“Surrogate Families” by Calvin Leung
In April 2013, I guest lectured at Mt. Saint Mary’s College in Los Angeles, sharing my personal story of being a Yale biologist who became a dancer and who then became a filmmaker. The presentation included screening excerpts from my film Furious Beauty along with performances by Versa-Style Next Generation and Long Beach’s Homeland Cultural Center. Inspired by that day, I’m brainstorming ideas for an online web series exploring compelling questions inside our hip-hop dance community. This article, the fourth in a series of four, is my meditation on these ideas.
When I began filming Furious Beauty in the fall of 2010, I threw a wide net by exploring various themes that this film could encompass. Version after version of the film was compiled and re-edited as the story took shape. Eventually, the story that emerged about Versa-Style Dance Company, and their journey to create a theatrical show, revealed a vision of a new modern American family. They were a surrogate family: a band of brothers and sisters united by hip-hop. The idea that “no one goes through life alone” compelled me as the film’s central theme. And through the journey of making it, I discovered that the rise of surrogate families in hip-hop dance culture fill a void in today’s fractured world.
The search for family has haunted me through my life. I was a nomad moving from city to city across Canada and the U.S., never settling in one place as a hometown. My biological family was the most consistent presence in my life. But even that changed as I left home for college and then later, as a young career professional. My soul has been searching for that sense of family for a long time.
Maybe that’s what drew me to hip-hop dance culture. I saw myself as an outsider in normal society, but I met kindred spirits among these freestyle dancers. When you’re part of a subculture that’s largely ignored by the larger world, it’s a comforting and empowering experience when you meet others with similar passions. In your head, you might think, “There’s more people just like me!” That common bond allows us to start building relationships. We grow closer. And then, we discover our differences. That’s where the power of family resides.
Do families help us to reflect our flaws and frailities as we work out our differences? With our biological families, we rarely choose them. But with surrogate families, we can. The natural human tendency is to find people like yourself. It’s safer. It’s comforting. But none of us are exactly alike. The spectrum of human personalities is vast. It’s only a matter of time before conflict arises and our differences become visible. We depend on honest communication to overcome this dysfunction in our relationships. So if this tension breeds conflict, does this lead us to a path of greater acceptance and forgiveness? That is one option. Can you imagine an artform like dance achieving this?
I think it’s possible. The idea that hip-hop is a global culture is an understatement. Many people of strikingly different ethnicities and backgrounds are brought together under hip-hop’s cultural umbrella. We bring our own baggage into this world. And yet, we can coexist in the same cypher. Why is that true? I’ve heard many dancers express how their art opened them up to other people and ideas. This might happen because we see parts of each other while dancing that we might not easily see in a spoken conversation. If our dancing relies heavily on honest expression, then there’s little that we can hide among our peers. They see us like no one else. So dancing could be a vessel for catalyzing conversations that lead us to better understand each other.
If surrogate families are formed by choice, then there’s a degree of accepting each other that’s at work. There’s an undercurrent of “we may be different in many ways, but I still respect you and want to share the same space with you on this dance floor.” Outside of dance community, our world can be increasingly polarized by politics and worldviews. But within surrogate families, dancers are taking bold steps towards bridging their differences. After all, we commonly experience the tension of wanting to be part of a group while struggling to maintain our individuality. Sometimes, we want to just be alone, to isolate ourselves, and to not be bothered by another person. Other times, we feel desperately alone and crave the comfort of our loved ones. Maybe surrogate families help us to manage that tension so we don’t go insane. They’re there for us when we need them and we’re there for them when we need us.
When you’re part of a family, you’re compelled to support each other. Also, you’re challenged to let each other go when it’s time to seek individual paths. This push and pull dynamic is at the heart of every society. Sometimes, there’s oppression where one group may subjugate another. But within a surrogate family, because there’s an inherent choice to become part of that family in the beginning, a deeper conversation can always occur. If someone wants to leave a surrogate family, usually they’re not bound by any formal obligation. That person can leave by her own will. But her leaving can hurt. And it can compel the rest of her surrogate family to better understand why she’s leaving. Was there a miscommunication that led to hurt feelings? Did she have other priorities that we weren’t sensitive toward? What can we do to take better care of our family members? Ideally, those kind of questions are asked. Of course, it depends on the maturity of those people in the surrogate family.
