Tag Archives: choreographer

“Negus” Dance Film

Negus- noun: Kingship, royalty.

Inspired by the works of artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Kehinde Wiley, I wanted to explore different levels of identity and representation of the black male in the United States. “Negus” is a Hip-hop work that asks African-American males, where do we come from, who are we now, what values do we uphold, what obstacles do we face in this society, and how do we overcome them?

In asking these questions, “Negus” seeks to use Hip-hop as a way to portray the humanity of the black male figure. In doing so, it directly opposes the commercial rap world– a primary source for the portrayal of the stereotypical black man–and delves deeply into some complications about certain aspects of the African-American experience.

“Negus” premiered at Urban Art Space in Columbus, OH in January of 2016. This film both captures the essence of the original work and completely wrecks it simultaneously. Within the film aspects of controversy between who we are and who we could/should be are portrayed as well as lighter themes such as rhythm, fun, etc. I hope this helps give you a way into viewing the film and I hope you enjoy!

The b(AA)ttle

This project explores the impact of many commercial rap songs on our society in regards to the representation of blackness in America.

It also combats the use of glorifying criminalization within rap songs as a way to silence the productive voices of blackness and black people in this country.

Enjoy!

What Happens When The Club Makes Its Way to The Stage?

I’ve just returned to Columbus from a wonderful 3 weeks at Bates Dance Festival. During my time there, there were a lot of discussions regarding choreographers’ processes when making work. During our second week at the festival, we were fortunate enough to see Robert Moses and his company, Robert Moses Kin, a contemporary dance company based out of San Francisco. During the talk-backs I attended, one of Moses’s most emphasized points was his interest in dancers as individuals. I took this to mean that his ideal dancer is one who has little-to-no-inhibition about using their experiences, hopes, worldviews, dreams, strengths, weaknesses, fears, downfalls, etc. as a way to inform their movement, and contribute to the choreographic work.

Moses’s construct of an ideal dancer is one that, I believe, is becoming quite the new-norm amongst many concert stage choreographers. There has been a shift in the relationship between choreographers and dancers from a clear hierarchical relationship to a more communal and collaborative one. In many processes these days, dancers are expected to bring their creative thoughts to inform the choreographer’s work. Therefore, many choreographers cherish the way a dancer thinks as much as they move. This is a drastic difference from a dancer who simply existed as a body to be molded and shaped for the purpose of the choreographer’s vision.

As I reflect on my appreciation of this evolution within dance, I find it intriguing to connect this importance of “dancer as individual” within concert stage dance to the folk dance tradition where the sharing of ones’ individuality has always been the norm. This norm stems from a quintessential characteristic of folk dance—improvisation—where it’s all about the expression of individuality as a way to contribute to the personality of the community.

Take a style such as Bboying. Despite its clear structure— top rock, floorwork, power moves, and freezes— the form would fail to exist within the folk communities if there was no clear room for individual expression. Within the bboy structure, bboys and bgirls use their own sense of style, musicality, amongst other things, in order to express innovation, creativity, and individuality. By sharing their own individuality within the Bboy structure, each dancer allows for the form as a whole to change and progress.

Dance used to be so segregated between high art (art done for the upper class citizens of a society) and folk art. Although each world has always informed one another, I believe the distinction between the two is becoming less and less prevalent as choreographers within concert stage dance continue to adopt the mindset of folk dance traditions. The increase of technology continues to integrate high and low art together as well, and I simply wonder how all of this integration will change the dance world and how it’s perceived during my lifetime.

Commercial Hiphop Dance as the New Face of Reverse Minstrelsy?

This post is pretty long, so if you’re more in for a shorter read, start at the asterisks below.
Yoooo…I’m headed into my last year as a graduate student at Ohio State! I am pumped, but the idea of delving into the professional world after years of anticipation is tripping me up. As the time approaches for me to graduate, I’ve been thinking a lot about where it is I want to reside and what exactly it is I want to do. Just a year ago that would have been an easy answer- Los Angeles, California to become a commercial Hiphop dancer. However, with the education I’ve been receiving in school, the answer is becoming less clear. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a value in delving deeply into the culture and the history of Hiphop in order to inform my dance, my creativity, and my life. Reflecting on the benefit of swimming within a sea of Hiphop knowledge, I now question whether I want to stand on the shore and simply let my feet get wet through dancing in the commercial world.

