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Our Brother: Ivan the Urban Action Figure

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Late in the spring of 2013 we had been open for just about a year. The studio was still struggling to build clientele and I was seriously questioning if I was in over my head. One afternoon, I was working in my office before our evening classes when the phone rang. I ran out to the front desk to answer.

“Bboy Factory, this is Ian.”

A raspy voice responded, “Hi, is this the owner of the studio?”

“Yes I am, how can I help you?”

“My name is Ivan. I heard about what you’re doing out there and I’d love to come get involved. Is there an email address I could send my bio to?”

"Bboy Ivan? Ivan the Urban Action Figure?” I stammered.

“You know who I am?!” he responded as if shocked.

My earliest Breakin’ inspirations came from watching old Freestyle Sessions and Bboy Summit VHS tapes in the late 90s. Names like Kujo, Storm, Orko, Iron Monkey, Remind, Wicket, Lil’ Ceasar and Ivan the Urban Action Figure were as legendary to me as Rock Steady Crew.

“Of course I do. I don’t need a bio. Let’s do this!”

Ivan in the studio 2015, photo by Matt McDonald

A few weeks later, I picked him up from the airport. The plan was for him to teach a series of workshops. What I didn’t know then was that this relationship would be integral to the Bboy Factory and for me personally for years to come. Ivan would become one of my closest friends.

Those weeks were a whirlwind. Ivan’s energy is enormous and contagious. He worked hard as a teacher and didn’t expect to be treated like a superstar. I was working side by side with one of my idols. It felt like the movie, Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.” Outside of the studio we talked for hours about Hip Hop and dance. We would go out dancing at night and the hype never stopped. For years to come he would get us in every big Hip Hop show that came to Denver and even backstage. Every big DJ and MC seemed to know him. They would tell "Ivan" stories about being on tour together when he used to perform for them.

As I dropped him off at the airport, he said, “this is just the beginning.” We slapped hands and I went home to rest. It was a pivotal moment for the studio to be recognized by an icon in the dance and beyond. Ivan is a legend of Hip Hop culture as I came to learn again and again.

We stayed in touch and a few weeks later he asked if he could come back for a couple weeks and teach another series of workshops. He would be on the road a lot teaching, judging and hosting. But he really seemed to like Colorado and wanted to keep building. There was no doubt in my mind that this would help the studio grow its reputation nationally and even internationally. Personally I was excited to learn everything I could from him.

The next several weeks would forever change my life. Ivan keeps his cards close to his chest, so I’ll do my best to respect his privacy. However, these stories are emblematic of who he is and how much he has meant to the Bboy Factory and myself.

He taught all types of classes at the studio. He worked with our kids and our small young team we started together that summer. His generosity with the kids was inspiring. We performed and trained and were constantly in the thick of conversation about the culture and how to teach it and help it grow. He would say to me, “dude, you’re so freaking Hip Hop!” Ivan the Urban Action Figure saw my vision and endorsed the Bboy Factory, not just with words but with his own actions and energy. He told me it was time to think bigger and at the same time the studio began to grow. Our classes were attracting more students and our young team went from 3 kids to 6 that summer.

Ivan between performances with the Kids Team summer of 2014

Over the next couple of years he would return every couple of months. We’d set up workshops and pick up conversation wherever we left off. He hosted his first Bboy Factory Anniversary in 2015. We had other big things in the works and it felt right that he should be a part of our annual celebration. At that time he was hosting many of the major events around the world such as Freestyle Sessions, Outbreak Europe and more. He was building a reputation as one of Breakin’s top “hype” men. He didn’t dissapoint.

His day to day energy is amazing, but doesn't even compare to the energy he projects as a host. We brought out Ken Swift to judge and Ivan picked him up from the airport while I was busy setting up. When they got to the house Ken told me Ivan had a ton of good things to say about me and the studio. Over the years that became a pattern. He has always endorsed the Bboy Factory and at that moment I was filled with such gratitude. The event went perfectly and he has been our annual host ever since. Ken Swift sent me a text from the airport calling the Anniversary Jam “a breath of fresh air” and I am convinced to this day Ivan played a huge roll in that. Later that same year we would have an experience of a lifetime and our bonds grew stronger and tighter. One of our instructors, Matt McDonald, developed a relationship with a Moroccan dancer who was living in Colorado. Friends of his back in Morocco were organizing an event and wanted to bring Ivan there to judge. Because of Ivan’s relationship with the Bboy Factory they asked Matt to make the connection. But Matt was thinking bigger. He contacted the event organizers and the US embassy in Morocco and proposed that a Bboy Factory team should go there before the event to do outreach in underprivileged areas of Morocco. To be honest, I questioned if the US Embassy would accept the proposal. They did. We were to put together a team of Ivan and 3 more dancers to travel to Morocco and teach a series of community classes before the event in Meknes.

For me personally, this was beyond my wildest dreams. We were sponsored by the US Embassy to travel to North Africa and be chauffeured around the country by embassy staff to Break and teach this dance I love. It was something I never could have imagined. In August 2015, it became reality. Matt, myself, Ivan and one of Colorado’s other top bboys, Jake aka Data from Soul Mechanics, flew from Denver to Chicago to Paris to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. We taught at a community center in the capitol and at a large rural school down a dirt road in what felt like truly the middle of nowhere.