We need surrogate families more than ever. When we see more kids growing up in broken families, they’re going to seek attention from other sources. Whether it’s through social circles or gangs or online, a generation is growing up without support from their biological families. Surrogate families formed within dance culture can meet those needs. A dance mentor can be an older sibling or a surrogate mother or a father to a younger dancer. Intentionality is important as well as a devotion to each other. Since teaching is a vibrant thread in our dance community, these kinds of surrogate relationships are easily formed from the model. There’s a running theme of learning from mentors and then passing that knowledge on to future generations. This sense of honoring your elders and maintaining a legacy probably comes from the fact that hip-hop dance is most passed on through person-to-person teaching. So as teachers instruct their students, the seeds of relationships are formed. Trust is built. And from there, a family is born.
The bond between a teacher and student is very special. Many of us remember the first time we were taught technique. Or we fondly recall how we were first introduced to hip-hop dance culture. That teacher-student dynamic is at the crux of many surrogate dance families. And because there is a need to preserve the culture through teaching, the forming of surrogate families will continue to expand. I see that at work in Versa-Style Dance Company. When I watch the co-founders Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez and Leigh “Breeze-Leigh” Foaad teach their students every week, I’m amazed at how these young dancers look up to Jackie and Leigh as their surrogate parents. Their sense of devotion is very real. I was told by one Versa-Style dancer that she really felt that Jackie and Leigh cared for her. That sense of caring is what inspired her to train and to make her teachers, essentially her surrogate mother and father, proud.
But the biggest challenge for hip-hop surrogate families today may be that many of us are still young in our life stage. We’re in school, barely in the workforce, or we’re single and haven’t raised a family. While there are exceptions to this, the fact that many of us being in a youthful life stage could hinder us from bringing longevity to our community. When we look at the first large generation of hip-hop dancers from the 70s and 80s, only a few are actively involved in mentoring. Our new generation of dancers need their wisdom. Is it possible for those of us who are now in our late twenties and thirties to start finding a healthy balance between our dance lives and personal lives? Can we be dancers as well as mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives at the same time? Maybe there are some physical aspects of the dance that we can no longer execute due to age, but there’s a life wisdom that we could infuse in our students. As we continue to grow up, we’re lifting our younger brothers and sisters up along with us, telling them that they too can walk through life with confidence and grace. Hip-hop dance could become more than a cultural expression – it could be a testament to the restoring power of families.
— Original article here.
“Emotional Therapy” by Calvin Leung
In April 2013, I guest lectured at Mt. Saint Mary’s College in Los Angeles, sharing my personal story of being a Yale biologist who became a dancer and who then became a filmmaker. The presentation included screening excerpts from my film Furious Beauty along with performances by Versa-Style Next Generation and Long Beach’s Homeland Cultural Center. Inspired by that day, I’m brainstorming ideas for an online web series exploring compelling questions inside our hip-hop dance community. This article, the third of four, is my meditation on these ideas.
Back in 2000, my friend Ed “Emo” Moore, a professional choreographer in the music video industry, told me that his approach to hip-hop came from raw emotion. Yes, there was technique and form to what he did. But, the beating heart of his expression came from emotion. I remember meeting Ed when I was a bright-eyed recent college graduate who recently moved to Los Angeles. He and I met through a filmmaking workshop and we seemed like polar opposites. Ed was outgoing and full of spontaneous energy. I was much more contained and systematic in my demeanor. Yet somehow, we became friends.
Through my friendship with Ed, I became interested in how hip-hop dancers created their ideas for movement. How were they inspired to create choreography, stage performances, or even freestyle in the moment? Was there a typical process of ideation? Why did creative movement seem so natural to these dancers? Those and many more questions circulated in my mind as I spent countless hours observing and talking with Ed and his fellow dancers. As the newcomer, I gradually realized that as Ed and his friends danced, they were responding to the music and drawing upon feelings that the music created inside them. So that’s why Ed told me that raw emotion was at the heart of his dance. To a freestyle dancer, it’s not uncommon to dance angry when you’re angry. Or to express a deep sorrow when you’re suffering sadness. What I didn’t realize is that dancing as a form of emotional therapy allows us to wrestle with feelings and memories that exist out of linear time.
