Just Jookin’

Smiling at a café in Midtown. Photo by yours truly.
Smiling at a café in Midtown. Photo by yours truly.

The young dancer Lil Buck, from Memphis, has become a bit of a sensation, ever since a video of his moves emerged on YouTube. There was something strangely fascinating about the dancer in the video, a kind of intensity and focus surprising in such a young performer, engaged in what looked essentially like an improvisation. And then, there was the oddness of the video itself: a mashup of Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne and a type of hip hop dance known as jookin’. The two actually worked quite well together, in part because jookin’—which was developed in Memphis in the eighties, in response to a very specific local strain dance music—is characterized by glides and legato phrases that mesh quite well with the longer periods of classical music. With its waves and twists, it’s certainly eye-catching, but it’s also expressive. Or at least it can be. (Of course, it helped that Buck’s accompanist that day was none other than Yo Yo Ma.)

Buck’s musical courage did not end with The Swan (which, it turns out, whas developed in conjunction with a ballet teacher in Memphis). Through his association with the former New York City Ballet dancer Damian Woetzel (now head of the Vail International Dance Festival and a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities) he has begun to explore jazz, Basque bagpipe music, klezmer, Stravinsky. This summer, at Vail, he’ll take part in a duet with another paragon of musicality, the City Ballet dancer Tiler Peck.

A couple of months ago I sat down with Buck, who is also a singularly sweet guy, at a café in midtown, near his hotel. The result is this profile in Dance Magazine.

Lil Buck at Le Poisson Rouge (for DanceTabs)

Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma at Le Poisson Rouge. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma at Le Poisson Rouge. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Here’s my review of Lil Buck, a young dancer specializing in a kind of hip-hop dance from Memphis known as Jookin’. He performed at the downtown spot Le Poisson rouge with an eclectic cast of musicians, including Yo Yo Ma, the quartet Brooklyn Rider, and the jazz trumpeter Marcus Printup. He’s a remarkably musical dancer. I reviewed the performance for DanceTabs.

And here’s a short excerpt:

“One of the immediately impressive aspects of Jookin’ technique is the fact that the impulse behind the footwork is concealed, so there seems to be no weight at all on the feet; the dancer propels himself in any direction with a kind of liquid, uninterrupted pas de bourrée, a series of tiny, braided steps. This unbroken continuity of motion is made possible by extremely flexible and controlled ankles, which undulate as the dancers create figure eights with their feet.”