“THE ROBOT” The dance or the Act ?



although today they have merged

to both be called STREETDANCE

The Social Party dance called “The Robot”   and the street Entertainment of the Mechanical Robot have two different origins & two different histories


The History of the the Social Party dance of “The Robot “vs  mechanical man or Mime 

I am always asked about the origin of the Robot wherever I go , and my answer is. “Are you referring to the Robot as a Social Party dance style ? or are you referring to the Robot as a street performance of a mechanical man?

James “Skeeter” Higgins”AKA “Og Skeeter Rabbit”

The contest that began the evolution of Locking and “THE ROBOT” as DANCE PHENOMINON

the two social party dance couples, who placed these two style in front of the world

Charles And Angie (ROBOT) Don and Damita (LOCKING)

 charles robot copy               don

The Background to the evolving History from stage & street performance to Street & social dance

The human body imitating a mechanical entity is nothing new to the 20th century. Mimes and illusions created by Miming ,which included Mechanical moves have existed since mid evil times in Europe, They were illustrated in street and town square type settings , along with jesters , traveling puppet shows & songs and minstrel shows,


 The Southern California influences of Charles “Robot” Washington. Which we at Lockerlegends regard as the   Godfather of “THE SOCIAL PARTY DANCE” called “THE ROBOT”                                  

Here is what I have seen and experienced from the 1960s  through the 1970s ,it is my personal experience and observations as a PARTY DANCER A ROBOT & A LOCKER from that eras, I guess according to todays criteria dancers like myself and Slim The Robot and others who came up Locking and roboting in the very early 1970s Soul train era would be considered BotLockers , but the term in those days was simply a Locker for both

Many of us grew up watching Marcell marcoue perform on the Ed Sullavan show in the mid 1960s, and we also watched Lost in space and saw robot characters, and influence can come from many directions to establish and create “sub cultures and Artforms”

The historical influences ,timeline and demographics above are so important in understanding the connection of these dances as they developed between Southern and Northern California, and how they existed together to evolve ,

“ROBOT” Charles , Charles Washington was from South Central Los Angeles, and began using the Robot moves he developed along with his brothers and dance partner Angie to party to Soul and funk music in the late 1960’s, around 1970, he connected at clubs 7 parties with a young Dancer by the name of Don Campbell, Don Credits a step called the Robot Shuffle as one of the steps that inspired him to create the Locks ,which became his famous Campbellock dance, Charles is credited as the Godfather and the inspiration to the Southern California Party dance called “The Robot” his inspiration went on to be featured on the national TV show Soul Train in 1971 and inspired such songs about the dance style as  “Do the funky Robot” by Rufus Thomas, setting off a dance phynominon of Robot dancers integrated into locking groups ,

Charles took his improvisational Party Robot DANCE on stage with Don Campbell as part of the Campbellock dancers in 1972, but was short lived as an entertainer, because of the lack of finantial opportunities, but it did open the door for others who like Slim Robot to be part of the Lockers ,

The difference between the DANCE of the Robot in Southern California & the mechanical man, street entertainment Robots of Northen California , was the Party Dance was usually ,but not always done in a couple party atmosphere , there was usually only one person per group that performed this Robot dance, where in Northern California it was synchronize groups which was inspired by the street entertainment performance.

The street performance of the Robot (Mechanical Man) or Mime style Robot

The most popular was the French Mime , who wore white makeup, striped shirts & Tights , imitating such illusions as waking against the wind, feeling around imaginary walls or constructing imaginary boxes , so we recognize the the Robot as street entertainment had various influences prior to its position in the dance world,

In the 20th century the most modern and one of the most famous of the french mimes was Marcel Marceau born  March 22, 1923 –died  September 23, 2007.. He was a French actor and mime most famous for his stage persona as “Bip the Clown.” In 1959 he established a mime school in Paris , and set up a foundation to promote mime in the united states. In the mid 1960s TV shows like “Lost in Space also  featured humans acting as robotic characters, So again we see much influence and inspiration prior to the robots inception and evolution into Streetdance & HipHop.

The most famous modern day street entertainment and the Northern California connection of the mime or mechanical man to todays scene was the mime robotic duo Shields & Yarnell ,

Robert Shields was actually  born in Los Angeles in 1951 the same year Locking creator Don Campbell & Social Party Dance Robot originator, “Robot Charles Washington” was born. Around 1969  At the age of 18, while Shields was working as a street mime and performing at the Hollywood Wax Museum, He was discovered by Marcel Marceau, who convinced Shields to accept a full scholarship to his school of mime in Paris ,France. However ,Shields  was only there a short time,before Returning to the USA and re establishing his street performance, Act in Northern California, working in Union Square, San Francisco. There he performed street mime and mechanical man shows to passing travelers in an open show, around 1974 is when Shields is credited with being the originator of a “Robot Style” moves to robot sound effects, This is what  inspired the early Robot crews in Northern California, to follow ,creating street performance sychronized Robotic groups  like Demons of the mind , The Black Resurgence, They were known as synchronized robotic groups who did elaborate unison Routines and also were part of the street entertainment scene in places in the Bay area ,like Union Station, were Robert Sheilds had made this type of entertainment popular,