While that notion sounds like science fiction, it’s actually based in real life. Think about how we dream. At night, our brains take us into surreal experiences that allow us to process the events of the preceding day. Even after the years pass by, we retain memories of conversations, relationships, and moments that linger in our subconscious. Sometimes, the challenge of adulthood is confronting the ghosts of a childhood gone awry. We find ourselves consulting with therapists, commiserating with counseling groups, and writing down our thoughts to process them. We can’t bear the weight of these burdens alone. Our psyches are crying for a release. Otherwise, we get stuck, maybe even paralyzed, by moments that become mental prisons. Linear time keeps moving on, but our hearts might not be ready to catch up.
Art has a powerful ability to release us from those stuck moments. Before I got into dancing, I didn’t have a way to release my emotions constructively. I think most hip-hop dancers can relate to a common feeling that we have after moving our bodies to the music. It’s more than the endorphins kicking in. At our core, we genuinely feel different afterwards. When a deejay plays a song, we can take in the rhythmic beat and allow ourselves to feel things that maybe we were afraid to acknowledge elsewhere in our lives. There’s an honesty in just being yourself. I’ve learned that it’s easy to hide our thoughts and feelings when we engage in the usual social code of modern day living whether it’s in the workplace, at school, in relationships, or among family and friends. There’s a tendency to fit in, to not rock the boat, to abide by rules so that society can keep moving forward. We know how to maintain the status quo. But those qualifications can be relinquished when we dance. With the pressures that we feel everyday in the modern world, we need a significant break. Art can free us to see past the usual routines of modern day living. Through that lens, we can see another way.
I acknowledge that there are social codes and customs in hip-hop dance community. At the same time, there’s also great freedom for the individual. There’s a celebration of “doing you,” that is being yourself and cherishing your individuality. Maybe that’s another reason why hip-hop culture appeals to youth expression. When you’re fifteen years old, you’ve been told most of your life how to act, speak, and feel to integrate with your larger community. Hip-hop has the allure of empowerment and self-expression that many young people crave as they shape their identities. And in the process, there’s a mutual group healing that’s going on.
To dance freestyle is to put yourself out there. At our best, we’re showing our honest selves with other people in the cypher. It’s true that when one person takes the first step into a cypher and gets down, the others surrounding her are more encouraged to participate as well. If that person freely expresses herself through her movement, it’s like a bug that catches on. Soon, one dancer after another will want to jump in and be part of a group synergy that lasts only for those moments. When I see dancers freestyling together, I liken it to group therapy. When one person can be honest with herself, it only spurs her friends to access similar emotions, feelings, and memories buried deep inside of them in order to dance.
Much of our hip-hop dance culture, especially the street styles like poppin’, lockin’, and bboyin’, came from social party dance scene in the late 60s to 70s and 80s. That communal feel is still in the spirit of today’s dancers even though the times may have changed. We need each other in order to make sense of our individual struggles because the bigger picture has revealed that the human condition isn’t a solitary one. At least, it doesn’t feel like it was intended that way. So with emotions being released by the act of dancing, we’re finding a vessel for expression. But what happens after the first few moments of release?
The answer may rest in the notion that we’re a visual culture. When physical movement emerges from our response to music and inner feelings, we’ve suddenly created something in the moment. We can see it and feel it. I think that give us a sense of ownership to our inner condition. Just as it is powerful to confess feelings through words, it’s just as meaningful to translate them into something visually creative. The visual artist cannot avoid that path. It’s built inside her DNA. By doing so, she’s revealing to the audience that it’s perfectly acceptable to be honest with herself and her emotions. She’s saying that it’s okay to be yourself no matter what you need to get off your shoulders. That’s jarring for those of us who are used to keeping our inner selves private and closed off from public inspection. It could even be revolutionary in some cultures.
