Twin Cities b-boys represent

How unlikely Minnesota breakdancing stars took the world by storm

The confusion began in 2009. At dance events as far away as Atlanta, every Asian male sporting any combination of glasses, beanie, and sweater became a likely target of a strange question: "Are you Minnesota Joe?"

While internet buzz is typically short-lived, the hype surrounding Minnesota Joe only grew. There were international gigs, obsessive fans, and dance-off victories from Orlando to Rome. A 58-second video of the dancer explaining how he keeps his glasses from flying off racked up thousands of hits (Answer: He had the frames heated and bent to hug his ears).

Internet forums lit up with people arguing about whether he was Vietnamese or Hmong. Others were confused about his hometown — they were sure he was from California, but didn't understand why he included "Minnesota" in his name.

Joseph "Minnesota Joe" Tran holds a freeze in downtown Minneapolis


[MORE PHOTOS] Fantastic Breaker Moves: Twin Cities B-Boys Represent
Ryan Brennan
Joseph "Minnesota Joe" Tran holds a freeze in downtown Minneapolis [MORE PHOTOS] Fantastic Breaker Moves: Twin Cities B-Boys Represent
Minnesota's b-boy scene has earned an reputation as one of the youngest, largest, and most talented in the country. From left: B-Boy One (Randy Thao), Jesse Jess (Jesse Ho), Boogie B (Jake Riley), and Minnesota Joe (Joseph Tran)


[MORE PHOTOS] Fantastic Breaker Moves: Twin Cities B-Boys Represent
Ryan Brennan
Minnesota's b-boy scene has earned an reputation as one of the youngest, largest, and most talented in the country. From left: B-Boy One (Randy Thao), Jesse Jess (Jesse Ho), Boogie B (Jake Riley), and Minnesota Joe (Joseph Tran)
[MORE PHOTOS] Fantastic Breaker Moves: Twin Cities B-Boys Represent

Details

The warriors present:
Come Out To Play
3 vs. 3 b-boy battle
The Rock, 9201 75th Ave. N., Brooklyn Park6 p.m., September 29; $10, free for children 10 and under

Workshops by Knuckleheads Cali
on September 28 at the Cowles Center; mnbattles.com

More b-boys in City Pages

[PHOTOS] Fantastic Breaker Moves: Twin Cities B-Boys Represent

10 gorgeous GIFs of Minnesota Joe's best b-boy moves

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Yet soon people were also beginning to hear about Minnesota as a northern Mecca of b-boying. A YouTube video making the rounds showed a dancer from Minnesota throwing moves on a par with world-class b-boys from Asia and Europe, except this kid was 14, and he could do it all on one hand.

In Boston, the buzz surrounding one of the country's highest-profile events didn't concern the two world-class crews facing off, but rather the third crew that came out of nowhere to challenge them in the finals — a group of mostly teenage no-names from Minnesota.

And from Orlando came stories of some Minnesota kid who had held his own against several of the world's foremost dancers in an impromptu showdown in a hotel courtyard — a total of 19 rounds of dance combat in celebration of his 19th birthday.

"I go out of state, and people say to me, 'Minnesota is the new Korea,'" says local b-boy StepChild, referring to the Asian b-boying powerhouse. "I go to visit my friends in Atlanta and D.C. and Miami and they say, 'I want to send my son up there to learn power.'"

As the stories and rumors spread, so did the questions: Where did all these young Minnesota dance prodigies come from? How did they get so good so quickly?

And who was Minnesota Joe?


Joseph Tran just wanted to avoid looking stupid. As a 13-year-old video-game fanatic attending seventh grade at St. Rose School in Roseville, the last thing he needed was to be humiliated in front of his classmates.

"We were outside in the grass, and we were playing soccer, and I slid to tackle somebody or something," Tran recalls of his first dancing experience. "And I fell. I liked watching Kung Fu movies, so I did like half a windmill up because I saw it in a movie. And this girl was like, "Whoa, you breakdance?' And I was like 'Yeeeah.' From then on, I just practiced that same move over and over again."

Tran, 23, is better known to his fans as Minnesota Joe. He often has to correct those who call him "Mn," explaining to them that the letters are a state abbreviation, not his first name. In Europe, they simply call him "Meen-eh-soh-tah."

At 5-foot-3, he doesn't look the type to command a room's attention. During his workshops at the University of Minnesota, he makes off-kilter references to The Office and Twilight. When he laughs hard at jokes, his knees buckle under him as he leans backward. His trademark glasses give him a slight resemblance to the cartoon aardvark Arthur.

It's drizzling outside the Cowles Center on a Tuesday night, and the lights of passing cars flash white and red onto the dance studio's windows. Inside, 20 dancers are practicing their steps and spins, coming precariously close to each other but never colliding.

Joe, clad in a black hoodie, olive-green shorts, and gray Adidas, plods in, greets a few faces, and sets up by a window. Despite the thudding music, he stretches slowly and deliberately. His friends often tease him about his pre- and post-practice drills. Today, it's a deceptively simple-looking kick of his feet into a lotus position. In one fluid motion, he hooks his left foot over his right thigh, his right foot over his left thigh, then unhooks them both.

He does this over and over. Whip whip whip. Whip whip whip.

"Dude's one of the most serious guys about breaking I've ever met," says Jake "Boogie B" Riley. "He wakes up in the morning and he doesn't have to call anyone to practice. Rain or shine, he puts on his backpack and sneakers and goes."

Joe sets up his ever-present JVC camera to record his sets so he can review his moves later. It's a habit he hasn't broken since he was 13.

When he finally begins to move, people as far away as the opposite side of the studio stop dancing to watch.

After swinging his arms into elaborate karate stances, Joe manages to fling his feet into the air from several unlikely positions, as if there's a fan below him propelling him upward. He ends with a series of "threads," weaving in and out of openings created by his limbs. Dissatisfied, he trots off to study the routine on his camera.

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4 comments
shermanyang
shermanyang

Great article however...Thanks to Zero Gravity and Phantasy Krew -the two first Hmong crews in MN- for paving the way for ALL the younger generation Hmong bboys. We put all that we had into this culture, and we're proud of all the young bucks and where they've taken it. It makes all the times we got maced and beat down by cops for battling all worth it.... -DJ Herman Dan

Jason Noer
Jason Noer

Informed article! Props to Calvin Son who breaks too!

 
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