This is very important to the history of The Robot as it evolved to the various types done today

YES  there is a difference between the street performer , imitating a mechanical robot to sound effects,props and stage makeup. versus a person who socially improvisation as a dancer, doing the social party dance “THE ROBOT” as a couple dancers in parties and clubs, 

one is a performance, and one is a party dance, now they can merge , a party dance can and did become a performance  & a street performance did become a dance performance, As the 1970s, went through its early 1970s merging of The Cambellocking dance and the Robot Party Dance, The two formed an Act , which was simply under the term LOCKING, It was performed by many inner-city Southern California Groups , The most famous, was “The LOCKERS” these stage dance acts included not only locking dance routines & Solos ,but also Robot dance skits and solos, 

BILL “SLIM ROBOT” WILLIAMS in a TV performance with the Lockers, Slim began in 1971 as a party style robot ,then performing as locking developed into a perforce , Slim had a uniques style combining the martial arts and “the Robot” into his locking

Northern Californias Street entertainment style was also evolving, where the crews were now growing and performing in schools and also in stage performance shows

Today both have merged to create the varied style you see in Popping. Combining the street mechanical Mime influence from Northern California of Robert Shields and the Locking , street renditions of “The Robot” by Charles Robot as a social Party Dance , Today you see many Legends influenced by both histories, performing both planned street acts, or in Dance or party competitions, some have Locking backgrounds, as history shows with the term “popLocker” some have Northern California backgrounds as “Strutters’

My Story By James “Skeeter” Higgins

I have just read ,a very insiteful and powerful post on the locker legends Facebook page from a  brother named Andre Johnson, as he explains the inspiration of the various OGs into the mechanical, robot world the  party and street dance. Having been one of the three Robots to have ever performed with the group the Lockers or Campbellock  dancers as they were originally called , I would like to place here how i saw the evolution from my past experience with the style of dance called the Robot 

img010 copy 2

When i was a young kid,I remember seeing the statuesque robot stand ridged &  move in mechanical fashion ,when tourist approached the Hollywood wax museum ,This is where Robert Shields worked prior to going to Europe to study mime in 1969, as a matter of fact in 1973 , I would often be prompted to turn the music on in my 1964 chevy as we pulled up to that museum ,  I would get out (sometimes carried out by my crew) and do “The Robot” style dance to Funk music & distract the tourist away from the statuesque mechanical mime,who was frozen at attention on Hollywood Blvd.  It wasn’t until years later that I found out that Robert Shields had started his career as ONE of the mimes there,  But it was so much fun to watch the mime, there at the time, hold its face as he saw us coming, and still try to remain stoic,  It was simply the mentality of us as both street & party lockers & Robots from the hood at the time in Southern California to taunt and tease to Funk & Soul party music ,

It is important to note that Soul train came to Los Angeles in 1971, and it is in 1971 that I met my mentor Charles “Robot Washington ,and the first person I ever saw do the dance “THE ROBOT” He was already going to social house parties, and night clubs and socially doing his party dance “The Robot” Also in that year Him and his partner Angie was introduced as a “DANCE Feature on the SOUL TRAIN T.V. SHOW.where dancers like Damita Jo Freeman , Pat Davis and others adapted it into their party dancing, Don Campbell the creator of Locking credits a step called the robot shuffle (along with the funky Chicken) for inspiring his locking moves. and Robot Charles along with his brothers was roboting at parties in the late 60s, and Charles himself was in Don’s very first improvisational group called “The Campbellock” dancers in 1972

It was around that year the end of 71 beginning of 72, I, myself began learn and party with it as a dance,  along with others like Bill “Slim  Robot” Williams of the Lockers . by 1973 there were several very good party style Robots on the party & club scene in Los Angeles, Like Bishop ‘CoCo”Hall & John “Okie Doke” Wilson, Every Locking group had a robot dancer & incorporated it into their stage & school performances.

So as can be seen here, Robert Shields performance in the Los Angeles area in the Late 1960s through his later street performances  in 1974 in San Francisco is occurring was during the same time period. And that is critical in the history and the evolution ,of  how the robot is seen today.as either a street performance or a Social Dance, which is confused by its cmbination of the interpretation of the word “STREETDANCE” , when innocence Robert Shields was NOT a dancer he was a mime performer

In the Fall of 1972 I along with other Locking Soul Train dancers, who were now becoming popular in the communities, we were asked to form a crew by the famous Watts Writers workshop ,It was later in the spring of 1973 that we then toured the Northern California College scene , performing Locking and Robot dance shows. During that tour I was attending many college “PARTY” functions in Northern California after our shows. And although I cannot say what was happening in the inner cities of Northern California ,I can say that as I partied with the Robot dance in those college parties , It was unique and always drew a crowed of awed onlookers , AND I did not see anyone partying using that style of dance in those parties, Note this was back in the spring of 1973,

