Photo Gallery | Memphis Jookin keeps local dancers on point
Gravity-defying moves that originated out of North Memphis are keeping local dancers on point as a street dance continues to gain international attention.
The repertoire is nearly undefinable – slinky body moves, twirling and gliding. It's all part of the jaw-dropping street dance referred to as Memphis Jookin. Some call it a form of urban ballet, but you won't catch these dancers in a special shoe or tights – it is all done in sneakers and jeans.
"When we move, it's all about self-expression to the music, based on how the music makes you feel," said dancer Ryan Haskett explaining how Jookin has evolved over the past decades.
The Collierville native said Jookin is a form of "Gangsta Walking" which is another Memphis-style dance. The line dance, which is a series of confident steps, took off roughly 30 years ago. Over time, dedicated dancers became more specific with details in their footwork which eventual lead up to an expectation of professional form.
"We are able to dance on our tip-toes, like Ballerinas do, but with a hip-hop swag," said Haskett explaining the style. "Some of us have studied Ballet, and we've developed a syllabus to teach Jookin that is similar to the system of Ballet."
Haskett along with other industry experts, including the game-changing dancer Lil Buck, have learned the basics in classical dance forms in order to formulate and examine Jookin.
Memphis' own Charles Riley, better known as Lil' Buck, was recently on The Colbert Report in late February showing Stephen Colbert how to do the "buck jump." Lil Buck's YouTube videos have millions of views. One of many videos include him sharing the stage with Meryl Streep and Yo-Yo Ma performing Swan Lake.
Back in the Bluff City, students are learning Jookin in an after school program from Memphis' best dancers.
U-Dig Dance Academy teacher Marico Flake has been Jookin for nearly 15 years. The school provides structure in a positive environment for urban kids interested in this street-dance that Flake has studied for years.
"Jookin is a different aspect to educate through the art of dance where dance draws them in. Our focus in teaching dance is partial to the energy, our focus works with the teachers to have the kids relate to us through the rhythm," he said.
It is no secret that music plays a big role in the street dance. Flake implied that a dancer can move to any type of music as long as it has rhythm, and is relatable to that person
"It's preserving the culture of Memphis," Flake said describing the dance's impact on Memphis. "Connecting other cultures to the Memphis culture. Jookin is influenced by music itself."
Haskett and Flake both said that Jookin is powered by Memphis hip-hop music, which has its roots in the Memphis Blues. Although dancers are learning Jookin worldwide, Haskett said the struggle and the blues are why the dance is so specific to the city.
The two dancers are in a Memphis Jookin dance group called G-Force where they work on limited choreography and learn from each other. Haskett said most of his Jookin dances are improvised.
But choreographed or not, Haskett, Flake and other Jookin dancers in the city live by this raw genre of hip-hop inspired dance and are taking it to the next level.
"I am so blessed to have this, and to share this incredible artform," said Haskett. "This is something that started from nothing, in Memphis, but is now reaching people all over the world."
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