Do you know the D.C. breakdancer in this painting?

January 15, 2013

California taught Rachel Bicknell how to moonwalk. It was the early '80s and he was her dance instructor at the Russell School of Ballet in Fairfax. He didn't go by any other name -- it was just "California" -- but he had the moves, and a way of connecting with his young pupils. At 7 or 8 years old, Bicknell learned the robot and the caterpillar. "Remember that move when you get down on the ground, and spin like a turtle on its back?" she asked.  "I was good at that one."

Bicknell liked her class so much that her mother, an artist, took a photo of California that later inspired a painting (she cautions that the photo of the painting below "does not give justice to it" -- the reflection of her flash has slightly altered the image). But after a few months of taking classes once or twice a week, Bicknell says that California stopped coming to class -- and she never saw him again. She never even learned his real name.


A portrait of California by Simone Warren. Photo courtesy of Rachel Bicknell.

"I think as a kid I asked him what his real name was, and he said that he was a cool dude and 'California' was all I needed to know," she said. "He named himself California because he was born and raised there."

Her mother, Simone Warren, died in 2011, leaving her daughter her entire archive of more than 200 paintings, including the portrait of California. When Bicknell, who now lives in Memphis, saw the painting, she wanted to give it to him -- but she had no idea how to track him down. Via YouTube, she contacted a break dancer with ties to California's former crews, the DC Breakers and the GQ Poppers, but he hadn't heard from him in years. No one at the Russell School had any information about him, either. She also posted photos of the painting and California on Reddit, hoping someone would recognize him. So far, no dice.

Though she only took classes with him for a few months, California made a huge impact on her childhood. "He was, in a weird way, a big part of my life," said Bicknell.

Do you know anyone who has ties to the D.C. breakdancing scene in the 1980s? If so, leave a comment, or e-mail judkism@washpost.com.


California at break dancing class in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Rachel Bicknell.

California and his break dancing students. Rachel Bicknell is the little girl in red. Photo courtesy of Rachel Bicknell.
Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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