Instant Noodles Crew |”Our take isn’t about doing the most spins; it’s about having our own flavor.”
Introducing the members of Instant Noodles, clockwise from left: Tom Tsai, Geo Lee, Rob Tsai, Mike Yang, Arthur Lien, Chris Kuo, Charles Lee. Not pictured: Chuck Maa, Aya Lee.
* All names outside of Instant Noodles Crew and OA members have been replaced with Harry Potter character name
- What takes up most of your time right now: Practicing. In the middle of 2009 we started doing performances, but the last performance we did was a while back because then we took a break to focus on individual training. Most of our time is practicing individually.
- Guilty pleasure: 85 Degrees, Umami Burger, Arizona Green Tea, ice cream (Tom is known for consuming a lot of sweets)
- Favorite team bonding experience: Making fun of Chris (or Chris making fun of us) and Thanksgiving Hot Pot. Whenever we’re all together (which doesn’t happen that much) it’s always awesome. In 2005, we started what we call “Thanksgiving-style Session.” [Geo] Me, Rob, Chuck, and Tom couldn’t really go home because we’re from Taiwan, and we got together to eat and practice over the weekend. Now, every Thanksgiving we have a get together, we practice, then we hotpot. Instant Noodles Thanksgiving tradition.
- Worst injury:
- [Mike] I ruptured my Achilles tendon. It takes as long as a year to heal. The surgery was last year November 16, and I’m barely practicing now.
- [Charles] For the ABDC auditions in December 2009, I was trying out a move which I only worked on and practiced slowly. It was my own thread move, and since I did it full speed, I kneed myself in the eye really hard, and ended up in the ER. I was throwing up from pain killers, and when they asked on a scale of 1-10 how much it hurt, I screamed “10 10 10!”
- [Charles] I had surgery on January 30, 2008 because I had a figure 8 cartilage and couldn’t straighten my leg.
- Team inside joke: The story of our saying “Oh My…” [Geo] I have this friend that Chris thought was cute. [Chris] No no, let me tell the story. When Geo was in Kaba Modern he brought me to a party. He asked me which girl I thought was cute and I pointed to her. He went over to the girl and screamed, “Chris thinks you’re cute!” and after he said it I faded away into the crowd. So after that night, everyone would make fun of me about this girl. Then one day, we were going to meet up for something and I called Geo. A girl picked up (Geo gave THE girl his phone because he knew it was me calling) and she was like, “Oh I’m Hermione Granger,” and I was like “OH MY…”
- We also like to make Chinese phrases into American acronyms. For example, mei ban fan (no choice) is MBF; nan peng you/nu peng you (boyfriend/girlfriend) is NPY; tou nao bao za (head is about to explode) is TNBZ; and I got STD…shit to do
- Favorite brand/flavor of instant noodles: Lai Yi Ke (one more cup); Man Han Da Can (big feast)
- Fun fact: We like to over elaborate things and make fun of it to the max; to the point that it’s not funny anymore, just stupid. (To get a sense of their humor, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtKmjHYxp6o)
- Funner fact: Geo, Rob, and Chuck came to the U.S. and Geo went to UCI, Rob and Chuck went to Chapman, and Tom went to a random school…Pitzer. Then the second generation of Instant Noodles came to the U.S. and Arthur went to UCI, Mike and Charles went to Chapman, and Chris went to a random school…UCSD. What a coincidence that we had two generations of the same thing!
OA: You guys really set the b-boy scene at Taipei American School. Tell us about the experience and how the foundation of your crew began forming there.
[Geo] We were able to influence kids in Tom’s year, and they were able to influence people in even younger years. The 3 OGs are me, Chuck, and Rob. When we first started there really wasn’t any breaking scene in Taiwan. The biggest crew was Taipei Breaking Crew. We met Aya and he introduced us to a b-boy scene beyond a high school environment. Before that, we’d watch videos, meet up, and do windmills. But Aya taught us b-boy culture, history, and the pioneers in that culture. Moreover, he taught us breaking beyond just learning tricks, to consistently practice, and really develop. Through Aya, we learned how to become real b-boys as opposed to high school break dancers.
