Adolfo ‘Shabba Doo’ Quinones, Star of ‘Breakin’,’ Dies at 65
Art and Experience:
Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quiñones, the dancer-actor who rose to fame starring in “Breakin‘” and its sequel “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” died Wednesday. He was 65.
No cause of death has been announced. Just a day before he was discovered unconscious, Quiñones had posted a photo of himself smiling and giving the peace sign in bed, writing, “Good news y’all! I’m feeling all better, just a wee bit sluggish from my cold, but the good news is I’m Covid 19 negative! Woo hoo!”
Besides appearing in the “Breakin’” films, both in 1984, he had a featured role on the big screen in “Lambada” in 1990. Prior to taking to the movies, Quiñones was already a part of pop culture history for choreographing and appearing in Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” video.
“It’s a sad day for the dance world,” said Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers, who co-starred in both “Breakin’” movies, and believes that the Olympics introducing breakdancing as a competitive sport for 2024 would not have happened without Quiñones having helped popularize the artform more than 35 years ago.
Quiñones was a member of the Lockers crew that helped popularize the locking style of street dance. Co-founder Toni Basil posted that “it is with extreme sadness The Lockers family announces the unexpected passing of our beloved Adolfo Shabba-doo Quinones. In this difficult time we are requesting privacy.”
— Toni Basil (@Toni_Basil) December 30, 2020
Sheila E. recalled touring with Richie in her tweet calling Shabba Doo “my brother.”
I just heard I’ve lost another friend Shabba do. A great Hiphop dancer. We toured together w/ Lionel Richie 1983. Gosh, Rest In Peace my brother. @officialshabbadoo @Shabba_Doo pic.twitter.com/YntRWT1t55
— SheilaEdrummer (@SheilaEdrummer) December 30, 2020
“Damn, Shabba Doo. RIP,” wrote DJ the Blessed Madonna (not to be confused with Madonna, with whom Quiñones worked). “So sad to see so many of our foundational dancers passing this year.”
In a 2008 interview with the Black Hollywood File, Quiñones discussed the making and impact of “Breakin’,” saying it was critical in the development of hip-hop culture.
“It took only 21 days to make ‘Breakin’’ at a budget of $900,000,” he said. “It broke box office records and was the beginning of the hip-hop movement as we know it. If it didn’t work I think this culture would have been in trouble… We had ‘Beat Street’ (and) everybody was throwing their hat in the ring, but it was ‘Breakin’’ (that was) the one that really worked. … I think that it was the first film that showed hip-hop … had a multicultural face to it. And we always knew that. When I went out, I saw whites and blacks and Hispanics and I saw Asians and whatever all working together and doing it together. But it was perceived through the media as being only a black culture or Hispanic culture (thing). It wasn’t really something that everybody did. And ‘Breakin’’ showed that, with that white girl in it. … in the middle of all these Black people (and) Spanish people… and they totally identified with that. And that I think was key.”
But, he added, “Hip-hop may have a multi-cultural face, but let’s not be fooled, because it did come from our people. It did come from Black people, and Africans, and Puerto Ricans and all that too. Just like blues and jazz. But now it (belongs to) the world.”
Chambers, aka “Boogaloo Shrimp” in the “Breakin’” films, told Variety that he and Quiñones had been estranged for a long time but reconciled over the last three years, due to their shared spirituality as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“He had his peace with God,” said Chambers. “But I think his heart was broken when a lot of the new generation from the ‘Step It Up’ movie and TikTok were not giving credit to the innovators. I think it was broken because he was trying to get a new generation of dancers to understand the lineage that went back to ‘Soul Train’ in trying to get the freestyle reputation up to the reputation of jazz and tap. He did accomplish his goal, though. When the story broke about breakdancing being accepted into the Olympics in 2024, for him to at least see that was in the media, that warmed my heart, because at 65 he was able to see street dance get that worldwide respect.”
Chambers added that Quiñones’ role in introducing Madonna to certain dance styles has been underrated.
“When he came into her life, Madonna had no idea what the next dance craze was,” said Chambers. “He told me he got hired because was dancing in a club and Madonna saw him doing Waacking and Punking, so she came up with ‘Vogue,’ which was full of abstract lines and that whole theatrical dance thing. For years,” Chambers said, the part Quiñones’ played in that “went under the radar. She was a mega-icon, and I’m proud that he was able to go from the street and breaking to Madonna and launching a new dance style.”
Born in Chicago to a Black father and Puerto Rican mother, who raised him by herself from when he was 3, Quiñones broke into show business as a member of TV’s “Soul Train” Gang in the early ’70s.
In a 1984 interview with the Sarasota Sun-Herald, he recalled moving to California with his mother when he was 16, and how he would hitchhike from their home in Anaheim to Hollywood for 14-hour filming sessions of “Soul Train” in 1971-72. “They couldn’t keep me out of there,” he said. “I’d get there at 7 in the morning and not leave till almost 10 at night.”
Besides working for Richie, his choreography credits included Madonna’s 1987 “Who’s That Girl?” tour and TV work on MTV’s “Blowin’ Up.” He made television appearances as a dancer as far back as 1976, on “What’s Happening!!”
He noted that he often passed for younger than his age on screen. In a 2008 interview, when he was 53, the dancer said, “That’s a number that kind of surprises people because when they think about the ‘Breakin’’ movies, they thought of me as a kid dancing. I was really a full-fledged man of 30 years old playing an 18-year-old. And I’ve always just looked younger than my age, you know.”
Chambers said that the ebb and flow of his friendship with his costar Quiñones had been the source of a lot of speculation among “Breakin’” fans over the years. “Because of this longstanding beef people thought we had, they’ve always taken our situation and stirred the pot,” he said. “But at the end of the day he’s my spiritual brother. It was not a beef, it was a misunderstanding. He felt that from myself as well as the dance community, he never got the due respect he was entitled to as the first professional street dancer being on TV. He felt smighted that in literature and media, nobody mentioned his name. And we both were in dark places and going through problems.”
But, he says, they bonded over both becoming Bible students as Jehovah’s Witnesses. “He had actually contacted me out of nowhere,” Chambers said. “We hadn’t talked… He said, ‘Michael, I’m gonna go to a Bible convention in Long Beach and I’d love to sit with you and talk and move on.’ So when he came to my house and we talked, I was like, ‘Wow, he’s different.’ Jesus forgave sinners, so who am I? I was willing to accept his peace offering and forgive. Three years ago we came into our spirituality and forgiveness and became better people. We both put water under the bridge and were talking as men.”
Chambers added that he hopes some sort of special tribute will be offered to Quiñones as part of the Olympics’ introductory breakdancing competition in four years.
A message posted earlier on Quiñones’ website said he had been in development on “a film based on his memoirs, ‘The Godfather of Street Dance: The Dance Forefather of Hip Hop,’ which will detail and his life and reveal the true origin of street-dance.”