Culture Shock Dance Troupe Founder is a North Park bunch of energy
By Jennifer Kester
Come upon Angie Bunch as she walks around North Park, and you’re less likely to think the blond, pixieish 50-year-old is a major hip-hop force than a diligent working mom running between stops in a busy schedule. But Bunch is a hip-hop pioneer, founding Culture Shock Dance Troupes, one of the few international hip-hop companies, and opening Culture Shock Dance Center, which she co-owns, in Middletown. As the home of Culture Shock San Diego, the dance center has become one of the leading schools devoted to hip-hop dance in the U.S. Culture Shock San Diego, the original troupe, has churned out well-known alumni like the Jabbawockeez, the first-season winners of MTV’s “Americaʼs Best Dance Crew.”
Bunch was always an athlete. In third grade she competed in track and field as a sprinter and jumper, but she grew tired of it. “I saw some girls dancing, practicing a dance number in junior high, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” And she’s been doing it ever since.
She first focused on jazz dance and attended the University of California, Irvine’s dance program. But she decided to leave school and move to Los Angeles to try to make it big. That led her to an opportunity to dance with Disney, at both the California and Florida theme parks, in parades and special events. “That was the most fun I had as a dancer. I had to have a part-time job to support the dancing,” she says. In her 20s, she came back to San Diego, where she did musical theater at Starlight and began teaching at Mesa College.
Then in her late 20s, Bunch caught Nike’s corporate eye when she started converting her jazz classes to fitness classes. She became a Nike-sponsored dance athlete, a gig that took her all over the world to showcase her moves. Her time with Nike exposed her to different kinds of dance, including hip-hop. Inspired by the then-underground dance genre, Bunch started Culture Shock San Diego in 1993 with a group of street dancers. She wanted to create choreography combining the raw, urban dance forms then burgeoning onto the scene, and later she added break dancing to the group’s repertoire in the late 1990s. The concept caught on quickly, with Culture Shock branches popping up in five U.S. cities within two years.
Culture Shock’s success was overwhelming for Bunch. “It couldn’t keep up with it and I didn’t know where it was going,” she says. Bunch, who recalls being a “party animal” at the time, says she realized that she had to make some changes if she wanted her company to thrive. “I had to get clean. I already had this company and I saw it transform. I realized if I wanted to stay in I had to do it.”
That dream is being lived out in steps: Culture Shock San Diego is set to remount its summertime production of “Graffiti Life,” an original evening-length hip-hop dance theatrical exploring the gritty subculture of graffiti sometime in 2010.
Despite the near flame-out in her personal life, Bunch succeeded more than she imagined professionally. The troupe grew to have outposts in Los Angles, Oakland, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington DC as well as Ottawa and Toronto, Canada.
Bunch helped create the youth groups Future Shock and Mighty Shock, which have spread from San Diego to other cities. In October, Bunch produced the milestone 10th Anniversary Choreographer’s Showcase, in which all Culture Shock branches performed together at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido.
Bunch continues to push Culture Shock into new places. She’s debunking the myth that hip-hop has age limits with Afta Shock, a new group for older hip-hop dancers. And she wants big things for Culture Shock San Diego. “I want to have a touring company and a documentary made about the troupe,” she says. “I want a Broadway show. It’s been my dream for a long, long time.”
Outside of the studio, Bunch spends time with her 9-year-old daughter in her 105-year-old Victorian house — she was told it used to be a schoolhouse —a couple blocks east of the 805. “It’s changed in the three years I’ve lived here,” she says about the up-and-coming section of North Park that edges the border of City Heights. “The drug houses are gone; they were bought and repaired.”
Her favorite local haunt is comfort-food haven Urban Solace. “It’s all about the sweet-potato fries and the ‘Not So Red’ red velvet cake,” she says. Bunch, who’s lived in Hillcrest and Normal Heights, still considers herself new to the neighborhood and is eager to explore it. “Two things I haven’t done are the farmer’s market and Ray at Night,” she says. “I have not discovered all of North Park yet.”
In the meantime, you’ll find Bunch teaching hip-hop dance at Mesa College and the Culture Shock Dance Center and on the go carrying out her duties as Culture Shock’s executive director. Despite the rough spots, she’s encountered in running the arts organization, she wants to stick it out. “I did it all for the love of it,” she says. “That’s what keeps me doing it.”