This young dancer pops, locks and breaks his way outside the B-boy box
Sitting still, Perris Aquino looks uncomfortable. It’s hard to believe that the slight 18-year-old slumping nervously behind a table in Studio 1 at Nevada Public Radio could, at any moment, stand up and do a back flip. But he could. Plenty of videos on his YouTube channel prove it. They also show him hand-springing over walls during parkour sessions; zigzagging backwards on his skates; and popping, locking, breaking and dancing freestyle. As he recounts his ascent in the local b-boy scene, his eyes dart repeatedly to the empty wood-paneled floor that serves as the radio station’s makeshift stage. It’s obvious he’d rather be doing something.
“The only reason I can think of to explain how I became the kind of dancer I am is everything I’ve been through,” he says. “With music, I’m able to feel things in the moment.”
Everything he’s been through started at birth. Aquino has a heart defect — he’s got only two valves in his aorta instead of three, and a murmur on top of that — as well as asthma. He was in and out of hospitals throughout childhood and spent long stretches alone in his room. There, he passed time drawing, writing and listening to music. He’d study hip-hop videos and emulate performers’ moves. As his interest in dance developed, he took classes to learn style and choreography. At 12, he joined Hypnotix Dance Krew, a group sponsored by Cricket Wireless, performing with much older kids in music videos and showcases, and helping the crew win third at Hip Hop International. Eventually, Aquino developed his own style: flowing seamlessly between eras and genres, windmilling into a soft-shoe slide. That’s when he caught the eye of high-level outfits such as Full Force, which is just one step away from Jabbawockeez.
“I think what my art represents is my hopeful self,” he says. “Hoping things will be better someday.”
His health still poses some limits: Aquino says he’s had to go to the emergency room after every “battle,” or one-on-one competition between dancers — one reason he doesn’t do them anymore. Still, he believes he could manage his condition successfully, should his passion for dance evolve into a career.
This passion didn’t come out of nowhere. His parents, Daniel and Jane Aquino, are stalwarts of the local hip-hop scene. Daniel, a professional photographer, also specializes in shooting dancers.
But another family member — whom Perris Aquino never even met — had an even more profound impact on him: his sister, China Sky Aquino. She was just six months old when she died, suffering from similar conditions as those that afflict Perris. The family makes regular pilgrimages to China’s grave in Union City, Calif., and two years ago Perris made a video homage to her.
“I want to be someone who makes a difference,” he says. “The passing of my sister gave me that mindset: I was given this life, and I want to do the most with it.”
Besides his family influences, Perris Aquino also had formal training in the art of movement. He took kung fu and gymnastics classes for several years starting at age 7, and says his martial arts background gave him both discipline and the ability to learn fast.
“He was like a sponge,” says Full Force member Justin David, recalling a young Aquino at events. “He could pick up so many dance styles so fast, but he always made it authentic. He has a great work ethic and attention to detail.”
David, who performed in Jabbawockeez's MÜS.I.C. at the Monte Carlo, hopes that dancers such as Aquino will help carry the hip-hop movement forward. Aquino himself isn’t sure yet whether he’ll pursue dance professionally. Having graduated from Advanced Technologies Academy in June, he’s keeping his options for the next phase open, talking to dance recruiters, while also considering college and doing an internship in the music business.
“My biggest dream would be to one day travel the world teaching people about my passions, doing what I love and seeing the world,” he says. “I want to experience everything.”