By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Shane Fry played two guard for Emerson and Amherst high schools and wanted to play in college, too, but the dance bug bit him instead.
“I saw some kids breakdancing and I started practicing it then and there. I stopped college, got a job and started practicing dancing,” Fry told me last week during a Refresh “What are you eating?" interview for a piece published today.
We talked more about dancing than food, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that he was the latest person I’ve interviewed who belongs to the young creative class that’s reinventing Buffalo.
Fry, 36, and his wife, Heather Russell-Fry, are the principal organizers of the third annual Battle @ Buffalo Under the Lights, a dance contest that runs from noon to 10 p.m. Aug. 24 in the parking lot at New Era cap company, 160 Delaware Ave.; find out more at vervedancestudio.com.
“We have a lot of help,” Fry said about the organization of the competition.
Fry told me he spent every Thursday night back in the late 1990s until about 2006 at Broadway Joe’s tavern on Main Street, near the University at Buffalo South Campus.
‘The night there was called ‘Baby Steps,’” he said. “That was pretty much the pinnacle for hip hop in Buffalo. Pretty much all the notables in Buffalo that are doing things right now all had their start on these nights. There were graffiti writers, there were DJs, rappers and, of course, breakdancers.”
During those years, he taught at different dance studios until he opened Verve Dance Studio in 2005.
“Since then, there’s been performances at different schools, street performances, performances in different cities, all over the place. Toronto, New York," he said.
Here are some other questions I asked him while visiting his Main Street studio, up a couple flights of stairs above Hyatts art studio,:
What’s harder, physically, basketball or breakdancing?
I would say breakdancing is harder on the body. You’re literally throwing yourself on the ground. When you’re learning moves, you’re not hitting the ground smoothly. Right now, I would say that when I go to do my move it’s calculated and I know exactly what to do, and hopefully I pull that move off the right way to not hurt myself. Even when you have learned, you’re still crashing and falling.
How many teachers and how many students do you have?
Six teachers and maybe 70 to 100 students right now. There’s breakdancing, hip hop and house. We also do a workout class doing breakdance moves.
Tell me about the artwork in here. Who does that? The boombox is cool.
Local graffiti artists and then I do some myself, too. I don’t do graffiti, I use a paintbrush. I try to ask them to do things that stimulate this space, but the body of their work is what they’re feeling.
The main goal of graffiti artists is to have some kind of fame and, I think, to take some power back. A lot of graffiti artists I think feel that the ones with money shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to advertise. Now, I would be mad if someone had a piece of property and someone just painted on it. But I also understand the other side of taking space back.
I see a stack of LPs on the floor.
I am a huge, huge vinyl record collector. I have all kinds of records. I take my daughter record shopping with me. She knows how to use a turntable, she knows what records are. If you ask any other kid her age what a record is or how to work a turntable, they would have no clue.
Do you scratch them here?
No. I can DJ but I don’t want to DJ. My records are kept in plastic. They’re for listening. Also, I’m a musician. I play bass and keyboard and I do composing. So what I do is find a drum pattern on a record, reorganize it or play drums off my drum machine and then play keyboard into my drum machine and bass into my drum machine and compose it all into a song.
Do you use some of that for your teaching?
Yes. For records, there’s something great about something you can hold in your hands. The cover has artwork. You can hold it, you can talk about it. You can’t do that with an MP3.
Tell me more about the studio.
Most kids want to be a lawyer or a doctor. Literally, when I was 10, I wanted to have a community center and that’s pretty much what this place is. This place is here to support the community and to educate the community, and a place for positive expression and a voice for the community.
The art and the dance is very much obvious here.
What else do you mean?
Providing a place where people see other people being nice to each other. Being in the same place with all different backgrounds and exchanging ideas and coming up with new ideas to really change Buffalo and understand what’s really going on out there…
To understand how people are different and not be afraid to engage people who are different from you.
When you talk about different people who come up here, what might surprise readers of The Buffalo News?
If you take a walk around Buffalo, it can be one way in certain places. If you come here you might be surprised to see people from Amherst who are grandparents sitting right next to somebody from the West Side who’s 13 years old, and they’re smiling with each other and exchanging. I have 60-year-old men who are taking my dance class with 15-year-olds. For the battles, it’s really a beautiful sight, because there are all walks of life in this room. You don’t always get that, so it’s important for people to come and experience that.
What do you talk about when you do workshops for young dancers?
I talk about healthy eating, but the biggest thing is the stretching. I say, ‘Listen, if you plan to be an athlete in your life, you can get away with it for a while, but when you start to get into your 20s, you’ll see and feel a difference in your body, and it’s not going to be performing the way you want it to if you don’t stretch.
A massage is like an oil change. Massage, diet, exercise and stretching. If you’re going to do those four things, your body’s going to be in the best shape it can be.
The food that’s hardest for you to resist?
Candy. Chocolate in particular. I love Reese’s cups. But even a Hershey’s bar, my wife says, ‘It’s terrible. If you’re going to eat chocolate, at least get some good chocolate.’