A small group of Calgary dancers has come face-to-face with dance history, and likely learned a move or two.

Steve da Silva, better known as "Suga Pop," led a group of about 25 dancers in a workshop at Calgary's Pulse Studios on Sunday.

The Los Angeles-based performer and dance instructor is widely regarded as an expert in "popping" and "locking" — two styles of funk dance that predate breakdancing.

"I grew up in [the L.A. neighbourhood of] Watts, and that's where the first of these funk dances started," Suga Pop said.

"I started dancing when I was five or six. By the time I was nine, I was doing shows."

Not exactly breakdancing

Popping and locking are styles of funk dancing that originated in California in the 1960s and '70s. They involve fluid leg, arm or hip movements that often come to an abrupt, momentary stop or "lock."

The stopping motion is sometimes accentuated with a flexed muscle, resulting in a popping motion. These dances are also almost always performed while standing upright.

Breakdancing, or "breaking," is rooted in early '70s street dancing styles of New York. It involves acrobatic moves that are generally performed closer to the ground.

Hip hop pioneer

By the early 1980s, Suga Pop was on the ground floor of the growing global hip-hop movement.

According to his website, he had briefly relocated to New York and joined the Rock Steady Crew, a pioneering breakdance group that performed at parties frequented by Blondie singer Debbie Harry and artist Andy Warhol.

As part of his association with the L.A.-based Electric Boogaloos, Suga Pop was involved in two of the most popular music videos of the 1980s — Beat It and Thriller by Michael Jackson.

"He took classes [from us]. He wanted to learn the art form of popping," says Suga Pop, who has a cameo in both videos.

"We worked with him briefly before Beat It and did the video. And then I flew back and gave him three months of lessons up until, and during Thriller."

Suga Pop at Pulse Studios

LA-based Steve da Silva, aka "Suga Pop", has worked with Michael Jackson and James Brown. (Vince Truong, Pulse Studios)

'Tapping the well'

Chris Clare, a local dancer and dance instructor attending Suga Pop's workshop, says he's happy to learn from an originator.

"When learning from him, you're tapping the well. He's part of that generation that started doing these dances."

"No one's ever going to do it like him and the guys he danced with, but all you can do is learn and be inspired by it, and put your own twist on it." 

As Calgary grows in size, Suga Pop hopes its dance scene will grow too.

"There are some great dancers that are from Calgary that are now living in Toronto or Montreal, because maybe the scene is going on a little more [in those cities]," he said.

"[The idea is] to keep your people here, and people will start moving here from other places."