Supporting the Next Generation of Footworkers

An Interview with Jemal “P-Top” Delacruz


Jemal “P-Top” Delacruz is a footwork dancer and artist in Chicago, IL. He rose to prominence with the footwork group Goon Squad as well as co-founded the internationally renowned group The Era Footwork Crew. He also started several youth-based initiatives like The Ring and Footwork Saves Lives. Here, Jemal shares his background and passion for footwork and why a big part of his mission is to support the next generation of Chicago footworkers.

A headshot of P-top wearing a black shirt against a yellow background.

Photo by Spencer Hopkins


Can you tell me a little about your dance history – how did you get involved in footwork and how did you start performing with Goon Squad?

I’m from uptown on the north side of Chicago. Footwork started on the west side and got real big on the south side, before spreading everywhere. I always share that to let people know my home ground.

I fell in love with the music before the dance. You can’t have one without the other. One day me and my brother Malcolm were chilling on the porch at the back of our house. One of our neighbors named Tony was playing a Chicago footwork mix. We recognized some of the tracks from a dance event where hip hop dancers would end their routines with a Chicago footwork solo. We asked Tony where he got the music from. He said he bought it at the mall and asked if we wanted it.

Everything pieced together in turns of footwork. Goon Squad was based on the north side of Chicago at a center called The Arc. A bunch of footworkers would all come together. Ever since then I was drawn into it in terms of the battle scene and parties.

I was 15 or 16. My family all know how to dance; we have this thing where when we see something, we can copy it. We have a knack for trying to do stuff on our own. I was self-taught in Chicago footwork. But in terms of getting better at it, The Arc is where I learned the different styles of footwork. As I got older and excelled, I learned from certain footworkers around town to help me discover my own style.

I understand that in 2014, you co-founded The Era Footwork Crew. How did it get started?

Me and “Lightbulb” [Jamal Oliver] were hired to do a movie scene with Al Pacino called Manglehorn. In our part of the movie scene, we were part of two different marching bands, and we were battling. Afterward, Bulb hit me up and we had a meeting. Before The Era, there was a group called New Era that I wasn’t a part of. Bulb and other footworkers, Steelo and Manny, were from a rival squad but after working together in that movie scene, we created The Era Footwork Crew in 2014 and it’s just grown from there in terms of media, routines, shows, music, and summer camps. We put it back in our community.

P-Top emcees an event outdoors on a court with lots of people around. City buildings rise in the background.

Photo courtesy P-Top

I understand a big focus for your work is on youth. Can you share more about your initiatives like the event The Ring and the campaign “Footwork Saves Lives”?

The Ring is a footwork battle event that is for all ages but is mainly focused on the kids to give them an outlet to battle and express themselves as well as use the event for good exposure. I try to raise funds. A lot of footworkers don’t get paid and do tournaments for free. The Era Footwork Crew is in a position to get paid and have funds, so we try to put money in others’ pockets so they can start to build their own brand and artistry. The Ring is open to anyone but nine times out of ten, it’s the dancers in our footwork community. We’re on the fifth generation of footworkers, and we try to put them in a position to battle and get exposure. But it’s open for anyone to see, join, and enjoy.

“Footwork Saves Lives” started with Steelo, a member of The Era Footwork Crew. We call the campaign a lifestyle because footwork actually did save our lives. We pass that on to the kids. For instance, we have a footwork summer camp called Open the Circle where we teach the hip hop dance groups the history of Chicago footwork and prep them for the Bud Billiken Parade so they know how important footwork is for the Bud Billiken Parade. We teach them music, social media, fashion, film, activism, and financial literacy. Basically, we try to teach them just to be creative and that they can do what they want to do. You don’t have to be a footworker to be involved in footwork culture. “Footwork Saves Lives” has a deeper meaning; footwork did save my life. I’m proof speaking to you right now. It kept me out of gangs and made me a better father, brother, and mentor.

What feedback or results have you seen from your youth initiatives?

Besides teaching the kids and inspiring them to learn Chicago footwork, honestly if we didn’t do this type of work, there wouldn’t be a fifth generation of footworkers right now. You always get back what you put in. Having Goon Squad be part of certain shows like Night at the Museum or Red Bull or downtown at Millenium Park, everything is gravitating in the right way and giving these kids better opportunities to be more appreciative. It’s not just about dance; they’re looking forward to something. One of my students did a casting call and got hired to be in a TV dance show. It’s all about opportunities that mold them into being better artists.

How do you see footwork evolving in the future? Are there any new trends or ways of approaching footwork that you’re excited about?

We teach the history and the foundation, but we also give kids room to be unique. Goon Squad was initially focused on battling and not putting it back into people younger than us. There were too many egos. Now we have a completely different theme.

Before the pandemic broke, when The Era did the footwork summer camps, we opened kids’ eyes up to certain battle crews. A krump dancer named Tommy the Clown had a big competition in LA, and we kept winning until we won the whole thing for $10k, which is a big thing coming from a footwork group. In LA, the hip hop groups do flips and choreography. Krump dancers and clown dancers are really intrigued by footworking and respect it. We try to collaborate all the time, reaching out and showing love. We’re collaborating with the livestream app Caffeine and working to show that every dance has a message, especially if it’s Black dance. We can all collaborate and work together and be great.

What’s next for you? Do you have a project or focus you’d like to share more about?

My main focus now with The Era Footwork Crew is rebranding ourselves as The Era Footwork Collective. We have new projects coming up like music and shows. Vice versa with Goon Squad, we’re trying to work with more kids and bring more kids off the street. For myself personally, I’m getting ready to relaunch The Ring. Those are my main three focuses when I’m not taking care of my own kids.

Ptop sits on a stool and looks into the camera. He is wearing sporty clothing against a gray backdrop.

Photo courtesy P-Top


To learn more about The Era Footwork Crew, visit To learn more about Goon Squad, follow them on Instagram @goonsquad_footwork.