HIP-HOP dancer Steven "Boogieman" Stanton never had to answer the question "So You Think You Can Dance?" Long before the dance competition TV series became a proving ground for commercial success, the Detroit native landed jobs dancing in videos and tours for the likes of Prince, Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lopez, and became a member of the street dance troupe the Groovaloos.
But in 2003, Stanton had to face a much more difficult question: What would you do if you couldn't dance? In a Vancouver nightclub that August, Stanton was shot as a bystander to gang violence and suffered partial paralysis in his legs. He was told he would never walk -- let alone dance -- again. But through sheer force of will, he managed to go from a walker to crutches to a cane and, best of all, reclaim his groove.
Stanton's tragedy and triumph embody the spirit of "Groovaloo" -- a collision of street dance and stage musical that employs hip-hop movement, music and spoken word poetry to tell the individual stories of its 14-member cast.
The show dramatizes Stanton's shooting along with other personal stumbling blocks the dancers have faced -- as varied as child abuse, depression, family shame and the drive for perfectionism. Its unofficial tagline, says director and co-creator Danny Cistone, is "Life isn't choreographed. Sometimes you have to freestyle."
Freestyling -- or improvisational dancing -- emerges as both a tactic for overcoming life's challenges to pursue what you love and as the aesthetic heart of the show. The Groovaloos' vocabulary of street dance movement -- popping, locking and breaking -- is rooted in the origins of hip-hop culture, which prizes individual expression through improvisation.
Though the show has plenty of set choreography, at many points the dancers are "in the circle," where they dialogue with one another through spontaneous one-upmanship. In this context, says co-creator Bradley "Shooz" Rapier, "you cannot exist as a carbon copy just doing what somebody else showed you. You have to somehow find how to put your personality into the dance or you won't survive in it."
This focus on individual stories of survival in the competitive dance world has drawn comparisons to "A Chorus Line."
The Groovaloos "are used to being background dancers for artists like Madonna and Christina Aguilera," says Cistone. "Now this is about them and this is their story."
Cast member Keeley "LockNKey" Kaukimoce, for one, appreciates the opportunity to express her own unique struggle to reconcile her Christian faith with her desire to dance hip-hop. "There aren't too many settings in the dance world where you get to do that," she says.
Previously performed in Los Angeles at the Falcon Theatre in 2005 and the Luckman Fine Arts Complex in 2007, "Groovaloo" itself has gone through tweaks and refinements over the years. With new pieces and a more interwoven narrative, "this run is definitely the most complete," says Cistone.
But there's still ample room for impromptu headspins. And the show's message of striving for creative solutions to uncontrollable setbacks endures. It's one you don't have to be a dancer to appreciate.
Says Rapier, "There's something about the show that keeps saying, 'Don't quit, don't give in, push on, be yourself. Whatever you do, be that to the best you can be.' "
WHERE: Orange County Performing Artscenter's Samueli Theatre, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun., ends June 15.
INFO: (714) 556-2787; www.ocpac.org