While thousands of performing artists and audiences wait out the social distancing, sheltering-in-place, and self-quarantining that have shuttered performing arts venues across the world, the underground dance movement suffers two-fold, both on stage and off.
In addition to cancelled public performances, the clubs where patrons jam together and do hip-hop battle are shuttered, and people are prohibited from gathering in private homes, community centers, or on the street where they might erupt into spontaneous dance.
As much as street-dance is a social outlet for adult devotés, youth empowerment and community-building are as much a part of hip-hop as its entertainment value. One of the many coronavirus casualties of Chicago’s spring performing season, The B-Series at the Dance Center of Columbia College, is just one example of the toll this viral plague is taking on the arts. But fear not! The spring 2020 series, “B-FLY,” is going virtual, and you, too can participate!
This year’s series honors and celebrates “the rebellious spirit of authenticity, all our diverse flavors of flyness, and the 15-year anniversary of pioneering street-dance crew, VENUS FLY,” according to The Dance Center’s website. “Awards and prizes will go out to videos, photos, and posts that gain the most attention/likes from the public and the B-FLY team of artists.” Find out more on the Dance Center website.
Kelsa "K-Soul" Robinson, lead curator of The B-Series since its launching in 2013, was recruited to teach hip-hop and different styles of street dance at The Dance Center of Columbia College in order to bring more value and mainstream validation to what has been a marginal and fiercely underground dance genre. Today, Columbia College dance majors can minor in hip-hop. The B-Series was a natural outgrowth of Robinson's program.
In a phone interview, Robinson said she sees her role as vital to “bringing hip-hop into the academy, rather than the academy molding hip-hop (as it does traditionally across disciplines) to its own model.”
In addition, Robinson, who holds an advanced degree in sociology, is part of a national movement to develop street dance programming in underserved neighborhoods, offering kids positive adult role models in a culturally accessible activity that builds self-esteem and community strength. For now, all this is on hold.
Said Robinson, “The B-Series is about finding a way to expose audiences to the history and social context of the forms that comprise street dance." Those forms include breaking, popping, whacking, and voguing, as well as open styles.
VENUS FLY, a sisterhood of ten dancers, is Robinson’s crew. Having a crew carries more weight in the underground street scene, where battles have been historically male-dominated. Today, there is one male member in their group. While still focusing on the power and strength of women, the validation of each individual, regardless of gender, race, or cultural identity, is a hallmark of their mission.
BraveSoul Movement is Robinson’s performing arts company with co-founder Daniel "Bravemonk" Haywood. BraveSoul, which is separate from her crew, creates dance theater works in hip-hop forms, capitalizing on the intrinsic storytelling origins of street dance.
With a movement vernacular of exaggerated street gesture, each of the different hip-hop forms embodies its own particular body punctuation of exclamation points, commas, semi-colons, and question marks, emphasizing different body isolations, rhythms, and qualities of energy and flow. There is the robotic, stop-action of tutting, the gymnastic extravagance of breaking, the muscular isolations of popping, the flaunting sexy feminism of voguing and the forceful whacking, all emphatic in their up-close-and-personal forthrightness.
If you’re a newcomer to The B-Series, come check it out online! If you’re feeling creative, maybe you want to jam on a viral theme. Video yourself, and send it in! Or, maybe you’re looking for a virtual cypher to join, a virtual battle, or just an excuse to get down and dance!
The B-Series virtual battle takes place through April 3, with selected dancers posting videos on the Instagram page @BSeries_HipHop. On April 4 and 5, finalists are announced in each category, based on likes and judges' selections. Each finalist will then post a new round of videos with the hashtag #BFlyFinals, with winners selected by the judges.
For details and more information, click on the event page below or visit the Dance Center's website.