Some of that group healing is being lost in today’s digital dance culture. Part of that comes from an over-reliance on watching YouTube videos in order to absorb as much as one can from our favorite dancers. But that’s not a dilemma without a solution. Even if a dancer begins her journey learning on YouTube, she will eventually seek out real-life interaction with other dancers if she’s hungry for more. Strange, but true. We crave that support system that comes from dancing together. It helps us to be more honest with ourselves and with each other. And this is going to become a powerful movement as more dancers mature and grow in life stage.
After all, the general preconception of hip-hop culture is that it only involves young people. But what about those who continue to be involved as they mature? The community desperately needs men and women of strong character and compassion to set an example and to let a younger generation know that it’s okay to step out of their shells and be themselves. It’s okay to make mistakes. Or it’s time to get their life together and take responsibility for themselves. With greater life experience, we gain wisdom and insight. That kind of guidance is valuable in any community. Maybe that’s where our dance culture will evolve in a new arena. We’ll see wisdom shaped by life experience shared in larger numbers among different generations. Dance could still be about emotional release and self-expression, but it could also be a way to effectively communicate wisdom in the form of stories told through dancing. That’s an exciting possibility because it expands the role of dancers beyond being performers. We may find new roles as healers.
— Original article here.
“A Place We Call Home” by Calvin Leung
In April 2013, I guest lectured at Mt. Saint Mary’s College in Los Angeles, sharing my personal story of being a Yale biologist who became a dancer and who then became a filmmaker. The presentation included screening excerpts from my film Furious Beauty along with performances by Versa-Style Next Generation and Long Beach’s Homeland Cultural Center. Inspired by that day, I’m brainstorming ideas for an online web series exploring compelling questions inside our hip-hop dance community. This article, the second of four, is my meditation on these ideas.
Living in Los Angeles for over a decade has taught me to appreciate the amount of time we spend commuting. We’re a sprawling metropolis made up of smaller cities and neighborhoods connected through spidery networks of freeways. Long Beach. Koreatown. Glendale. San Fernando. Irvine. They all have different zip codes. Now, being a hip-hop dancer adds another layer to the commuter’s lifestyle. Many of us have logged significant miles driving thirty minutes to an hour for a dance event or to take a class or to join a practice session. That’s another hallmark of being a hip-hop dancer. Dancers who pursue a professional career as a performer may congregate around North Hollywood since it’s a hotspot for dance studios and working choreographers teaching master classes. But dancers, who battle and session, are rarely next door neighbors. I remember a fellow friend recommending that we drive a little below 60mph on the freeway because it saves on gas. That way, we can make the gas miles last a little longer to support our commuter’s lifestyle.
Physical spaces are crucial for hip-hop dancers. We need a floor to dance on. And often, it’s an indoor venue that has mirrors and electrical outlets to plug in an iPod or sound system. More than a space to inhabit, these venues become a second home. And that points to the universal human need to belong. In June 2003, I stepped through the front doors of Long Beach’s Homeland Cultural Center for the first time. I’d found it through a recommendation via another dancer named Andre “Boppin’ Andre” Diamond who told me that this was the place to visit to learn street dance styles like poppin’ and lockin’. So there I met another dancer Niko “Waveomatic” Birakos who introduced me to the open practice session environment at Homeland. If I visited week after week on Monday nights, I could practice with some of the best hip-hop dancers in the world and learn from ground zero. I had to start from the beginning. Up until that moment, I had never danced in front of anyone.
I have this theory that hip-hop dancers, especially those who practice street styles, are misfits at heart. We didn’t fit anywhere else in life, at least in the traditional sense. Maybe we did do the familiar extracurricular after school clubs or went to college or found a nine-to-five job to pay the bills. But our hearts lay elsewhere. Not fitting in with the in-crowd led us to search for an alternative. That’s a lonely path to take, but we were searching for a home. In television sitcoms, there’s the familiar jokes of a place like Cheers where everyone knows your name. I think in our culture, we needed something more. We needed a place where we could just be ourselves. And by being ourselves, we were encouraging others to do the same and experience some degree of freedom.
