he’s a man of God.”
It fit. ManOfGod was born.