Crystal Castillo is going back to the roots.
Not just her own. The Los Angeles-based hip-hop dance teacher has relatives living on the Big Island and identifies herself as Hawaiian. But she is also returning to the beginnings of her art form.
Wednesday, Castillo brought the positive aspects of hip-hop to about 130 children at Kekuaokalani Gym in Kailua-Kona. Before the genre was invaded with persistent messages of drugs and violence, the music and dance moves came out of a 1970s movement in the Bronx to get kids out of gangs and off the streets, Castillo contends.
“It was a positive thing to help the kids out,” she said. “I feel it’s getting twisted to sex, drugs, alcohol. We don’t focus on that. I focus on the pioneers. I try to show another way.”
Her program, Zulu Dance, has a studio in North Hollywood and has worked on projects with Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale and Kung Fu Panda. But Castillo’s passion is to give free dance instruction at as many schools and youth programs as possible in the Western states. The group’s 15 instructors and helpers held bake sales and scraped together funding to get across the Pacific Ocean for the classes in Kailua-Kona.
“Hip-hop is four things: peace, love, unity and having fun,” Castillo shouted energetically to the group. “Hip-hop is not bling, money, cars, big houses.”
Castillo’s mother, Lorna Kailiwai-Castillo, stood watching her daughter show keiki how to throw down break dance and basic hip-hop moves like the baby freeze, the six step, popping and locking. She described the instruction as a labor of love.
“She wanted to come and give back to our local keiki,” Kailiwai-Castillo said.
The students had an hour to learn the moves and listen to the history. Then they performed for their parents.
It wasn’t as hard to pick up as Lulu Asidon, 7, had feared.
“At first I didn’t think it was going to be fun,” Asidon said after her group had scattered for a break. “Then I could feel this beat, and it was like, wow, I can do this.”
Devan Furuuchi, a sixth-grader, said the program tested his ability to memorize quickly.
“I thought hip-hop was more recent,” he said. “I didn’t realize it came from all that way back.”
Castillo said the students of the county’s Summer Fun Program were eager to learn.
“What normally takes two weeks to teach, we taught these kids in two hours,” said Castillo.
The dancers weren’t the only ones to find something to grin about as the temperature in the gym increased and the sweat poured. Parents drifted in to watch the performance, taking photos and videos on their cellphones.
“It’s like an aerobic workout,” said Mike Hernandez, who watched his grandson Amen and his classmates try to find the rhythm to a song titled “Transformers.”
“When I think of hip-hop, I think of Michael Jackson; he’s the master,” Herandez said. “J. Lo, she’s good. Who’s the one giving Madonna a run for her money? Miley Cyrus — she’s got a lot of good stuff.”
Zulu Dance will be teaching keiki of the K.O.A. Freedom Schools at Kealakehe High School today from 3 to 4 p.m. at Kealakehe High School. The dance program will return at the same time next year, said Spidey Guster, Castillo’s instruction partner.
“We love teaching kids,” Guster said. “I know in Hawaii there aren’t a lot of opportunities to attend these types of events.”
Castillo is also eyeing the possibility of creating a program where she can give back to the community on a more extended basis.
“We’re hoping to eventually be here all summer,” Castillo said. “Our goal is to give intensive training and start spreading the real hip-hop.”