From the early days of breakin’ on cardboard squares at north eastern urban neighborhood events to the dance circles fueled by the repetitive “aye” of a self-made crew, street dancing has long empowered creativity sustained by Black music moments. As the culture spread, so did the social dance movements and across the South, every sub-region has conveyed a message.
Music and dance go hand-in-hand and contributions from the south have impacted jazz, blues, Hip-Hop, and other movement styles and sounds. Loudly and proudly, the words of Sir Andre 3000, “the south got something to say,” still ring true today when it comes to street dance, just as much as the area’s rap music.
This past May, multiple competitive street dancers from across the southern states and beyond participated in the Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ National Finals, hoping to place in the Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ World Finals. Prior to the competition, Don Soup from Atlanta with Floridian and Caribbean roots, Lenataa from Atlanta with Nigerian roots, and BAM! from Atlanta and The Crown from Minneapolis, all spoke with VIBE, sharing their varying perspectives on the past, present, and future of street dance.
African and Caribbean Influence
“My favorite styles of dance are definitely Dancehall. It’s just so freeing. It’s very expressive. There’s no necessarily wrong way to do it. It’s a conversation. It’s not just about the movement. It’s an attitude, it’s an intention. It’s literally a conversation with the audience, with whoever you’re dancing with or against. I love that I’m able to articulate myself without using my words, but I can use my body to do so.” – Don Soup
“I go back and forth between here and Nigeria just cause most of my family’s still there, it’s like a home away from home…It’s becoming more popular in the states and globally. The states are blessed to catch the vibe a little bit, but understanding and just realizing that it’s here to stay. It’s not just a trend. It’s beautiful to see, understanding that Afro-beats is a genre of music and it’s not a genre of dance. I’m from Rivers State Nigeria so I know my traditional movement, the things that we do in celebration festivals, all those things. I definitely infuse that into my learned things of ballet and contemporary and hip-pop and house. That’s the movement that’s been in my body for a long time. It’s a part of me, so I try to show that in my street dance.” – Lenataa
“My mom, she’s African, she’s Liberian. I feel like just growing up, I was automatically in a lot of African cultures. You know, being born in America, I’m, adapted to the other culture of African Americans. It’s like a fusion of the two, which to me, I think makes up almost all of my dance. So it’s definitely a lot of culture, beautiful culture.” – The Crown
Tik Tok And Digital Trends
“It is definitely cringy to see like the ‘Walk It Out be turned into a whole different dance from what it was, and watch like the ‘Jerk’ be changed. It’s like you’re messing with what we came from. It’s all different steps. I think it’s a disconnect. They were too young, uh, social media wasn’t prevalent back then, like YouTube was just on the rise. There wasn’t that many videos on that. Like it was all grainy. You had to really search and know who you were following. So for me, it’s just about doing research, but it’s up to the people that were the pioneers come back, get creative, make maybe make a tutorial, make a skit, or just, just reintroduce the dance to show where it came from.
I think it’s, it’s in both. It’s disconnect[ed] from the young generation. They were too young from us, you know, we should be more prevalent on social media. Some people deter, like, ‘I don’t wanna be on social media, in Tik Toks.’ Put that pride to the side, cuz they’re taking stuff, and that’s not how it goes. Once it goes viral, that’s that.” – BAM!
Keeping It Regional
“I think it’s just a different kind of flavor. Being from Atlanta, to know how we fuse or at least a lot of street dance experience that I have, comes from singing and skating and street dance. Seeing how those two kind of mirror each other or merge with one another, I would say that I definitely am a part of both worlds. But for me, what really brought me is skating. And I know it’s a lot of cities like that, but I can just really speak for Atlanta. Skating is what brought dance to me, and I think that the bounce that we have, you know, tha funk that we have. I think that’s what, in general, the South can relate to that. Even if you’re from Mississippi, Florida, if you Alabama, I think you know.” – Lenataa
“I feel like South Florida is definitely more Caribbean based, definitely a lot more Caribbeans down there and the community is large and in charge. I learned a lot of the culture from there. I’m a first-gen, my dad was born and raised in Jamaica, and I grew up with him, so I have a lot of that culture instilled in me. Um, when I came up to Atlanta, I learned a lot about just Black history and the Black culture, which really helped motivate and mold me into just seeing things from different lenses and having more understanding and expanding my brain as far as different styles of street dance.” – Don Soup
“Atlanta is one of a kind, honestly, you really can’t describe it, but once you go to Atlanta the vibe is just… we have a certain swagger, a certain sauce, a cadence that can’t be duplicated in other cities. When you go there, we have a certain, steez, you know. You can’t see the replication of it anywhere else. Atlanta, we are the heart and passion behind social dances, party dancing, street dancing, and things like that. It’s fire.” – BAM!
Community And Competition
“The community was one of the biggest things. There’s so much stuff to do. There are so many different events that they hold just to give back to the community. There’s a healthy competition, so there is competition, but it’s healthy. It’s not toxic. Everybody supports one another and everybody is for one another. Everybody elevates one another and uplifts. So it’s not about bringing somebody down from their game, but it’s all about uplifting each other. That’s one of the biggest things.” – Don Soup