By SHANJEEV REDDY
SAM Jee Lek, aka b-boy LegoSam, was only 14 when he participated in his first cypher-style dance-off. He was defeated in the very first round by the well-known Malaysian b-boy, Khenobu.
He vowed that day to keep dancing until he was better than Khenobu. Six years later, the two met again at the finals of the Red Bull BC ONE Malaysia Cypher last month in Kuala Lumpur, and this time, LegoSam beat the two-time champion.
Sam is only 19, so his win came as a bit of a surprise to some; but to those who know him and how much talent he has, it was only a matter of time before he started mixing it up with the big boys.
Even as a toddler, Sam was constantly attempting cartwheels and handstands. At 13, he discovered b-boying while watching MTV Taiwan on television.
His unsuspecting mother agreed to dance lessons but never guessed that b-boying would take over her son’s life.
“When I started learning, I just wanted to have fun. It was a hobby for me,” he said.
Sam danced constantly when he started out. He even danced at the back of his class while his teachers were teaching – which, of course, got him into trouble pretty often.
“My first two years of dancing, my mom didn’t support me. She thought it was a waste of time and always asked why wouldn’t I just study more,” said Sam.
Tensions built even more when Sam broke his left elbow during practice. “My mom kept scolding me but I just continued dancing. I couldn’t stop,” he said.
The accident happened while Sam was attempting a front flip and landed elbow first on a concrete floor. He had to be in a cast for five months, but even that didn’t dampen his spirit.
“I was scared. I didn’t dare to do that move anymore but even with my left arm broken, I kept on dancing with my right arm,” he said.
According to Sam, injuries are common in b-boying. It’s the love of the art and support from crew members that keep the b-boys going.
B-boys are not bad boys
Today, through dedication and hard work, Sam is a full-time dancer. He teaches at a few studios around KL, judges competitions, and represents Malaysia at international events.
His mother’s impact can still be felt though, as his stage name LegoSam was chosen as a tribute to her, as she worked at a Lego factory and used to bring him lots of Lego toys.
Despite having come so far, Sam says the b-boy scene doesn’t receive the kind of support it deserves from the community.
“Back in the day, people used to think b-boys were gangsters and naughty kids. I want to let everyone know that b-boying is not a bad thing.
We don’t fight or go around messing things up – it’s what we use to connect with other people.”
He admits things weren’t always so pleasant early on. There was intense rivalry between dance crews and often even fist fights.
“Before, the culture in Malaysia was once you are in a crew, all you do is fight with other crews. I was really young when I saw this, and I thought, ‘wah, very gangster’,” he said.
Things have improved a lot in recent years. There is now more unity between the crews and they all work together to promote the art.
egoSam himself is now a member of the Cypherz Kingz crew – ironically enough, alongside his biggest competitor-turned-best-buddy, Khenobu.
Reflecting on how dance can build bridges between even the fiercest competitors, Sam said: “Dance lets us get to know each other better. It is a form of expression which brings people together.”
Red Bull BC ONE
This iconic event, which featured the long-awaited face-off between LegoSam and Khenobu, actually only debuted in Malaysia three years ago. It is the most prestigious one-on-one b-boy competition in the world.
Before that, there was no Malaysian chapter of Red Bull BC One, so it was impossible for local b-boys to represent the country at the Asian Regional Final, let alone the World Final.
R.AGE was invited to the 2013 World Final in Seoul, Korea, and it was one of the most amazing events we’ve ever covered. Sam now has a chance to qualify for the World Final – by winning the Asian Final on October 17.
But the fact that he won the Malaysia Cypher is an achievement in itself. There were over 200 contestants, and it was only Sam’s first time at the competition.
“I knew about this competition in the first year, but I wasn’t ready to participate then. I couldn’t have gone even if I wanted to because I had a show. The second year, there was a clash in my schedule. I had to go to the R16 South East Asian final in Singapore.”
R16 is a crew battle competition, held this year in Genting Highlands the day after BC ONE. Despite their dramatic duel the night before, LegoSam and Khenobu combined their talents to emerge as champions.
“I am very happy with the back-to-back wins but now I need to prepare for the
Asian Final,” said Sam. “No Malaysian has made it to the world final because it’s just so difficult. Khenobu has represented Malaysia for the past two years, and he lost to Japanese b-boys in the first round both times.”
In Asia, the Japanese and South Korean b-boys are in a different league. We watched Korean b-boy Hong10 win his second World title at the 2013 finals, and he is only one of two people to have achieved that. The other is Frenchman Lilou, one of the judges at this year’s Malaysia Cypher.
Still, the streetwise Sam seems impervious to pressure.
“If you go with too many expectations and you fail, you’ll feel like you let yourself down. Why not just enjoy yourself on the stage and have fun?” he said.
“I’m not stressed just because all the b-boys there are more professional. All I want is for people to remember Malaysian b-boying. I want to show them that Malaysia boleh.”