Interview #31: Barry Rabkin

Barry Rabkin. He's comin' atcha. POW!

How do you do that, Barry?!

I guess it's no big deal to someone who has been practicing all forms of street dance since age 14. This guy has some serious energy. No joke. I'd say this "side crow" pose is a great tribute to our beloved Cathedral of Learning.

Fun fact: did you know that many BBoy freezes (short for Break Boy) originate from yoga poses?! I hadn't put that together before Barry mentioned it, but it makes total sense. You can learn moves like this and more at Barry's website,

I had fun catching up with Barry at Orient Express in Oakland for afternoon tea. Barry likes bubble—I opted for hot green.

One of my favorite things about Barry is his enthusiasm for others. Prior to our meeting, Barry emailed a list of 10 people he thought would make great Yinzpiration interviewees. You know how I feel about nominations!

Enjoy Barry's Q&A.

P.S. Do you want to learn how to street dance with me?

P.P.S. I will only answer to the name BGirl FusRock from now on.

Name: Barry Rabkin / BBoy GRIZ

Job title: Founder & Owner of " Is Street Dance!"

Twitter: @CypherStyles

Websites: CypherStyles Blog, Facebook and Youtube (Almost 30 million views!)

Neighborhood you live in: Regent Square / Swissvale

Coffee Shop Drink of Choice: English Breakfast Tea

Current Shampoo Preference: American Crew, the menthol tingle teleports my scalp to a universe of minty fresh exhilaration!

Why do you choose Pittsburgh as your home? 
My dad got a job with UPMC when I was 5 so we moved to Highland Park, near the Pittsburgh Zoo. I went to high school at Winchester Thurston and was Bar Mitzvahed at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill.

Who do you spend your time with?
My wife Sarah was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and both of our folks still live here.  They started running the cathedral of learning stairs in oakland with us to stay in shape!  I'm still close with many of my best friends from high school.  We all LOVE pittsburgh, and even though a lot of us moved away for school or work, we all came back loving Pittsburgh even more after having lived elsewhere. ‚

What are your favorite aspects of your job?
CypherStyles is the largest street dance store online with over 1000+ different products.  We sell protective gear for dancers, instructional videos and competition dvds.  We've made over 60 of our own unique products including a line of over 50+ street dance instructional dvds which I instructed.

If you start your own business you will never be bored again.  There is always something new to learn, to create or to share. A typical day might involve graphic design, writing, dancing, product development, deal negotiation, marketing, DVD authoring, beat production, management, photography and consulting. Like I said, never ever boring!

I work with 2 great friends, John and Courtney who make CypherStyles even better. Their strengths really complement my weaknesses, and we all have a lot of fun together and appreciate the freedom and lack of structure of our jobs. If we have an idea to improve the company, we just talk about it and do it, there's no levels of bureaucracy and red tape to fight through.

Every day is different, and every day I get to directly hear and see the positive impact our work has on our customers lives. People need a physical and emotional outlet to express themselves and a cultural community to call their own. Street dance offers all that, and I'm proud that we help people join our global family while expanding their own personal identity.

I was originally a Psychology Major in college, and I've always wanted to help people lead happier lives.  Even though I decided not to go into Therapy professionally, I believe CypherStyles contribution to people's quality of life is just as profound as any doctors. Best yet, this way we get to reach out to new people in every corner of the planet every single day!

Do you have a soul food? 
Slow Cooked Beef Ribs are practically a religion to me. There's nothing better than ripping apart a meaty rack of ribs with my face slathered in bar b q sauce.  It helps me get in touch with my primal caveman side. My wife and I had Big Momma's House of Soul at our wedding! Since they closed their doors in the strip (a truly sad day for pittsburgh) we've been bringing our business to T & K's Soul Food Kitchen on 305 N Craig St in Oakland, their pork ribs with honey mustard sauce will melt on your tongue!

What are some of your recent personal goals?

  • Start a website usability consulting firm, Expert Usability.
  • Release a series of instructional workout DVDs focusing exclusively on bodyweight strength training that doesn't require any equipment or experience.
  • Graduate from night classes at Carnegie Mellon University '14 with my MBA in New Product Development and Innovation.
  • Crank out some little street dancing youngins!

