Written by Assad “Invent” Conley
As dancers, we all know the feeling: we get on stage in the pitch black, then the lights and music turn all the way up, and we zone out, giving every movement everything we have. We step in front of judges and our opponent and direct all our best moves at them in order to show we are the better dancer. Whether we like it or not, as long as there is an audience and we are dancers, we are always performing. But what exactly are we performing?
A question I often pose to dancers who say they are “expressing themselves,” is “what exactly are you expressing?” The moment we become aware of the message we are telling, and are clear in our intention of sharing our message, we become artists. With that, our dance as well, becomes art. Combine that with shedding the need of dancing to place in a competition or win a prize in a battle, and Street Dance becomes one of the most powerful tools of communication we can possess. So what happens when we put Street Dance in a performance theater environment?
One of the dancers currently tackling that question is My-Linh Le. My-Linh received her B.A. degree from the W.A.C. department at UCLA. Originally focusing on Ballet, My-Linh fell in love with Popping and has since allowed other movements such as Thai and Wing Chun to influence her movement within the genre of Popping. As the first woman to be a part of Playboyz Inc. (San Jose) and a Bay Area native, My-Linh stays in tune with the street dance scene and is developing a dance theater project called “Mud Water.” I’ll let the creator herself explain what exactly it is.
SXS: What is “Mud Water?”
My-Linh: Mud Water is an approximately 17 minute dance theater piece involving a cast of Turfers (street dancers) and Ballet dancers, as well as spoken word, and of course music. Utilizing acting and improvisational dance, while exploring real human emotions and life experiences, the project seeks to give the Turf Dance community opportunities to share its art in a concert-style setting and to audiences often beyond its reach. At this stage, “Mud Water” is still more of an idea that is rooted in the message that black art matters.
SXS: What made you draw the parallel in movement between ballet and turfing?
My-Linh: I don’t know if “parallel” is the correct word. The things they have in common, from what I can see, is a certain feeling: a grace, a fluidity, certain aesthetics and power. Other than that, they come from very different time periods, from very different cultures, from very different places. So I started to wonder “what is the root of that sort of beauty?” Apparently it is not tied to any certain class or gender or race or culture. It seems to me to be something very ancient, very timeless, and universal, maybe such as the very human need to share stories, to revel in something kind of spiritual or superhuman.
SXS: Since you mix Popping with other genres of world dance do you feel this is an extension of your own personal path as a dancer, or is this an entirely new vision?
My-Linh: I actually did not really think of my own tendency to mix styles when I decided to do this project. And actually, as of this moment, my vision here isn’t to “mix” Turfing and Ballet so much as it is to put them side by side in order to allow a veneration and respect for both styles and their histories, cultures, identities, etc.
SXS: After your January show do you have any plans to extend the project and in what ways?
My-Linh: Not yet. I have no idea how this will turn out. I believe in myself as a director, I believe in the dancers and their talents, and I believe in the idea… but I have no idea as to how the execution of this all will go. So I’m taking it one step at a time. Funding first, then we create the work, and then we show it to the audiences, and then we talk about next steps.
SXS: Anything you’d like to add about yourself and the project?
My-Linh: Not really… Other than the fact that there’s probably some hours left on our Kickstarter and I’ve decided to make a stretch goal of $10,000. The promise is that I’ll audition for the next season of SYTYCD if we make it. [Laughs.] But in all seriousness, the additional money will enable me to expand our cast members to recruit more Turfers, in the best case.
At the time of writing this, Mud Water has reached its goal on Kickstarter, and has about 24 hours left. If you would like to donate to help it expand beyond its current scope of vision, be sure to visit the Kickstarter page to donate and learn more about the project itself from the director and the dancers involved in it.
All of us need to always keep in mind that the Street Dances we participate in gave voice and purpose to the voiceless and underprivileged. This culture comes from poor, black, urban communities and has spread because of its ability to speak to our sense of humanity. It speaks to what we struggle against and for in day to day life. That is why Street Dances are right there with Ballet, Modern and Contemporary Dance with its ability to be high art. Reach for what you imagine dance to be and know that the dances we love matter as an art and culture. The question I ask each and every one of you to think about is “what are you saying with your dance?”
Mud Water Website
Mud Water Facebook