Dancer Robert Muraine's balancing act

Former 'So You Think You Can Dance?' contestant comes to Hippodrome with 'Cirque Dreams Ilumination'

  • Dancer Robert Muraine performs the rhythmic, robotic dance known as popping in 'Cirque Dreams Illumination.' Handout photo.
Dancer Robert Muraine performs the rhythmic, robotic dance… (Handout photo )
September 30, 2010|By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

When Robert Muraine is performing the intricate, rhythmic, robotic form of dance known as popping, it's easy to imagine that every single part of his body — including the vertebrae in his spinal column — has a mind of its own.

When a finger insistently taps his temple, Muraine seems as surprised as anyone when his head moves jerkily towards the ground while the rest of his body remains proudly upright.

In the summer of 2008, Muraine, now 23, became a pop culture phenomenon when he auditioned for Fox's blockbuster reality television show, "So You Think You Can Dance?"

Though the Los Angeles resident is entirely self-taught, Muraine wowed not just the judges but the gazillion people who subsequently caught his performance on YouTube. He made it to the final selection round in Las Vegas, and then — with fame and fortune seemingly guaranteed — promptly quit the show to return to his life as a street performer.

Now, Muraine is a featured performer in "Cirque Dreams Illumination," which vaults its way into the Hippodrome Theatre for two weeks starting Tuesday. He is one of 27 urban acrobats in the show, including high wire performers, balancers and contortionists.

Muraine recently unbent a little to share some insights into his chosen art form.

QUESTION: Why popping?

ANSWER: The internet explosion brought my attention to a lot of different types of dancing. I started break dancing first, but there are too many break dancers and they're all really good. I've always messed around with both but I just became better at popping and focused all my attention on it. I'd rather be really good at one thing than be O.K. at a lot of things.

Q: What are some of the main differences between the two dance styles?

A: With both of them, you've got to take your time a lot more than you would think. It's really easy to do too much. That's almost everyone's problem.

I wouldn't really compare either one to regular dancing. It's more like doing a magic show or creating an illusion. You're not just doing steps made up by other people. You're creating a world around you where you get people to watch what you want them to watch. The more perfect you are technically, the easier it is to capture the audience.

Q: I've heard that when you're trying to teach yourself a move, you draw on your high school geometry, that you think of your body as a series of planes and angles.

A: Popping does require thinking about the physics of things. You can take away the illusion if all the lines aren't straight or the angles aren't correct. You don't want people to think, 'Oh, that looks kind of like a square." You want them to think: "That looks exactly like one."

Q: You had your largest audience ever in 2008 when you went out for "So You Think You Can Dance." So why did you walk away?

A: I hadn't practiced all the different dance styles that you have to do, and I had no interest whatsoever in learning them, so I quit and left the show. What I wanted was to get better at popping. I actually ended up getting farther on the show than I'd intended.

Q: But, isn't "Cirque Dreams" an odd career move for someone who wants to improvise and doesn't want to dance steps that someone else dreamed up?

A: They design the numbers around the talents of the performers. I appear in two. One is a number that I created myself. It was mostly freestyle during the rehearsal process, though now I do the same things each night.

The other one is a routine I do with four Mongolian contortionists. They've taught me a lot. I'm actually much more flexible after being with the professionals. Before, I'd never stretched every part of my body; I didn't know it needed it.

Q: You've had a taste of the professional performing world now, between Cirque and the commercials you've done for Ikea and Blackberry. What's next for you?

A: I don't know what I'll do after the tour ends. I'd like to get out and battle more, do more competitions, gain the respect of not just the audience, but to become known in the field as one of the best. Battles don't pay a lot, though, so most likely I'll have to go back to street performing to support myself.

If you go

"Cirque Dreams Illumination" runs Tuesday through Oct. 17 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St. Showtimes vary. Tickets cost $20-$75. Call 410-547-7328 or go to

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