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Adolfo ‘Shabba-Doo’ Quinones, Chicago-bred Dance Icon Who Worked With Madonna, Honored With Street Sign

Quinones popularized street dancing in the 1984 film "Breakin'" and numerous other projects. Working with Madonna, Lionel Richie and Chaka Khan, he would return to Chicago to host workshops with kids.

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WEST TOWN — Before Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones starred in Hollywood blockbusters or worked as a choreographer and dancer for Madonna and Lionel Richie, the “godfather of street dance” was a student at West Town’s Talcott Elementary.

Quinones grew up in the Cabrini-Green housing projects and West Town, attended Talcott and spent time at the nearby Boys and Girls Club, said his brother, Eric Vaughn Smith.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Quinones became a defining dance star of his generation, rising from the set of nationally syndicated TV show “Soul Train” to bring his unique dance style to the forefront in film, television and on stage.

On Friday, city officials and community members gathered to dedicate an honorary street sign for Quinones at the corner of Ohio and Wolcott streets, outside his former school, 1840 W. Ohio St.

Quinones died in late 2020 at 65. He would often return to Chicago, friends said, including to host dance workshops with kids throughout the city.

West Town neighbor Harv Roman, who was a longtime Boys and Girls Club employee and friends with Quinones, said the dancer would have been thrilled with the honor. But Quinones remained humble about his success throughout his career, Roman said.

“I never had the feeling that he was believing his own hype, that he was this megastar,” Roman said. “He was just a kid from the neighborhood who did good.”

Quinones got his big break on “Soul Train” as a teenager and moved to Los Angeles. He became a member of the influential dance troupe The Lockers and starred in the hit 1984 film “Breakin,'” which popularized breakdancing and hip-hop culture across the country.

Quinones appeared in “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” and numerous other movies, music videos and other projects over the course of his career.

Quinones first appeared on Soul Train in the early ’70s, according to several obituaries, but he was self-trained and showed off moves he had developed on the streets of Chicago.

“Trained dancers may have a difficult time figuring out why I do things the way I do. But for me, my style has worked. It’s the only way for me,” he told the Sun-Times in 1990, which was later quoted in his obituary.

As Quinones’ career progressed, he appeared in Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” video, as well as a video with Chicago’s Chaka Khan. And in 1987, he choreographed and danced in Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl” world tour.

But while Quinones achieved fame and starred in more films, including 1990’s “Lambada,” he has often been left out of the history of hip-hop culture, said Chad Sorenson, a local DJ who is making a documentary on the rise of Chicago hip-hop.

For every Common or Kanye West, there is a Quinones who helped lay the foundation of Chicago hip-hop, Sorenson said Friday.

“Shabba-Doo is one of the perfect examples of how Chicago sometimes can get overlooked in the aspect of how important we are to the hip-hop culture as a whole,” he said. “Some of the people’s first exposure to hip hop culture as a whole was the movie ‘Breakin’,’ right? And he was the star of that movie. He’s an icon.”

Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
Adolfo ‘Shabba-Doo’ Quinones’ son Vashawn speaks at the ceremony unveiling an honorary street sign for his father on May 19, 2023
Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
The honorary street sign at Wolcott and Ohio streets in West Town for Adolfo ‘Shabba-Doo’ Quinones

Roman said he last saw Quinones in person about a decade ago, when the dancer called him to help organize a workshop in Chicago. But the two stayed in touch on social media and often spoke about old teachers and characters from Talcott and the Boys and Girls Club, Roman said.

After Quinones’ death, Roman and community activist Valencia “Mother Diva” Dantzler, who came up with the idea to erect a street sign in honor of Quinones, began discussing ways they could honor the dancing legend.

That led La Spata and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) to sponsor a resolution dedicating May 11, 2021, as the official Adolfo “Shabba- Doo” Quinones Day in Chicago.

The resolution called Quinones “a real-life example of not only overcoming his circumstances but setting a stage for others to dance away from the only life they knew.”

That spirit was on display Friday, when old friends and family members paid tribute to Quinones as a mentor, a father, a friend and also “one of the coolest people this neighborhood has ever produced,” La Spata said.

Quinones’ son, Vashawn Quinones, shared with the crowd a piece of advice he said his father lived by.

“He used to tell all the students: Never strive to be OK or to be good,” Vashawn Quinones said. “Always strive for greatness.”

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