That’s an compelling dilemma as our world becomes more wired through digital interfaces. Smartphones, laptops, and mobile devices are constantly within reach and with them is a constant stream of information about our friends, families, and the larger world. So we’re more connected, but we still crave face-to-face personal interaction. After all, that’s at the heart of our dance culture, especially with dance circles, otherwise known as cyphers. To this date, nothing can replace the visceral and emotionally naked feeling of sharing a cypher with other dancers. We’re communicating without words in a cypher and letting the music guide us like a powerful wave churning in the ocean. When we’re having a conversation with words, so much of what we understand about each other is subconsciously taking in the other person’s facial expressions and body language. Subtext is relayed through the slightest glance of the eyes and the faintest pursing of one’s lips. Haven’t we all experienced misinterpreting a friend’s email or phone call only to find the truth when we talk to them in person? To have those visual conversations as dancers through our movement requires physical space. And those spaces are disappearing.
Venues for practice sessions, rehearsals, and dance events often cost more money than we can afford to maintain. In the rare case, you might have a venue like Homeland Cultural Center which is funded by the city of Long Beach through taxpayers’s money. But more often than not, venues for dancing exist for a period of time and then close down. The dancers migrate to another spot like desert nomads searching for a water source. This migratory culture makes sense for misfits like us. Misfits are generally resilient and know how to survive despite the circumstances. But does the transient nature of physical spaces for dancing mean that “home” is more connected to the people we spend time with than an actual place?
As a larger society, we’re more mobile than our parents’ generation. We move between cities and countries to pursue academic degrees or to relocate for jobs. Home has become defined in so many shades of grey that it’s becoming even more important for dancers to own a sense of where they live and express that through their dancing. Maybe that’s where a new vision of “home” can be expressed despite the changing nature of modern living. In Los Angeles, many of us are proud of this sprawling city. We represent our neighborhoods and the feel, taste, and attitudes of our local neighborhoods. We want to represent those places with authenticity. Whether it’s Echo Park or Koreatown or the 818, our sense of “home” is filtered in some ways through our artistic expression. It makes sense. Our dancing comes from deep within our souls so how we feel about where we came from is at the core of our freestyling. Dealing with financial difficulties, the judgment of our authority figures, the support of our peers, facing our insecurities, and wrestling with ethnic pride are only a few themes that we might draw from when we express the idea of “home.” Sometimes, the opposite end of the spectrum is true as well. I grew up without a hometown because I moved from Canada to Arkansas to New Orleans to Connecticut because of my family’s changing job situation and my own college career. I would rarely stay in one place for more than a few years before moving on. So not having that sense of home is central to a lot of my creative exploration of dance. If I never had a home, then I would create one right here where I could invite others.
That mentality was part of the reason why I began producing hip–hop dance competitions in 2010 through my first company Keep It Live Productions, with my business partner Coco De La Luz. As challenging as it is to run events, we knew that we were creating a space for dancers to share their talents and themselves with each other in battles, showcase performances, and cyphers. We were a pop-up operation much like pop-up stores in the Silverlake area. I remember rolling sound system equipment and vendor tables into dance studio spaces half an hour before our events would start and then quickly getting our team ready to welcome the masses as they entered. To say the least, organization and strong leadership were key to a successful jam. Many of the dancers who attended our events represented different neighborhoods in Greater Los Angeles. Some even came from other countries like Japan, France, Canada, and Sweden. I think we tried to create a sense of “home” in our events. It was important for us to have events where dancers would not feel plagued by pressure to perform, to not be intimidated by each other, or to not feel oppressed by any politics. They could be themselves.
As much as we see our home as a place of sanctuary, I think it also represents our history and the need to keep sharing that history with younger generations. If we convey our hometown pride through our dancing, then we’re essentially preserving history in a unique form. It’s a different kind of storytelling, not through an oral tradition, but through a kinesthetic one. Many of us have studied archived footage of hip-hop dancers in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Didn’t we subconsciously take in a bit of the time and culture through their dancing? If we start to think of a bigger picture, we’re absorbing the feeling of what it was like to be alive during those times. It’s not exactly time travel, but it’s something close to it. Music has that power to take us back to a period in time. Dancing can do so as well, especially when it’s shared in person.