Ivan organizing a group photo after one of our outreach classes

It was there in Morocco that I saw just how big Ivan’s heart is. He treated everyone young and old with genuine warmth and enthusiasm. When he gave his workshop before the jam in Meknes over 70 bboys came, hungry to learn from him. The largest apache line I’ve ever seen was there under the bleachers of a stadium in Meknes. After hours of pictures and autographs we went back to the hotel and Ivan disappeared for 12 hours. He had worn himself out so completely by giving all of himself to these classes and workshops and finally, he crashed.

That is who Ivan is. He will give you the shirt off his back because he loves the culture we share so much. At the jam they called his name for his judge showcase. He stood up, pointed at the crowd and went into a headspin that I swear was about to drill a hole into the ground. He stood out of it and the crowd erupted in the loudest applause of the entire event. They loved him.

The Bboy Factory team in Morocco

He flew out the next day to another event in Europe. The three of us spent another couple days in Morocco as tourists before we returned home. I didn’t see Ivan for a few months after that, but I knew it was because he needed rest. Not a good night’s sleep, he needed sustained time to really recover. He had been giving everything to Breakin’ for so many years now, his energy, his body and his love. But sure enough, Ivan called me before the end of the year and in that same raspy voice asked, “what are we doing?”

“What do you mean Ivan?”

“I mean what’s next, come on, let’s go.” “You already know, brother. What do you want to do?”

“I’m coming out there in a few weeks.” I didn’t know then that he had big plans.

He came and went several more times over the next year. He would come to teach or sometimes he would come just to take a break and relax. We’d pick it up wherever we left off. He was traveling to work all over the country and all over the world. He always made sure to keep the weekend of the Bboy Factory Anniversary open every year, even when I’m sure he could have made more money somewhere else.

It was sometime in 2017 he told me he had a plan. He wanted to open his own studio. I told him I would give all my support. He decided on Colorado Springs and we started planning. I told him everything I’d learned about running a studio and told him it wasn’t going to be easy. I’ve never seen Ivan shy away from hard work.

We would spend nights on end brainstorming the right name. I could feel his excitement and I knew he was serious. I recognized that energy from starting the Bboy Factory. It’s a scary idea. To take responsibility for keeping a facility open and serving a community because it’s something you truly love, while knowing financially the risk and the hardship that you will endure along with that. But, "if your ideas don’t scare you, you’re not thinking big enough.”

He started spending more time in Colorado Springs and would come up to Denver for weekends or whenever he had time. He came up to have lunch with Mr. Wiggles and I before Wiggles taught at the Bboy Factory. Wiggles was very excited to hear Ivan was opening his own school. In the spring of 2018, Ivan opened On the Break Dance Academy. He and his business partner, Casie Mary, found a beautiful space and built it out.

Imagine the work. To open a business and promote it while flying around the world every few weeks to teach and host events. Yet, somehow he always finds time to stop by the Bboy Factory and catch up with the kids. He always stays in touch and sends excited texts about the future. He changed his plans last minute to come host and teach at Breakin’ Convention at the Denver Center for Performing Arts when the host we had booked cancelled last year. He was there among my closest friends in the dressing room before my wedding to keep me calm last year, and that’s funny to think about as I’m usually the calm one between us.

Ivan teaching with Bgirl icon, AsiaOne at Breakin' Convention Denver 2018

It has been my privilege and an honor to be there for On the Break when he’s needed me. I’ve taught when he was travelling, judged events at his studio and even brought judges Menno in 2018 and Born in 2019 from the Bboy Factory Anniversary Jam down to teach in Colorado Springs after our Anniversary events. He’s asked me to paint graffiti pieces for their studio twice and I know there are many other artists he could have asked. But I’m gratefull to give to him just as he has given so much to me. He has trusted me with his students as I trusted him with mine. He has spoken of me again and again with admiration and respect. He has been the greatest support I could ask for. I have told him more than once, that I don’t have a famous name like he does. My brand is more famous than I am. So to have him represent the Bboy Factory and show the world that he truly believes in what I’ve worked so hard to build is priceless.

I am excited when I think about the future. I get anxious thinking about it sometimes. I know that whatever happens Bboy Factory and On the Break will work together and support one another. Outside of Breakin’ he has become one of my closest friends. Through thick and thin, we’ve shared so much love and joy for this culture and I’m proud to look back at the journey we took together. From a phone call between strangers to today, Ivan the Urban Action Figure has been there for the Bboy Factory with a huge heart, his vibrant positivity and the honest grit it takes to work tirelessly for the culture he loves.

I could tell many more stories, but I want to take it back to that first phone call. Just a few days before, a video came out on Youtube of him speaking at Catch the Flava. I watched it several times. The words he spoke expressed a philosophy of the dance I myself had been trying so hard teach. The video gave me chills. This was literally just days before he called the studio…

And so, when that phone rang and I told him “of course I know who you are,” it was a moment of pure synchronicity for me. The doubt went out the window, the struggle all became meaningful and I knew for certain I was doing what I was meant to be doing. Because “you can imitate, but you can never duplicate… and what he’s done will echo for an eternity.. ty…ty…..ty.” (watch the link below)

Thank you Ivan. We love you.

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