- Associated Press - Monday, August 9, 2010

LAS VEGAS | Matt Nguyen’s career options once amounted to hair cutting or maybe military service. But the 21-year-old dancer nicknamed “Dumbo” now makes $4,000 a month cutting up dance floors and battling fellow hip-hop crews.

And after propelling to fame through a cable TV reality competition, Mr. Nguyen and his buddies from Southern California think their new career could last longer than the latest two-step.

“We used to just dance for fun,” said Mr. Nguyen, the frontman for Poreotics, a hip-hop troupe featured in Justin Bieber’s latest music video as well as all over YouTube.

“We didn’t think it was going to be that big, but it’s our life now,” he said, as he waited to rehearse at the recent World Hip-Hop Dance Championships in Las Vegas.

Poreotics represented the United States as back-to-back national champions. Nearly 200 crews from 28 countries went toe to toe across three divisions, with a female crew from New Zealand taking top honors and Poreotics placing second overall.

Dancers ranging from ages 5 to 45 convened at the Red Rock Resort waiting to bust a move in front of their global colleagues during the preliminaries. Crews in red football jerseys, blue spacesuits and custom-made T-shirts hyped each other up and held impromptu rehearsals in the hotel’s halls.

More than 4,000 ousted competitors and paying fans watched the finals at the resorts Orleans Arena.

The market for professional hip-hop dance crews has evolved in recent years, with films like “Step Up 3D,” reality television and amateur videos online fueling demand for showcases of popping, locking, and other signature styles of the once-underground pastime.

But earning a living through hip-hop dance is still a difficult leap at best — even for crews like Poreotics, who have gained mainstream fame for their moves.

And veterans who have been break dancing since “Soul Train” say the quality of would-be dancers has dropped amid its growing popularity.

Mr. Nguyen and Poreotics scored reputations as top boogie men earlier this year on “America’s Best Dance Crew,” where the two-time U.S. hip-hop dance champs used their stationary, robotic style and stage humor to win the MTV show.

That meant more work and hefty raises. The shades-donning showmen now charge $8,500 per gig 17 times their old asking rate of $500 and earn a full-time income from performances, merchandise sales and dance workshops.

“It becomes work that we love to do, but at the same time we try to have fun with it, joke around and be ourselves,” said crew member Justin “Jet Li” Valles, 23, of Los Angeles. “That’s what got us here.”

Mr. Valles said Poreotics started in 2005 with three friends before expanding to a six-man crew. The group’s name blends popping a style that involves suddenly jerking certain muscles choreography and robotics.

Each member attended some college but dropped out to pursue dance. They each live with their parents or families.

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