In late 1973 the famous Lockers group was formed and were exposed to the world as a professional act, It was there that  Locking  and karate style robot Bill “Slim Robot”  Williams unveiled his style of performance robot , which had evolved from his Social Party dance style of Robot ” This helped it become a NATIONAL phenomenon as early as Late 1973,

We at that time, in So California ever compared, what we were doing in parties and now as a dance act on stage to the street performance of the mechanical man , The Mime ,Mechanical Man was often done with props & make up , and sometimes syncronized sound effects , BUT NOT TO FUNK AND SOUL MUSIC and NOT IN COUPLE STYLE PARTIES.   But The Party style Locking Robot & the Mechanical man street performer were continuing to merge. and combine with new group which also merged Northern and southern California terminology and styles Like the ELECTRONIC BOOGALOO LOCKERS. taking the term Lockers from the Original Party style (influenced by Charles Robot) ,which included the Party style robot and combining it with the star Boogaloo from the Northern style influenced by the street performance groups Like the Media Circus & Demons of the minds. (influenced by Robert Shields street performance)

 The Lockers & The Electric Boogaloos (who later dropped the term lockers from their name) were NATIONALLY exposing the evolvolution of the two as a unique Street dance  styles” often classified as Popping ,a general term , Boogalooing a Northern California term or PopLocking a Southern California term, which included the Original term OF LOCKING

Because of the NATIONAL & Later International exposure, it was these TWO groups ( The Lockers & The Electric Boogaloo “Lockers”)who received much of the credit for creation & evolution to what seen today , while bi passing the original influences of Robot to popping in street dance history, today the other influences, people and connections are being exposed & confusion followed

note the term Streetdance back in our day and in Southern California  did not necessarily mean street performance group , but rather the term was used as a term that meant non studio trained, and, street meant hood party inspired .

Now also Note,  in 1974, when history tells us Robert Shields was doing his mind boggling street performance and developing robotic moves in Union Station in San Francisco , I was on the 1974 National Frank Sinatra Tour, as The Lockers Robot, during that tour we not only performed but we also partied in many cities across the united states, and The Robot as I did it as a party dance was virtually unseen on the east coast in Live performances at the time. only glimps of the style on Soul Train & Lockers footage. This again shows that the street performance of the mime & mechanical man ,was not the driving force behind the initial NATIONAL robot scene , as the Shields and Yarnell show did not air until 1977. so even though it may have existed the street performance of the Mechanical man ,and group Robot performances, had not yet gone NATIONAL and was still localized to a region , while the Party style Robot had expanded through the exposure of Soul Train & the Lockers & other Locking groups stage performances

These are just my personal observations and opinions based on my first hand  personal experience. Because It is because I believe that without both influences you would not have what you have today, in the world of animated street and party styles..referred to simply as popping

Here is what i see took place in our history , those who grew up in the hoods and parties of Watts, Compton & Los Angeles grew up seeing the “PARTY DANCE OF “THE ROBOT” those of us in those clubs in the late 1960s and early 1970s , saw Charles “Robot’ Washington , Party, dancing with female partners as a couple, while introduceing it as a “DANCE: to those communities and then on Soul Train…

Those that grew up in Northern California Grew up watching the street performance of The Mechanical man ,evolve into a street and social performance of Robotics, They Saw Robert Shields, along with Soul Train,and soon after saw the Shelds and Yarnell develop their awesome talents into a TV show which premiered in 1977.. just as locking and other styles traveled up and down the waistcoat the two Robotic movements merged , with northern moves such as boogaloo, Dime stopping and others developing the street performance styles , we see today, this created several northern groups  who were inspired from the robotic street performers,Northern California as all of us were , inspired heavily by James Brown & this inspired their party style of boogaloo ( which simply meant get down)  ,James Brows dance of the boogaloo had evolved to a mechanical style, through dancers like Boogaloo Sam  and was now merging with the Social Dance Pop Locking , Bopping of the funk and soul Party movement from the Southern California & the Northern California mechanical steps & dance moves of boogaloo, Today the’Dance continues to evolved has merged with hiphop from the East Coast, where it was originally called “Electric Boogie” .. to create the style of popping we have today.

And also the Robot as a dance has been done ,in parties across this country for decades

Please be reminded this is not meant to disclaim anyones recognition but rather to include all perspectives..Just as I saw it Locking , there is no one creative entity that created without inspiration & influence from its surroundings and its past. we are all just vessels that the creative energy flows through to continuously tell “THE STORY”

it is only the ego that wants things to be absolute !

much respect to Shields & Yarnell , Don Campbell, Charles “Robot” Washington, all Lockers , Popplockes , Boogaloos, Poppers & ROBOTS

The social party dance “The Robot”

Charles “Robot” Washington

The Performance ( Northern California) The Mime or Mechanical Man

Robert Shields ,evolving to a northern california street dance phenomenon

Peace and love

Og “Skeeter Rabbit ‘ Higgins