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Cambodian hip-hop dance troupe started by ex-gang member plans local fundraiser

Written By vibykhmer on Friday, May 1, 2009 | 2:51 AM

KK (Tuy Sobil) keeps an eye on breakdancers at Korsang, a center for returnees, in Phonm Penh, Cambodia, on February 13, 2008. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)


By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Long Beach Press Telegram (California, USA)

Want to go?
  • What: Hip-hop community event featuring Cambodian break dancers
  • When: Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Where: Chuco's Justice Center, 1137 E. Redondo Blvd., Inglewood
  • Admission: $5 - $10 donation requested
LONG BEACH - When Tuy Sobil, better known as KK, started teaching children and teens in the slums of Cambodia how to break dance, he couldn't have foreseen all this.

A former Crips gang member from Long Beach, who was deported to Cambodia in 2004 after serving time for armed robbery, KK was still coming to grips with his own travails when word spread in Phnom Penh that he was a talented breaker.
After turning down initial pleas by kids to teach his technique, KK relented and Tiny Toones was born.

The goal was to "provide a safe, positive environment for at-risk youth to channel their energy and creativity into the arts and education" and away from the rampant drugs, gangs and criminal activity that infect the streets.

From meager beginnings, Tiny Toones has enjoyed rapid growth and become something of a media phenomenon.

The group has a drop-in center in Phnom Penh and offers educational and social services to needy kids.

Now Tiny Toones has gone global.

And a half-dozen dancers and a rapper are getting a chance of a lifetime.

On Sunday, the Tiny Toones crew concludes a U.S. tour as headliners at a hip-hop community fund-raiser in Inglewood. The event will also feature a live video conference from Cambodia with KK, who is barred from returning to the United States.

However, his dancers were granted visas and have spent the last two weeks traveling the United States, competing in hip-hop battles and packing in a lifetime of experiences that were once unimaginable.

Organizers had hoped to stage the event in Long Beach but ran into complications.

Those who can't make it to Inglewood can meet Tiny Toones at noon Sunday at Cesar Chavez Park, 401 Golden Ave. where a hip-hop/reggae community picnic will be staged with DJs, graffiti artists, b-boys, drum circles, fire dancers, and other artists.

The members of Tiny Toones may wear sideways ball caps, baggy clothes and strike American urban poses, but "Suicide," "T-Boy," "Diamond," "Fresh," "Honey, "Sokha" and "K-Dep" are pure Cambodian.

Dara Chan, a grad student and child of Cambodian immigrants, spearheaded the effort to get Tiny Toones to the U.S.

He said he was "blown away," when he saw the Cambodian crew perform.

Although the dancers, who range in age from 16 to 23, have only been at it for a couple of years, Chan says "they really pushed themselves. They created a really original show."

The routine begins as a traditional Cambodian "Monkey Dance," before transforming into a modern and urban interpretation of the classic tale.

Chan says he has been amazed at the love and welcome the Cambodian crew has received.

The idea of bringing Tiny Toones began with an invitation to an annual international dance battle called "Breakin' the Law," sponsored by the University of Wisconsin as part of its Hip Hop as a Movement week.

After strings were pulled and letters of support from numerous charities and law firms written, the Tiny Toones kids were granted visas.

Chan said efforts to get a temporary waiver for KK were unsuccessful.

After the show in Wisconsin, Tiny Toones traveled to New York, Philadelphia and Seattle. They return home after Sunday's performance.

In addition to Tiny Toones, the event will include art demonstrations and workshops, live graffiti and silk screening and performances by dancers, rappers, spoken word artists and DJs.

June Kaeswith, a student at Cal State Long Beach, organized the event.

"We want to bring back what hip-hop was originally about, which is peace, love, unity, having fun and knowledge," Kaeswith says. "This event is to revive that."

Information about the events is available by e-mail at jumakae@gmail.com. Information about Tiny Toones can be found online at www.tinytoonescambodia.com.


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