You might not know the name Moy Rivas but, chances are, you’ve seen his moves. He’s danced in dozen of national ad campaigns and feature films, and even traveled the world as a performer and motivational speaker. What Rivas does is technically called b-boying, but you probably know it as breakdancing. Popularized in the mid 1970s, breakdancing traditionally combines four base movement types known as top rock, down rock, power moves, and freezes. While it might sound easy enough, Rivas combines these moves with his own signature style to create a performance that is truly one of a kind, and that has made him one of the most famous breakdancers in history.
And like so many great heroes, Moy Rivas comes from humble beginnings in Houston.
“I first grew up in an area called Manchester,” he explains. “Manchester is a dying neighborhood. I mean, there’s nobody there. It’s surrounded by railroad tracks. It’s hard to get in and out of, mentally and physically. And then around 93’ or 94’, my family and I, we moved to another side, which is kind of the east side of Houston, Texas. It’s another area called Magnolia, which is also a very rough neighborhood. At that time it was just so bad that you could literally walk outside and get shot at for no reason.”
The story of Rivas’ childhood is not an uncommon one in the United States. He grew up in a rough neighborhood and was surrounded by a constant culture of poverty, crime, and isolation. That feeling he describes, of life being “hard to get in and out of, mentally and physically” is a perfect example of the desperation that can develop in these circumstances. It’s easy for many of us to look at neighborhoods with high crime rates and judge the actions of the people who live there, but as Rivas explains, sometimes crime is presented as the only viable option.
Luckily, as Rivas discovered, there was another way. Dance.
“It’s funny,” explains Rivas. “When I first started dancing…I mean, when I first discovered dancing, it was actually when I had a 9 millimeter in my jacket at a middle school talent show,” says Rivas. “I was trying to get this gun off my hip. I wanted to get it to my boy who was going to meet me after school, but all day long, all day long….I heard about the talent show for weeks because they posted all over school, but all day long, this day, my friend was like, ‘Let’s go to the talent show, let’s go to the talent show.’”
It was there that Rivas was introduced to breakdancing for the first time. One of the last acts of the talent show was a local breakdancing crew, and their performance was fundamentally transformative for Rivas. “All of a sudden,” he says. “You see these dudes come out, spinning on their backs, their hands, their heads and just top rocking, just coming out with style. I was just like, ‘Wow, what the…what is that?’”