My Life in Sweats: Popping with Camo Wagner

There is an infinite number of ways to move your body and Camo Wagner knows all of them. Ask him a question about how to do a particular move and you’ll get a Bubba-Blue-from-Forrest-Gump style answer that will leave you dizzy. “Anyway, like I was sayin’, you can do this movement right here. You can wave it, pop it, bounce it, freeze it, dime stop it. There’s uh, threading, tutting, squidding. Finger waves, snake style, cobra style. There’s pineapple movement, lemon movement, coconut movement, pepper movement, movement soup, movement stew, movement salad, movement and potatoes, movement burger, movement sandwich. That- that’s about it. No wait… you can… ” I am in the presence of a movement lexicon.

I met Camo at the Urban Movement Festival in Plano in November 2018 where I grilled him about how he teaches his class. He patiently described how his process starts off with him introducing a concept, giving us time to play with it, cyphering it, then working on the technique with him and drilling it. “No choreo,” I asked? Nope. WHEN DO WE START? Choreography is my least favorite way to learn to dance. I think of it like this: Sure I can learn a choreography but without having some training in the basic moves I’ll just dance that choreography shittily. Camo’s format makes his class my dream dance class. Technique, experimentation, watching him, watching others, showing my own moves, getting feedback, and drills. Yes, please.

Camo teaches popping classes at DFC Headquarters and Fenton’s Dance Factory and during the break I was taking lessons from him at both places. On Wednesdays I took an animation class at Fenton’s and then I’d have an hour and a half before class at DFC so I’d do some grocery shopping and still arrive early. Then it was time to sit in my car and prepare for my mental battle with the front desk volunteer who we’ll call… “Snarkface.”

I remember one particular interaction with him… (To be read in Clint Eastwood’s voice.)

It was a dark and stormy night. I snapped shut the door of my trusty turbo vehicle and patted him on the hood. As I turned towards the school of dance, a howling wind caught the edges of my trench coat and blew them back revealing what I was packing on both hips. Usually one bottle of water isn’t enough to keep me hydrated. I could see my quarry occupying the front office staring down at his phone with a scowl on his face. He was probably upset that someone was experiencing joy somewhere else in town. A low growl escaped my lips as I took several threatening steps towards the building, the clinking of my massive set of keys jingling with each movement. I paused at the door for dramatic effect before bursting inside and turned to face the tuft of black hair that was just visible through the little window. Sound, smell, light, and happiness vanished as my cold stare burned two holes into the top of his head. Nothing else mattered in this moment except the twenty feet of distance that I was closing in on with my intimidating presence. I reached the window, put both hands on the ledge, and sneered as I asked, “How are you today?” Snarkface caught me off guard and delivered a near fatal blow by not replying to me at all. I clutched at my side in disbelief and when I pulled my hand away it was covered in sticky, wet expectations of human decency. I could feel it pooling in my Pumas. I looked at him again, shocked. “That good huh?” The words left my mouth before I could stop myself, clearly motivated by pain. Snarkface, still silent, eyed me with contempt as he swiped my credit card, going for the kill. He handed back my card and class token right before my world went dark and my limp body came crashing to the linoleum. “Camo,” I gasped, “Take care… of my car… for… me.”

This story is highly fictionalized for humor’s sake. DFC is a great place and I will return when my schedule frees up. I recently met Taj, the guy who founded and runs it, and that is one hard working and talented dude. Also, the Volunteer reached out to me after this post went live and I found out that he’s a pretty nice guy after all.  I just caught him on a bad day. Everyone be nice!

On my sacred dance day, Thursday, I see Camo during the last time slot at Fenton’s after taking two classes earlier that evening. Camo has many pilgrims that follow him from place to place for dance lessons. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he is next in line for the title of Most Venerable Zen Popping Grandmaster. He’s got a good start on what will be a thin, long, white beard that he can run his hand through as he eyes the moves of his new pupils in his old age. I can hear him now, “Carry that bucket of water three times on the left and three times on the right while keeping your rhythm in your knee bounce. Two bounces on the left and two bounces on the right. Watch your angles!”

