As a battalion staff manager with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 308th Brigade Support Battalion, Cpl. Thomas Garcia has spent countless hours drowning his brain in Army regulations and standard operating procedures. At the office, he works in meticulous detail to make sure everything is done according to standard.
Out of the office, he needs to do the exact opposite – immersing himself in something that doesn’t require that he adhere to rigid standards and rules.
To that end he turns to two aspects of hip-hop culture that have been with him since high school – slam poetry and break dancing.
“It’s dancing. There are no set rules, standards, anything like that. It’s about expression and freedom of movement,” he said, adding that he needs dancing as much as he needs work in his life.
For Garcia, break dancing started as an escape from the wrong kind of lifestyle.
He started break dancing with a few friends in Chicago, his hometown, in 2001 as a way to stay off the streets and occupy his time with a healthy hobby.
“Being in Chicago, there are lots of gangs and just a lot of trouble you can get into,” he said. “The elements of hip-hop culture really saved our lives.”
Garcia and his friends unknowingly opened up a world to others like themselves. His small group turned into a crew of more than 20 people who all saw break dancing as a way to better their lives.
Their crew progressed, turning into a group where hip-hop culture artists could support each other and be a part of something positive. They expanded their collective to include rappers, disc jockeys and spray-paint artists.
“Mainly [our crew] was all about camaraderie, just hanging out, staying out of trouble and having fun,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s crew is still active in Chicago. He doesn’t get many chances to break dance with them anymore, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing on his own.
“It’s something I’ll never stop doing,” he said. “I could stop for three years but the moment I go back to it,” he snapped his fingers and grinned, “it’s like I never stopped. I still have that passion. It’s already been 11 years for me now and it’s going to be 12.”
Slam poetry came into Garcia’s life in 2004 and hit him just as hard as break dancing. It’s an art form that started in his hometown in the 1980s, he said.
During a poetry slam, artists recite original poems from memory and judges score them on a scale of one to 10, Garcia said.
“It just blew me away, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” he said.
That initial interest grew into a part of his life. While he attended Thornton Fractional North High School in Calumet City, Ill., he joined the slam poetry team and ended up helping them take the Chicago championship two years in a row in 2004 and 2005.
“When you win the Chicago championship slam it gets you on the Chicago team, which represents Chicago in the national poetry slam called Brave New Voices,” Garcia said.
Brave New Voices is one of the biggest poetry slams in existence, and it was also one of Garcia’s last performances.
“Nowadays I don’t really perform at all,” he said. “I still write a little, but being that I’m pretty busy at work it’s become something I just do as a hobby.”
“If I really had the time to do it I would definitely go right back into it,” he said. “It just takes time and inspiration.”
One of his poems, titled “Bulimia, 2005,” stands out as a reminder of what he can create when he has that time and inspiration.
“It’s a story of obsession describing the lengths of a person’s worship over a love,” Garcia said, giving an excerpt from his poem:
“I’m telling you that this love is addictive, and I am that junkie that is willing to do anything just to shoot up again. Even if that means I have to disembowel myself just to show that inside really doesn’t matter to me.”
Garcia plans on waiting for when he can produce new material to go on stage again.
In the future, Garcia hopes to open a dance studio or youth center with his fiancee, who is also a dancer.
There are a lot of nonprofit organizations that sponsor youth centers in Chicago to keep children and teenagers off the streets and introduce them to art like dancing and poetry, he said.
He graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and working at a youth center would be the ideal job, he said.
“That would be combining my job with something that I love to do. It would be perfect with my degree and the field of profession I want to get into,” he said. “It’s just something promising to think about.”
For now, Garcia plans on doing his best in the Army and practicing his passions on the side. He’s not in any hurry. He’s content with quietly continuing his art until the time is right to show it to the world again.
Story by Spc. Nathan Goodall
From the 17th Fires Brigade
Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DoD website.