[Charles] We started gaining interest when we met a b-girl. She introduced us to the scene. Before that, we had bboy.org as our source of education. We didn’t know breaking had a lot more concept behind it. She showed us teachers, we eventually met Aya, then he changed our path and we found meaning and passion. In my 10th grade year, Aya introduced us to Rob and Geo (who went back to Taiwan for break at that time).
[Tom] B-boying also led the majority of us to enroll in IB (International Baccalaureate) Dance classes, where we became exposed to Modern dance. A lot of us didn’t have technical training backgrounds, so we instead fostered our creativity with help from our teachers Deborah Flemming and Cheryl Quek. We also became involved in IASAS Dance (Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asian Schools), a student dance showcase that brought together various schools in Southeast Asia which enabled us to experience different interpretations of dance and choreography.
OA: How did 8 of you end up in SoCal—was it by pure chance?
INC: It was not planned. We just knew LA was where all the breaking happens so we applied to LA schools. Geo and Rob went to the U.S. first and didn’t want to influence the rest of the guys, but they ended up applying here too.
[Chris] We were sort of influenced by them. We wanted to be close enough to practice. California was the most convenient place to be for breaking.
[Tom] From 2005 to 2006 I was in Seattle for school, not pursuing modern dance. That became something I wanted to change and I eventually transferred to Pitzer in Socal, which conveniently placed me in closer proximity to the crew.
[Geo] I didn’t know Arthur until he came to UCI because he was a locker back in high school. Arthur came to California for family.
[Arthur] If I didn’t go to UCI, I wouldn’t be dancing. That’s where I met Geo and started getting involved in the dance community. But I had heard of Instant Noodles Crew before and I looked up to them.
OA: How has being a 9-person crew all growing up in the same place shaped your group dynamic?
INC: Our chemistry is really strong. A lot of other crews are made as business ventures or crews will recruit for skill level, but Instant Noodles was always because of family. We’re all from Taipei and went to school together. We all have the same origin and from that we have strong chemistry. Our support for each other is really strong. Coming together, we have something special.
[Rob] Especially with the 2nd generation joining the 1st generation—seeing them dance inspired me to dance again. It ended up with us being really serious about this crew; serious about building a reputation together. With all of us together, we can keep growing.
[Chris] I think it’s easier to relate in terms of mentality. Thought-wise, what we want to pursue is easy. When we’re going through other stuff individually, we understand what each of us are going through. It’s a web of love.
[Geo] Because some things are easier to express that way. And it was never a conscious decision. It just happened we’re all Taiwanese.
[And they randomly switch from English to Mandarin discussing amongst themselves]
OA: So what if a girl wants to join the crew?
INC: Yeah we’re open to that, but the opportunity hasn’t presented itself.
OA: You guys all immigrated at different times. Do you identify more strongly with either your Taiwanese side or your American side?
[Geo] I acknowledge we’re just our own blend. I’m both. We grew up our whole lives like that going to an American school in Taiwan.
Random fun fact: Chris went to an American school and then transferred to a local school and then transferred to a music school and then back to American school. He kept transferring because he couldn’t behave. For example, in the 6th grade, he sprayed his lab partner Malfoy in the eye with pepper spray because he was bigger than Chris.
OA: What is the b-boy scene in Taiwan now? Is it as big as it is here?
INC: Taiwan is technically able, but we wish they were able to apply it in a more creative sense. In terms of developing an aesthetic style in Taiwan, that hasn’t happened yet, whereas Korean and Japanese styles are unique. In Taiwan, we can’t recognize a unique regional flavor. But it has gotten a lot better. When we started, there were like two events per year but they have been achieving more internationally. Formosa Crew is a collaboration of the best B-boys in Taiwan. Since Taiwan still has minimum exposure to the international scene, Formosa is making a path.
OA: Do your parents look at you like you’re crazy, or are they supportive of your shows and competitions?
[Geo] My parents are really supportive.
[Chris] My parents are very traditional. When I applied to college, I applied to each with a different major. But I argued a lot with my parents about academics in high school. During senior year I told them if I can get good grades, whatever I do on the side is my own business. That’s what I did in college. My major right now is Biochem (my parents want me to be pre-med). But I found a compromise in myself to do academics and on the side, do what I love doing.
