I met Jawn Ha at Granada Elementary School 13 years ago. Back then, he was a typical fifth-grader and we would sometimes play Pokemon and Super Smash Brothers after school in his parents’ living room.
Imagine my surprise to learn that Jawn is now an internationally recognized hip-hop dancer who is competing on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” with his group "Mos Wanted Crew." Not only that, he’s traveled the world conducting workshops for fans whose only common language is dance. (One recent description from a workshop in Houston: "he's freeesh yall, his style is like… as if a krumper and a popper made a baby, and that baby became a king.") And, to top it off, he’s the owner of a hip-hop clothing line, Contour Hooligans. Not bad for someone who is not yet 25.
The transformation of the skinny and slightly nerdy Jawn I once knew happened when our routes separated. I went to South Pasadena High; he went to Alhambra High. While I continued to develop my nerdiness by joining my school’s Scrabble Club, Jawn discovered a deep-seeded dance culture and Alhambra High's All Male Dance team. Along with Drill Team, it continues to be one of the most popular student associations on campus, attracting students of all backgrounds.
When we were in eleventh grade, I attended AHS’s annual Stage Show and watched as Jawn took the stage with All Male. The undersized Jawn of fifth grade was noticeably larger, more charismatic, and demanded attention with his precise and confident moves.
David Ha, Jawn’s father and one of his biggest fans, never expected such levels of success to come from his son’s dancing. He says that he initially supported Jawn’s decision to join All Male mainly because the school required its dancers to keep their grades up. But as David and his whole family regularly attended Jawn’s weekend dance competitions throughout high school, he said they saw his growing passion and how it grew even after Jawn left nursing school to pursue dancing fulltime.
Dance coach Joanna Vargas, who has witnessed Jawn’s transition into stardom, said that he has a “natural born talent to move,” and added “he was always focused.” She even referred to Jawn as one of the “diamonds in the ruff,” and credits the success of Contour Hooligans to his patience and business savvy.
David pointed to his son’s humbleness as one of the main factors responsible for his success, and although I don’t see Jawn much these days, I have to agree with him. Despite being internationally known and regularly appearing on national television, Jawn is very much your average twenty-something — Cha For Tea and Pho 79 remain some of his favorite places to hang out in Alhambra.
Jawn remains appreciative of the city from which he launched into stardom and plans on living in Alhambra until his clothing line expands and needs to relocate. “Alhambra was and always will be an open environment for creativity to expand,” he wrote me in an e-mail, remarking on the mixed ethnic makeup of the city. “Alhambra will always be my home.”
Tune in to MTV Wednesday night at 10pm to see Jawn and his group dance for the chance to compete in the “America’s Best Dance Crew” finale.
*Updated: Jawn and Mos Wanted Crew were elminated and did not make it to the finals.