When he wasn't hitting the law books, Luis Arrieche was hitting his head on the pavement.
Arrieche, 31, practiced law when he lived in Venezuela, but he also breakdanced. Since he began breaking as a teenager, he's won 10 national breaking competitions between Venezuela and Memphis.
A Memphian since 2013, Arrieche has been breaking at events, including Memphis Grizzlies games.
- Michael Donahue
He did "head flips" with fellow members of HotHouse Groove last June at an opening reception for the "Bouguereau & America" exhibit at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. He also performed his signature "hand hop," where he balances his 175-pound body on one hand for about 70 seconds.
Arrieche again will perform in New Ballet Ensemble's Nut ReMix, which will be held November 15th through 17th at the Cannon Center.
Growing up in Merida, Venezuela, Arrieche did his first handstand in middle school. By 14, he was jumping up a flight of stairs while wearing rollerblades. But his rollerblade stunts ended. "I just did a jump — a 360 flip — something like that. And when I landed, I landed a bad way. I broke my left arm," he says.
Four years later, Arrieche fell in love with breakdancing after watching "b-boys" perform at a party. Tight-knit "street crews" took him under their wings and taught him.
"Musicality," Arrieche says, is the main trait aspiring breakdancers need to have. They have to be able to keep to the beat of the music while breaking.
Breakdancing has four elements: "toprock," which is upper body dancing — standing up and "doing b-boy steps"; "footwork" — doing different combinations of steps while using your hands and feet; "freeze" — using your head and shoulders; and "power move," spinning on your whole body, including your head, shoulders, back, and hands.
Arrieche was in his first year of law school when he took up breaking. His parents didn't support him because they thought breaking would interfere with his studies. "I showed everybody I could do both," he says. "Why not? If you focus, you can do it."
He performed with his first dance crew, Evolution Family Group, while in law school. They breaked to Latin hip-hop music in clubs and festivals.
Arrieche continued to break after he graduated. "I was working my regular day in a law office and by 4, 5, 6, I was free, and I could go to practice," he says. "I guess I was kind of famous in my city. All the time, I received invitations to perform in shows."
He joined "The Chosen Few," which he described as "a super crew for competitions."
In 2012, Arrieche met a woman, got a visa, and moved to Memphis, where her dad lived. He didn't know any other breakdancers, so he practiced by himself in a garage. "I dance for me, first of all," he says. "That's my thing. I dance for me. For my body. For my soul."
He eventually met other dancers and re-formed The Chosen Few.
Arrieche was no longer interested in pursuing law, so he took construction, roofing, and other jobs.
He danced in Nut ReMix. And he joined HotHouse Groove, which is a combination of dancers, singers, hip-hop performers, and other artists.
Arrieche also began teaching children at L.Y. E. Academy and giving private lessons.
But his family and friends in Venezuela were most impressed after he joined the Memphis Grizzlies as part of the Claw Crew, the entertainment group that performs at games. "When I did my first post about the Grizzlies thing on Facebook, oh, my God, I received a lot of comments," he says. "Everyone loves me now."
Arrieche was excited when breakdancing recently became a sanctioned U.S. Olympics sport. That will show the world breaking is an actual sport, he says. "A weird kind of sport, but definitely athletic activity."
Arrieche usually goes straight to practice after he gets off work at Radians, an industrial products business.
He might go back to school so that he can practice in the U.S. as a lawyer or a paralegal, but he also is thinking about one day opening a dance studio or academy.
For now, Memphis is where he wants to be. "I've been here for six years, and I feel it's my home now," Arrieche says. "I created a world around me here."
See Luis Arrieche bust a move in New Ballet Ensemble's 2019 performance of Nut ReMix, which will be held November 15th through 17th at the Cannon Center.