[Rob] They’ve always expressed their concern but at this moment, if I can do all the things I want and more, they won’t be like, “you can’t do it.” Dance is not stable, it’s all over the place, and that worries them. We have to give them comfort in knowing we’re doing okay. My mom asks me things like, “Now that you’re dancing, what do you do for release?” Through many disagreements, they’re finally more willing to understand.
OA: Describe your individual b-boy styles.
INC: As a team, we’re all about musicality. We developed an Instant Noodles aesthetics. It’s hard to explain what our style is, but others say we’re unique. We’ve always been more focused on style rather than tricks. Musicality, performance, flow. Our take isn’t about doing the most spins; it’s about having our own flavor. It’s about creativity and having a good time. On a technical level, everyone’s brushing up on moves just to balance everything out. We shifted through phases: first was style/freestyle (top rock, footwork); as time progressed, we entered more battles and added more moves; then came performances and putting shows together.
[We had all the other team members describe one another]
Rob Tsai—Power and flow (movement quality) with influences of contemporary dance.
Geo Lee—Impactful, hard-hitting; if you saw Geo dancing you don’t want to get in his way. It’s like a moving train (a Hogwarts Express Train).
Charles Lee—Explosive and intricate; movement spans across the spectrum.
Arthur Lien—Funky locker-turned-breaker.
Chris Kuo—Solid footwork and creative freezes; his personality is really in his face.
Mike Yang—Good footwork and intricate flow; he makes really simple things look really unique; flow that leads to an exclamation.
Tom Tsai—innovative, unconventional, reconfigured patterns. When audiences see him it’s like, “whoa I’ve never seen that move.” His stuff happens on a conceptual level–”how can I apply this one move in different ways?” According to Chris, “He can make water out of a desert!”
Chuck Maa—100% musicality, intricate breakdown of music.
Aya Lee—influenced by the original B-boy style, incorporates musicality into breaking foundation.
OA: Where in the world did the name Instant Noodles Crew come from?
INC: Geo thought of it. In 2003, we were eating at Sam Woo in Rowland Heights, and trying to come up with a crew name. We didn’t want a generic crew name that’s always an intense adjective with an overused noun. Instant Noodles was the most Asian thing we could think of. The good thing is it’s a really memorable name.
OA: Do you still prefer battles over stage performances?
INC: We like both because they’re different outlets for us. Battles let us stay relevant in the b-boy culture, to be involved in the current scene, and let us excel individually. Shows are all about working together, building ideas together, and it allows us to choose our own music.
OA: How do you go about choreographing as a team?
INC: We never want anyone to have final say. Some teams have one choreographer but we feel like working as a crew. We want it to be a collaboration: someone has a song, someone else has an idea, and it’s everyone’s job to work on that idea. For example, Charles wanted to use a song with drums, so we choreographed sporadic movements.
OA: We’ve seen you at World of Dance, Choreographer’s Carnival, and dancing internationally. What has been the most memorable performance of all time?
INC: Hip Hop International 2010. It was destiny. Mike and Charles decided to stay in California, and everyone happened to be free. We were really serious—we met up everyday and worked so hard on that piece, sometimes without a secure practice spot. Once we practiced in an empty dark gym. It helped us feel each other out. We did it not to win but to see where we’d fit in that scene. One of the criterion was we needed to have three different dance styles. But instead, we just focused on breaking. In staged team competitions, a lot of the breaking that happens is a quick few counts of eight. We wanted to do a breaking piece just to do it. We wanted to present them with an entire breaking show; not just two counts, and not just blow-ups, but full-on choreography incorporating all the elements. It was really intense when they were announcing the results. We got 2nd in prelims and 4th in finals. At prelims, they announced it backwards and by the time they were announcing 3rd place, we were like, “aw man we didn’t get it.” So imagine our surprise when we got 2nd!
TV: MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew (ABDC) Season 6 on Thursday nights
Interview by Julie Zhan
Photography by Melly Lee
Edited by Julie Zhan
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