There’s this interesting idea going around that it’s important for families to share stories in order to reinforce a sense of identity for children. Maybe the surrogate mothers and fathers in our dance community are doing the same thing. Through our expression, we carry our own interpretations of “home” and our past as we’re building new ones for our surrogate children. And that’s something that will last forever.
— Original article here.
“Living Online: Digital Dancers” by Calvin Leung
In April 2013, I guest lectured at Mt. Saint Mary’s College in Los Angeles, sharing my personal story of being a Yale biologist who became a dancer and who then became a filmmaker. The presentation included screening excerpts from my film Furious Beauty along with performances by Versa-Style Next Generation and Long Beach’s Homeland Cultural Center. Inspired by that day, I’m brainstorming ideas for an online web series exploring compelling questions inside our hip-hop dance community. This article, the first of four, is my meditation on these ideas.
Art and technology are two of my greatest passions. I’m fascinated by how each affects the other and how the possibilities of each form are stretched by their differences. When I graduated from Yale in 2000, the world was still wrestling with the legitimacy of digital file–sharing via Napster. We all know that the music industry is a different place now thanks to the floodgates that were opened by fans downloading thousands of mp3 files from their favorite bands. In turn, some musicians embraced releasing their music for free in order to build deeper connections with their audience. With a more wired world, we are more connected and more over–stimulated with information than any previous age in human history. It’s wonderful, mind–boggling, and frustrating at the same time. Artistic media in the form of digital files are now easily part of any conversation as we talk more with each other through status updates and text messages. While we might have used only words in the past to convey an idea, now we can attach a JPEG, a YouTube video, or a Soundcloud link to our messages. It’s hard to see this changing anytime soon. We’re talking to each other in digital ones and zeroes that are transformed into visual and audio media.
For creative people, this is an awesome revolution in progress. We’re part of the first generation to have direct and immediate access to an audience and the larger world through online networks. You can reach anyone around the world. While mainstream film studios and TV networks still exist, the old game of waiting for their approval to have a platform to speak or share our art is evolving. That change provides unique opportunities for hip–hop dancers amidst our challenges over the years. In the past, the general preconception was that hip–hop dancers were employed as backup dancers for music artists, cast in reality TV competition shows, or featured in small appearances in dance movies or commercials. To make ends meet, many of us would also teach at local dance studios, travel to teach workshops in other countries, or even perform in live theater shows on Broadway, Las Vegas, or on cruise ships. Dancers have had a hard time fitting into the equation when it comes to old–fashioned commerce. Unlike DJs, graff writers, or emcees; it’s hard to imagine a commercial product that someone can buy and take home. In business, you’re often providing a service or a product. So without that immediate product, dancers are immediately handicapped when they’re judged by the pressures of the entertainment industry based on their market value.
But online video is changing this. And it will likely continue to do so. I still remember when YouTube appeared in 2005. I first heard about it when fellow dancers were using it to post clips of their practice sessions or battles. When smartphones hit the world, anyone could now record footage and post it online. I personally observed an exciting time between 2007–2009 when it seemed like YouTube was getting flooded with recordings of people dancing in their bedrooms, their garages, and trying out the latest moves. In 2012, I started to see dancers use the term “concept video,” which was usually a choreographed dance piece filmed with higher production value than an on-the-spot recording. We started using iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Photoshop, AfterEffects, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote our latest work. All of a sudden, or so it seemed, it wasn’t strange to hear dancers talking about concept videos or number of online views per video. A video that we posted on YouTube could reach someone in Siberia or Algeria or New Zealand. It was even possible to become well-known through posting your dance videos online. You could make a name for yourself. Like it or not, hip-hop dancers had become their own brand managers.