For right now, though, I still feel as though I owe it to myself to try out the mainstream scene before I put judgment on it. However, my skepticism about the mainstream culture has encouraged me to take a more critical look at it. I’ve found that my desire to gain cultural, historical, and social knowledge through dance is not the only thing holding me back from fledging fully into my once romanticized dream. I’ve now come to question whether the mainstream Hiphop dance culture represents themes that I even want to support. What I mean is that a massive amount of commercial dancers express themselves through movement by imitating and assimilating a certain rap culture that I cannot get down with.

Since 1979 with Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang, the musical branch of Hiphop culture has been popularized by the commercial world to the general American population more than any other element. With this massive explosion came a popularity of Hiphop that was never dreamed of by the founders of the culture. However, what also came was the general notion that Hiphop is music rather than a culture. Just last night, I was in conversation with a roommate of mine at the Bates Dance Festival and he asked me, “What is Hiphop?” And being me, I challenged him, “What do you think Hiphop is?” He went to say he believes Hiphop is a construction of certain sequencing and sounds that create beats…aka music.

From around mid-80’s to late-90’s (also considered the Golden Age of Hiphop), Hiphop musical artists were controlling a lot of the content that was being produced. As a result there were a vast array of styles and messages, good and bad, that Hiphop artists were portraying to the world; therefore, they were representing the true, complex nature of the culture itself through music.

Throughout the 21st century however, music corporations have stripped that power from the artists and have taken it upon themselves to repackage and redefine what Hiphop represents. Now, it’s to the point where too many Hip-Pop songs (mainstream Hiphop music) represent mainstream hegemonic themes—sex, drugs, violence, materialism, money— behind the mask of a stereotype of colored people.

(sigh)

*******************

I have always admired— and continue to do so— the commercial Hiphop dance scene for its intricate and virtuosic aesthetic. Again, as I think about entering into this world soon myself, I have taken a closer look at the culture and what it represents. What I have concluded is disturbing to me…and it is, in many ways, that the mainstream Hiphop dance scene, because of a certain ignorance of its choreographers and dancers, is a system conducive to the act of reverse minstrelsy.

(Gasp!) Now let me explain…

I’m not going to go deeply into the history, but ultimately minstrelsy was the act of white performers entertaining audiences through the dancing/mocking of African-American stereotypes during the 19th century. One way they did this was to paint their faces black and exaggerate typical facial features of the African-American such as the lips and the eyes. Eventually, in order to be recognized for their performance abilities and to take ownership of a degrading system, African-American themselves went under the blackface and participated in minstrel shows as well. Essentially, African-Americans imitated an imitation in order to get recognized for their craft- an act that I’ll call reverse minstrelsy.

Over a century later, as I mentioned above, American corporations are continuing this feeding of negative stereotypes of African-Americans to the masses through mainstream Hiphop music and music videos. However, this blame doesn’t simply belong to the money-hungry industries… it’s also on all the rappers who subjugate themselves to this role in their quest for the American dream. (It’s also the fault of the consumer who supports the music as well but I’ll leave that alone for now). These rappers are supporting this fallacious portrayal of African-Americans in order to be recognized for their craft and to support their family, which to me, falls under this definition of reverse minstrelsy.

Last of all, I blame the Hiphop dance community. As artists, we have a duty to be knowledgeable about the art and the culture behind the art. Why? Because if you knew the history of Hiphop culture and the African-American history behind that, I doubt you would be so eager to embody movement that imitates the lyrics that degrades the integrity of African-American people.

