His mother is the hero of that struggle.
“My mom to this day doesn’t know English and has never worked for anyone but herself, and she raised two boys,” he says. “I’m nothing but proud of that. No matter how scared she was and how [awful] things looked, she kept going. It’s because of her I’m doing what I’m doing now.”
Goblen clearly has the same kind of determination. In 1994, inspired by a hip-hop video, he and a couple of friends scoured video stores for the groundbreaking films Beat Street and Wild Style, then spent hours in their bedrooms imitating, practicing and inventing. Goblen and his buddies became the Flipside Kings, key Miami movers in the rebirth of break-dancing as an underground international dance circuit.
By the late ’90s, Goblen’s group was traveling as far as New York and Japan, winning competitions as Miami’s top B-boy dance crew. Internet footage of the Kings still inspires aspiring B-boys from New Zealand, South Africa and Russia to email Goblen.
Administrators at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School objected to the absences caused by his frequent (and lucrative) travels, and he dropped out in the 11th grade. “I felt like school was impeding my progress,” he says, laughing ruefully.
Goblen grins with delight when he talks about break-dancing. “There’s nothing like being a B-boy — the outlet, the self-expression, the challenge. Ballerinas get excited when they do four pirouettes on their foot. We do five pirouettes on one hand upside down. It feels like you’re taking gravity by the balls. That you can bounce around on gravity and use it and play with it is truly empowering.”
His success as a self-taught virtuoso instilled confidence in Goblen, enabling him again and again to go out on a limb with something new, then work relentlessly to make it his own.
“I feel like hey, if I learned how to do this I can learn to do anything,” he says. “If I put the time and sweat and energy and work into anything else like I did into breaking, I will succeed.”
Teo Castellanos saw that confidence in 2003 when Goblen showed up for an audition for Scratch & Burn, Castellanos’ first group theater piece, produced by Miami Light Project. Goblen had come along to keep a friend company, but he ended up auditioning, wowing Castellanos with his dancing and an original spoken-word piece.
Castellanos led the 23-year-old dancer through an intense, 15-month process of study and creation. The two have remained close collaborators and friends, and Goblen calls Castellanos his father.
“He had natural talent — I didn’t have to spend hours and hours pulling it out of him,” says Castellanos, a longtime mentor and teacher in Miami’s theater and performance scene. But Goblen also stood out for his eagerness to learn. He fell in love with the surreal choreography of Pina Bausch, butoh dance classes and performance art. Reading and studying on his own, he acquired the kind of education that compatriots had gotten at places like New World School of the Arts.
“He was like ‘Hey, wait a minute, I like this world,’ and he just took it and ran,” Castellanos says. “It’s like when you want to jump off a cliff into water. At first you’re like ‘Oh my God.’ But after the first time you’re like ‘Let me do that again, that was incredible.’ ”