All of this can be good for business. Obviously, dancers can grab the attention of a loyal audience or an agent through their videos. Combine the videos with saavy marketing via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and additional collaboration with other online entrepreneurs and you have a new normal at work in our community. Meanwhile, dancing had become part of a larger global conversation involving media. Everything was now more accessible so a larger public became more aware of hip-hop and street dance culture simply by Googling a few keywords. This movement has put a lot of pressure on dancers. I recall my conversation with Bryan “Boogiemind” East (from America’s Best Dance Crew Boogie Bots) and he mentioned that business-saavy dancers need to embrace filmmaking skills in order to make their own reels, promo videos, concept videos, and more with little more than a DSLR camera, a laptop, and a high-speed Internet connection.
So as much as we’re living daily in our local environments, we’re living online twenty-four-seven. That’s fascinating to me because every concept video or piece of battle footage that a dancer puts out online is replacing the traditional resume or the way we look at our careers. In other words, we’re even more conscious about how others perceive us and our work. And because everything online is more immediate, we can feel a pressure to always produce something to post whether it’s a status update, picture, or video piece. In some ways, this kills creativity in the area of depth. It’s hard to constantly put out something genuinely insightful or emotionally transforming every day or every week. Our human minds are wired so that we need time to reflect, process, explore, make mistakes, and forge compelling ideas over time. On the other hand, being in a constant production mode forces dancers to constantly think about how they’re packaging and positioning themselves for new opportunities. It makes them prolific in their media creation. And sometimes, you have to get a lot of bad ideas out before you hit a good one.
Online video is continually changing the way we see hip-hop dance. In street culture, many of us prefer to experience it live with our own eyes. This three-dimensional art form is transferred to a two-dimensional surface when seen in the video format. Some subtleties will be lost in the process by the loss of that third dimension. But, maybe dancers can take advantage of film language to present their dancing and their stories in new ways. More than a recording of dancing or a concept video as we currently see them, the new frontier in dance and online video could be an exploration of dancers outside of what we see on the surface. Film can take us to different times and spaces through the practice of editing two shots together. In one shot, we could be in Los Angeles and in the next we could be in the Bahamas. Film can take us beyond external landscapes. We can go into past history as shared by an online character or into someone’s mind or emotional landscape. Some of our favorite Hollywood movies already do this. Why can’t we?
I think a big change that we’re going to see is that dancing becomes more than an external series of movements seen online through videos. It’ll be more than what we see on the surface. Experienced dancers know that our art form is more than a series of physical movements. Our inner thoughts, feelings, and spirit come into play. Those aspects of our inner worlds could become more visible through the visual and storytelling magic that filmmaking brings.
The world is ready for a deeper conversation about dancers and with dancers through our more wired and connected world. So let’s change it one shot at a time.
— Original article here.
I’ve never been in a band, but I’m starting to feel like I’m about to go on tour. No, I haven’t decided to take up a musical instrument. Nor have I relinquished filmmaking for crooning on the mic. What I mean is that a new idea has been stirring in my head and it’s this: Let’s take my film Furious Beautyand present it to audiences along with a whole live show. They’ll see the film and they’ll experience live dance performances along with thought–provoking interactive discussions and a Q&A. It’ll be a whole experience that’s visceral, stimulating, and eye–opening.
At least, that’s the plan. It’s not an all–new idea as many filmmakers are now taking their work directly to audiences through similar tours matched with digital distribution options. We’re learning from our musician brothers and sisters who’ve been hitting the road and cultivating loyal audiences in a post–Napster age. In the late ’90s, Napster and the file–sharing revolution turned the music industry on its head. Now, instead of prioritizing album sales through record labels, today’s musicians are branching off into multiple DIY approaches to share their work and grow their audience. For years now, it’s felt like filmmakers are on the cusp of embracing these same practices across the board. We hear it everyday that the film business is struggling to make money as our viewing habits and choices change. Instead of going to theaters, movie watchers are saving money by staying home and using Netflix or other streaming options. Filmmakers are challenged to build their own audiences using social networking tools and to find new ways to bring them together.
