Sitting across from Andy Cooper, the Indy-based flatland BMX rider, it's hard to believe him when he says he was considered an outcast in school. This is a guy who would get in trouble with the security guards for riding in parking lots, then smooth-talk his way out of getting arrested. An outcast? More like "coolest kid on the block."
"Everyone was playing basketball or football or something, which I thought was all right, but my bike - my bike was my independence and my freedom," Cooper says.
Cooper has traveled to 45 states for flatland competitions, but still can't bring himself to move away from Indianapolis, his adored hometown. He just returned from Missouri with prize money - and a samurai sword - from the JoMoPro competition last week, where he placed third.
"My grandmother used to say, 'Bloom where you're planted,' and this has really hit home with me lately," Cooper says. He explains that while many people assume he's from the West Coast, he maintains that location holds comparatively little importance in fostering real talent.
"You can be great at something anywhere," Cooper insists. "It's about your dedication."
In the flatland community, Cooper, whose "day job" is waiting tables at St. Elmo Steak House, is famous for the invention of a trick he calls "The Leap of Faith." Overall, his style is known for its fluidity, grace and extreme technicality. In terms of artistry, Cooper often gets lauded for his originality, which is apparent during the transitions between his featured tricks.
"I try to link my tricks in unexpected ways," Cooper says.
BMX flatlanding is a form of artistic cycling performed on a flat surface and occupies a unique space in the realm of extreme sports because it does not involve grinds or rails. Short wheelbases and pegs on each end of the axles allow flatland riders to maneuver the bike into unexpected positions. Cooper describes it as an aggressive form of figure skating - and is ultimately torn between tagging flatlanding as an art or sport. Though there is a significant creative aspect in flatland BMX riding reminiscent of breakdancing, the sport involves an equal amount of sweat and strength; namely, stretching, weight training and strict dieting. Each day, Cooper does all this, in addition to spending three to five hours on the bike itself.
"It's safe to say I train like a boxer. I hit my tricks hard," he remarks.
Since, at 34, Cooper was around during the time when flatland BMX riding was completely unheard of to the general public, he's also a good source for an investigation on the evolution of the sport.
"Back when I started riding, the tricks were much more stationary. But as the riders have gotten more skilled, the sport has completely evolved. Competitions have had a big influence on the development. Now it's more fascinating," Cooper explains. In truth, there are many sports that have as vast a range as flatlanding: How many sports can you see at both Cirque du Soleil and The X Games?
As Cooper can tell you, it wasn't always this way. Before flatlanding was picked up as a legitimate sport, people often wrongfully associated it with gangs, drugs and general subversive behavior. As Cooper understands it, this notion came about because of the struggle for skaters and bikers to find a practice space, which ultimately forced them to trespass into parking lots, parks and drained swimming pools.
"The truth is flatlanding is the farthest thing from being delinquent. People who are ignorant about it don't realize it takes tons of discipline and a strong mind," Cooper says.
In fact, according to Cooper, most of the tricks in his repertoire have taken years to perfect. It's a step by step process that involves breaking down the tricks into their manageable parts, coupled with hours of deliberate, calculated risk.
"It's all very rewarding. It keeps me young. I don't know where I'd be without it," Cooper says.
For the next few weeks, Cooper's training will take on a slightly different flavor as he prepares to perform at Spark A Revolution (see sidebar).
"Flatlanding is a form of expression," Cooper notes. "Just like painting or music, it's always progressing. What's cool is that it can learn from these other art forms. And Earth House represents so many positive things. So yeah, this event is going to rock."
Spark a Revolution lineup
With three performing spaces to work with, Earth House will be a-buzz on multiple levels on Friday, April 17, as a diverse range of music, dance, performance art and physical prowess will be on display. Most performers play twice, but your best bet is to get to Earth House by 5:30 or 6 p.m. to make sure you don't miss a thing.
Indy indie folk band
Indy singer-songwriter just recently released his first album, Dragon Feet
Chicago-based ensemble who play music on bicycles. No, that doesn't mean they ride around and play the trombone. They play on
bicycles - the bikes are their instruments.
A group of composition students at Butler University, they played the IndyFringe tent last summer. They improvise soundtracks to silent films like Man with a Movie Camera
; who knows what they'll do this night.
Andrea Merlyn and Sean Scott
What would an IndyFringe event be without magic?
This Indy sextet just released a new CD, Honey I have news ...
Kenyetta Dance Company
Pre-professional, contemporary dance company based in Indy; co-founded in 2004 by siblings Vanessa R. Owens and Nicholas A. Owens.
Now living in Chicago, Indy-born-and-raised Lily Emerson's Monster/Girl is a bhutto-inspired performance art piece.
Andy Cooper, flatlander
Combine yoga and dance; namaste!
Motus Dance Theatre
They teach, they perform.
The newest of the new, (Re)Collective - dancers, musicians, performance artists - came together for Fringe last year and took the town by storm.
This experimental, acoustic group was recently featured in NUVO.
Three Dollar Bill
Indy-based, ComedySportz-connected sketch comedy group, led by producer Will Pfaffenberger
: breakdancing, drumming, bicycles, you, everything ...
And if that's not enough to feast on, organic food at $10 a meal, crafted by Chef Jenxie, will be available all through the night.