How one dancer broke out of his shell

BERKELEY, Calif.— Gizmo responds to his opponent with a series of sharp hand movements to a fast-paced beat. He incorporates contractions and twists of different limbs to articulate his intention. 

Tariq “Gizmo” Witherspoon, 23, is the cofounder of The Aspects, the only street-style dance group in Berkeley. The group draws from various styles, including flex and turf dancing, which creates a unique mode of expression.

Their style is a fusion of dance styles from both the East and West. Flex dancing is a dance style sometimes called bone breaking because of its rhythmic contortionist movement and incorporation of waving, tutting, floor moves and gliding. It has origins in Braco, Jamaica,and took off in Brooklyn, New York. Turf dancing is an American style of street dance that originated in Oakland, California, in the late 1990s. Witherspoon describes the dancing as more of a “feeling.”

A Berkeley dance group, The Aspects. Witherspoon on the far left. (Photo by Algerion Bryant)

It started with the friendship between Witherspoon and his best friend, James Palmer. Witherspoon would often watch his friend’s dance performances.

“I just thought it was really cool,” he said.

When he was 17, he tried it himself.

“I was a pretty shy and reserved person,” he said. “And I literally sat in my room and watched these videos and practiced for a whole year.”

Dancing has created an outlet for him to express himself, allowing him to open up in a way that would have been difficult to do without it.

“It’s really therapeutic, to be honest,” he said.

Witherspoon works full-time at Urban Outfitters in Berkeley and finds time afterwards everyday to practice.

“If I hadn’t become a professional dancer, I probably would have been a lot more shy,” he said. “And it definitely helped me come out of my shell.”

In the last year, The Aspects have gained recognition performing at Mission in the Mix at the San Francisco Dance Mission Theater.

The group is  working on new choreography for the International Hip Hop Dance Fest, which will take place this year from Nov. 16-18.

“They fly people in from all over the world,” he said, “and do a couple days of shows. It’s one of the biggest venues in the area. I did it in another group called TURFinc. This is the first year we’re going to be by ourselves.”