Something that I adore about Camo is his practice of taking a group picture with the students at the end of each class. As much of a privacy freak as I am, I can’t help but pine when I see a picture of one of his classes that I was unable to attend without me in it. Pictured here, my hand is actually being held up by Camo’s magical force field. He’s also making the phone that took the picture of us hover and snap the photo with his mind.

Camo watches each of us with a sharp and practiced eye and gives each of his students thorough attention. I remember him putting the class on task and coming to help me on my first day. We started with the basic fresno move which is, at it simplest, popping your muscles on a beat on the left and on a beat on the right. Rinse, repeat. He’d go back and assist the other students and then would come back to me to add a few more movements to my vocabulary. I felt fully cared for and acknowledged. During the cyphering or “demo” period I was offered the same courtesy as I was offered in hip hop class. “Are you comfortable?” “No. No I am not.” But I quickly became comfortable in Camo’s environment and jumped right in the next time the opportunity arose. Crazily enough, many of the moves are not all that different from belly dance.

Two of my favorite things in the world combined: Japan and popping. You don’t need to understand the language, just watch for a very thorough double fresno lesson.

Camo is a smooth, suave, and chill dude with a kind face and eyes that lead you into an astral plane like something you’d find in the Matrix. In our first few conversations he surprised me with words “yoga” and “meditate.” Now that I know him a little better it all makes sense but it did not fit into my preformed idea of what a popping instructor would be like. Camo is deep. Like, Marianas Trench deep. He told me about his meditation practice and I was fascinated. He pictures doing normal daily things like leaving his place, going to the store, opening the cooler, and grabbing a drink. He simply moves through his day with imagination and clarity. What? No fantasy ice cave with your spirit penguin telling you to slide? (Bonus points if you get that reference.)

I’ve spent a lot of time with Camo over the past few months and every week his mystery unfolds a little more. In his waving workshop he shared quite a bit about where his inspiration originates. Are you ready for this? It’s nature. Camo’s eyes gloss over when he talks about leaves following a zig zag path as they fall from the branch to the ground. He goes into great detail about grass blowing in the wind or seaweed carried along by currents. When he talks about water he trails off and stares off into the distance with a Buddha-like smile on his face. We always feel bad about snapping him back into the present because you can see he’s in his happy place – his “water world.” (I’m just playing around. Camo is always uber-present in class.) He lists smoke and clouds as influences too. Have you ever watched how clouds move when sped up? When he’s performing, he is the grass in the wind, the seaweed in the water, or heck – he’s the water.

Click this image to watch Camo and Rishi killin’ it! My boys on fire! A solid battle from all four dancers. Camo competes last in this round.

In addition to nature he is inspired by cartoons and anime, movies, dreams, and stories. You can see all of these concepts present in his dance. If you watch him closely he is often imagining that he’s interacting with an object like a ball. Other times he’s actually turning into an anime character and manifesting impossible moves into reality. I wish I could jump into his head and see what he’s seeing.

The passion and knowledge that Camo demonstrates is impressive and infectious. I can tell that he lives in this dance. I imagine he’s got a music track playing in his head at all times of the day and that he has to actively think about not moving to the beat. If he stops concentrating on it for one moment I’m sure you’ll find him popping in line at the grocery store, during the slow parts of a movie in a crowded theater, in public restrooms, and so on. At any dance event he can easily be found by his charming signature head bob.

I’m blown away by Camo Wagner. He’s a dance battle winner, a frequent judge, knowledgeable instructor, and genuinely caring person. More than once I’ve heard him say, “I just want to share my knowledge.” My recommendation for him and his class cannot be any higher.

Let Camo share his knowledge with you. Love,

~S

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