What are your favorite Pittsburgh restaurants?
All my friends are fat people, trapped in skinny bodies!  I weigh around 165 now, I weighed 270 in high school.  The only thing that changed is now I work out, I still LOVE TO EAT!  All my friends adore all styles of Asian food so that's our most common staple.  I also try to update my yelp account regularly with great new finds.

Here's a few of my top recommendations:

  • How Lee in Squirrel hill imported their chef direct from the sichuan province of China so it's authentic, and easily the spiciest most delicious schezuan cooking I've ever had!
  • Orient Express in oakland has super fast, super cheap, super delicious food and a wide menu of options to please any palette.  They truly are express!  I've never waited longer than 5 minutes for them to bring the food and bubble tea out to my table.
  • Spoon in Shadyside / East Liberty is doing some really innovative stuff.  They are serving high cuisine versions of traditional diner classics like grilled cheese and tomato soup, fried chicken with mac and cheese, and chicken and biscuits.  Think Ritters with chandeliers and 5 star chefs!
  • Burgatory in Waterworks has delicious, reasonably priced and very creative unique gourmet burgers
  • Finally I just did 7 in 77 with my friend Robert. We got and reviewed 7 slices of pepperoni pizza at the 7 different pizzerias in squirrel hill, hitting each one in a row in 77 minutes. We're going to cut it down to a quick 7 minute youtube clip so everyone can familiarize themselves with their options. We reviewed and contrasted the pizza at each place, we even recorded the price, weight and cooking time for our slices at each pizzeria!  The verdict? Pizza Bellino next to the squirrel hill library came out as a new hidden gem, with some of the best overall pizza out there. After they add tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni, they add another mountain of cheese on top of it all, genius! Napoli's had the most flavorful and crispy pepperoni we'd ever had, while Mineos had hands down the best cheese (It was like loading a shotgun full of cheese and pulling the trigger!) We may go and do another 7 in 77 hitting all the ice cream shops in squirrel hill in a row, or all the coffee shops. We love to eat and we're open to suggestions!

Describe your ideal day.

  1. Sleep in til noon
  2. Hit the gym and pump some iron! (I'm a certified personal trainer and a closet meat head)
  3. Get brunch with friends at Pamela's in the strip (Banana Hotcakes with a side of onion rings and ranch dressing, or if I'm feeling truly adventurous: their peanut butter and bacon sandwich (PB&B)
  4. Go for a walk through frick park on a beautiful day
  5. Read a business book (I ALWAYS have my nose in a book, usually something on marketing, product development, or website design)
  6. Play a pickup Ultimate Frisbee Game at FlagStaff Hill in Oakland
  7. Beers and video games with friends at my house (Still loving Borderlands and Fallout 3 on PS3)
  8. Dinner (I've already talked so much about indulgent food, I'm just going to let you use your imagination what this might look like)
  9. Hit a club or rave and tear up the dance floor with friends til the sun rises!

What is the most memorable live show you have seen in Pittsburgh?
I saw Pittsburgh's own GirlTalk play the first show at Stage AE on the venue's opening night.  The place was sold out, and he brought such a great vibe, there wasn't one person in the house standing still. I also try to hit Title Town's Funk and Soul party the last Saturday of every month at Shadow Lounge in East Liberty.  In the past 3 years I've barely missed a show, and I have yet to be disappointed even once, DJ's Jay Malls and Gordy hold it down! ‚

What do you think Pittsburgh will be like in ten years? What do you love most about the city?
We've got the hipster population of Williamsburg, museums like paris, the best sports teams on the planet, restaurants on par with san francisco, more bridges than anywhere but venice, as much natural beauty as colorado and as many good schools as boston, all with the cost of living and lack of congestion of rural Iowa!  We've re-directed our blue collar, "roll up our sleeves" work ethic to become high tech knowledge leaders in banking, education, green technology and medicine.  Our job market and housing market have been improving, even as the rest of the country has declined.  What's next for Pittsburgh?  I don't know if the rest of the world will ever realize how great we have it here, and that suits me just fine.  I'm happy living in our own private paradise, thats just more Pittsburgh for the rest of us!


Regina's picture

I want to learn to dance!

Gab Bonesso's picture

Hey Kate -

Do you have a direct email for this guy? I would love to see if he would be a guest/teach me a couple moves for my Waffle Shop show? The only thing on my bucket list is to become a B-Girl. I have to meet this guy!

Thanks Kate!

Another great interview!