I specifically want to call-out all of the Hiphop choreographers who use these songs in their work, whether it be choreography in class or a dance video. With the dancers, one may argue that, especially with this generation, it’s just not that deep. Students simply come in to have fun, move, listen to hot beats, get their stank face on, and be out. But, Hiphop choreographers …we’re consciously listening to this music over and over again in order to replicate these songs in movement form; therefore, we’re engraining these negative messages into our soul, not only by listening, but by embodying. Then we go out and spread these messages, like a disease, to massive amounts of students as we teach all over the world. Then, to top it all off, we go and record this choreography for the world to see again and again online. But we don’t stop by simply recording the combination. Nah, that’s too easy. We have to go out and appropriate the themes within these songs by flashing our own fancy materialistic possessions, and dressing like we’re about to rob a bank…

What. the. hell, man. To me, we– as dancers, choreographers, and artists– cannot continue to consciously or unconsciously, imitate a false, negative imitation of what it means to be black in America. We need to realize the power and influence we have as we represent the future of Hiphop in America and do-away with this reverse minstrelsy mentality.

If you want to see a few examples of what I’m discussing here, click the links below:

1. U Mad- Ian Eastwood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THS7Ii1dhsI

  1. Bitch Better Have My Money- Tricia Miranda

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQraeOG-3L8

  1. I Don’t Fuck With You- Janelle Ginestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGzVbHZjRgc

SYTYCD Reflection #2: So You Think You Can Choreograph?!

As I’m watching the show this week, my housemate comes up to me and starts our common bashing of the show after we hear Nigel talk about technique and pointed feet like the two are mutually exclusive to each other. But this time, I was like, “ Nah, stop it, I’m too tired to be having all of this animosity tonight, sooo let’s not even go there this time.”

And truly I didn’t want to go there. I had my say last week about the structures of the show that get on my nerves. So this time, I was looking forward to sitting back, eating my nachos, and watching some good ol’ dancing (And to see some people I’ve met through Hiphop battles test their skills in the competition. 3 of them made it so shout out this week goes to Kenya Standing O Sutton, Benny Eaz, and Roderick Crider- congrats y’all!)

So anyways, towards the end of the show, an auditionee comes on to the stage. Her name is Gaby Diaz. She’s one of those people who decided to show her grit and audition twice in-a-row because she didn’t make it the first time. At first I was like, ‘Oh no, here we go, why is she doing this to herself?’ But, then I listened to what she had to say during her interview.

She claimed that she got cut in Dallas because her solo was like a run-on sentence. The judges didn’t enjoy the fact that she didn’t allow her solo to breath with stops and punctuation. So, she came back with a vengeance in Detroit to, I believe, a new song and a new routine. From the very start of her solo I could tell that the girl had skills…and she does…she ended up getting to Vegas with her second attempt.

But this brought up the question for me of why did she get cut in the first place? As I said, I could tell within 5 seconds of the solo that the girl could tap dance. Nigel is a bona fide tap dancer, so I know he could tell as well. But she got cut because she overcomplicated her solo.

This just got me thinking about how this show judges a dancer’s choreographic ability as well as their movement prowess, but only when it comes to “stage” dancers. Most “street” dancers don’t even choreograph their routines in the first place. And yet, the judges give Hiphop dancers the benefit-of-the-doubt all of the time. For example, we heard Nigel constantly complain about how Hiphop dancers weren’t moving through space well in the premier episode of Season 12. However, that didn’t stop most of the street dance auditionees from receiving a ticket– because they could see the talent of the dancer regardless of their choreographic capabilities!

Yet, there’s a clear double standard established as this dope stage dance tapper receives the boot because her amazing sounds were done too much and too fast. Now, don’t get me wrong; I understand that a good presentation of ones’ dancing skills is key. But, just like a great athlete may not be a good coach, a great dancer should not have to be a great choreographer. And the judges should have a responsibility to distinguish a talented mover from a talented choreographer, especially at this beginning point in the competition.

I’m really proud of the girl for coming back, because she is really talented and the judges almost missed out on a potential tapper– a style that has a small pool of auditionees to begin with. So, props to Gaby Diaz and I’ll be rooting for you because I’m all about the underdog… and you’re pretty cute. Good for you for showing that you can dance and choreograph!

Join my mailing by clicking the link: http://eepurl.com/bpeUHv

Follow me @cue4christ on Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram

Blessings.