I’ve realized that the seeds of this approach are in progress for my film. On Sunday, April 21, 2013; I guest lectured at Mt. Saint Mary’s College by giving a fifty–five minute presentation in the Sociology 199: “The Power Of Hip–Hop” course hosted by Professor Vanessa Ochoa. This was the first time I publicly shared my story as a dancer and community organizer through a PowerPoint presentation accompanied by live performances from Versa–Style Next Generation and Long Beach’s Homeland Cultural Center. To round off the show, I also screened excerpts from Furious Beauty as a capping point to my personal dance journey. Afterwards, our Q&A with the college audience lasted for over fifteen minutes as several dancers from Homeland shared more details about our vibrant culture. As the presentation wrapped up, I realized that we had given these students an experience. Even as a public speaker, I found myself cracking jokes about the absurdity of my personal story of being a Yale biologist who became a hip–hop dancer who became a filmmaker. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? If anything, I wanted to invite our audience to see that hip–hop dance culture has a place for everyone. Even weirdos like me.
I would love for audiences to experience Furious Beauty in this unique way. Taking the film to different venues in Los Angeles and around the world creates opportunities for the audience to experience the genuine communal feel that dancing brings. At the Mt. Saint Mary’s April 21st presentation, a few students remarked on how they felt a genuine sense of respect and support among the performing dancers as well as the onscreen characters in the film. Wouldn’t it be awesome to create a therapeutic, edifying experience through a film? Why not use a film to spark conversations and relationships between people?
Since I come from a scientific background as a biology major, my mind is always approaching these scenarios in an experimental way. Try a hypothesis, evaluate the results, draw conclusions. This weekend afforded more opportunities to test this idea of touring my film. On Friday, April 26th, 2013; associate producer Arthur Tong led a presentation of Furious Beauty at a dance battle event hosted by Freestyle Fridays in Torrance. This time, we saw positive responses even from the most hardcore dancer in the audience. The next day, on Saturday, April 27th, 2013; one Versa–Style dancer Harry “Full Out” Weston promoted the film by teaching a dance class at GOOD Magazine’s Neighborday event in Silverlake. I watched Harry teaching men and women who were relatively new to hip–hop dance. And for one hour, they forgot about their inhibitions and worries. I could see it on their faces. We might be on to something here. This is an emotional therapy that’s much cheaper than hiring a psychiatrist.
While I’m not a licensed medical professional, I can confidently say there’s something healing about experiencing joy and emotional release through art. We need more of it everyday. So why not bring it to the people? If touring a film is the vessel for generating laughs, smiles, tears, and the faintest sense of hope; then let’s do it. We want to share this film with you in person because it’s more fun laughing together than doing it alone.
- by director Calvin Leung
Original article here.
Second weekend in a row of screening an excerpt of Furious Beauty & taking the world of our film to the public. Friday night we screened the first scene at Freestyle Fridays at Boogiezone Utopia thanks to @dpdanga @mpact_lor. @arthurtong introduced the film. Saturday, Harry “Full Out” Weston @fullout89 taught a hip-hop class in Silverlake at GOOD Magazine’s Neighborday so folks can experience Versa-Style & dance firsthand. Thanks to Alessandra Rizzotti and GOOD! #furiousbeauty #film #dance #hiphop #GOOD #losangeles #neighboring #plixyl #plixylstudios #versastyle @versastylela
This is turning out to be an exciting month where we’ve shared more content from our film Furious Beauty. Our music composer Brandon Verrett has released the film’s soundtrack online with additional content. Plus, two of the hip-hop songs are from music producer Tinman, a fellow dancer in the Los Angeles street dance community. This soundtrack was made possible by our Kickstarter campaign last summer 2012. You can listen to the journey that Versa-Style Dance Company takes during the film here!
I shot this video for Versa-Style Dance Company. It’s a one-shot take lasting around 3 minutes. We did it in 7 takes at Six 01 Studios in downtown Los Angeles. I really loved this location and I’m thinking about using it for future projects.
Rehearsals for Versa-Style Dance Company’s new theatrical show have started. I’m watching all new behind the scenes footage of their process, that I filmed. Their show is also going to be called “Furious Beauty” inspired by my film of the same title. So from now until October 2013, I have a challenge to continue telling Versa-Style’s story as a family in a new storyline.