W Magazine Videos

How Hiplet, a Powerful Fusion of Hip Hop and Ballet, Is Redefining the Dance World

After founding the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center in 1981, Homer Bryant realized that by blending rap and ballet he might be able to get kids interested in dance, and thus Hiplet was born. In the two years since Homer Bryant first posted a video online of his students performing Hiplet, a dance movement that blends ballet on pointe with hip hop, it has become an all-out cultural phenomenon. “We’ve traveled all over the world and gotten over a billion views,” says Bryant.

Released on 7/20/2017

Credits

Director: Danielle Levitt
Executive Producer: Kelly Bales

Transcript

00:01
(ethereal emotional music)
00:10
[Girl] I'm Yetunde, I'm 17 years old,
00:13
and I've been dancing for 10 years.
00:15
[Girl] My name is Gabrielle, and I am 12 years old.
00:17
[Girl] My name is Alicia, I am 14 years old.
00:20
[Girl] I'm Iliana, I'm 12 years old,
00:22
and I've been dancing for nine years.
00:24
[Girl] My name is Jada Peery, and I am 15 years old.
00:25
[Girl] I'm Natalie, I'm 17 years old,
00:27
and I've been dancing since I was four.
00:30
[Girl] I'm Zipporah, my friends call me Zippy.
00:32
I'm 17 years old, and I've been dancing for 14 years now.
00:56
(moves into airy emotional music)
00:58
[Girl] Hiplet is a fusion of hip-hop and ballet.
01:02
Sometimes it's a little more jazz,
01:04
sometimes it's a little more contemporary.
01:07
I remember watching the older girls
01:09
in the studio doing hiplet and (laughing)
01:12
being really just awestruck by it.
01:15
I remember seeing it and being like whoa, that's new,
01:17
because that's not something that usually happens.
01:23
One, and a two, and a three, en pointe.
01:25
[Girl] So there was funky R&B music playing, but the girls
01:29
had on their pointe shoes, which was very juxtaposing.
01:32
That wasn't something that I was used to seeing then.
01:37
Pointe shoes are kind of like growing up,
01:40
and it's a privilege.
01:41
Some people think that hiplet is abusing that privilege.
01:48
[Girl] They say, like, Oh, you're ruining ballet!
01:51
We're not ruining ballet, we're rethinking ballet.
01:55
It's not just oh, let's just bust a move en pointe.
01:58
No, I had to do three years of strengthening
02:02
for pointe to be able to do hiplet.
02:04
So it's also a lot of ballet training.
02:11
(murmuring)
02:13
[Woman] When I was 12 and 13,
02:14
my mom had put me in a predominantly white ballet school
02:17
so I could get more ballet training.
02:20
This is when I first started to realize
02:22
that something is wrong with diversity in ballet.
02:27
Being the only black ballerina
02:29
in the company, you know, that's hard.
02:31
(energetic classical piano music)
02:33
I'm sure you've heard, like,
02:34
ballet was not meant for African-American girls.
02:38
Balanchine wanted these long girls, and skinny,
02:42
and you know, it's pink tights and pink ballet shoes.
02:45
That's not always the case for African-American girls.
02:49
Alright, this is rare!
02:50
[Woman] Like this, I have.
02:52
[Woman] In ballet, tights are traditionally pink.
02:54
They match the pointe shoes.
02:56
They're meant to extend the line of the legs
02:58
and of the boy, and make it a clear finish.
03:00
(shrieking) (laughing)
03:01
You want to seem long and very graceful,
03:04
and if there's a color difference,
03:05
then that cuts off the line.
03:07
It makes more sense for a brown girl
03:10
to have brown tights and brown shoes.
03:12
(rustling)
03:14
They started dyeing shoes way back when Mr. Homer
03:16
was dancing, and he recognized the importance
03:19
of having tights and shoes that matched your face.
03:24
(funky island hip-hop music)
03:48
For me, seeing brown girls do ballet is kind of a norm.
03:51
That's because my mom danced, my grandmother danced.
03:55
Wouldn't be shocked if my great-grandma danced.
03:57
You know, so it's just kind of like,
03:59
I was just used to seeing black girls do this all the time.
04:02
So when the big wave kinda came up,
04:05
and Misty Copeland broke out, and all that kinda started,
04:09
it's kind of interesting.
04:10
'Cause they're like Oh wait,
04:11
there's no black girls, there's no black girls!
04:13
And I'm like we're right here, (laughing) what do you mean?
04:27
[Girl] Like, if someone expects something of me,
04:28
I just don't wanna let anyone down.
04:31
You're very strong,
04:33
and you should be very proud of yourself.
04:35
And even sometimes, when you feel
04:37
like I wanna give up dance, bless you say
04:40
dance has been your weapon in life.
04:42
You've used it to fight your battles off.
04:46
So, you know, you think about that.
04:52
[Girl] I feel like if I wouldn't have came to CMDC,
04:55
I wouldn't be where I am today.
04:58
When I dance, I can connect to myself
05:01
and just be like this is who I was made to be.
05:04
Like, this is my destiny.
05:07
(moves into airy tinkling music)
05:48
(light scratching)
05:57
It gives me a sense of pride, being able to do hiplet.
06:00
Especially 'cause of the reactions that we've gotten.
06:03
I've noticed a lot of comments saying
06:05
oh, if this was around when I still danced,
06:07
I would've continued my training.
06:09
(murmuring) And I'm like
06:10
well, if hiplet wasn't around while I'm dancing, what--
06:12
[Girl] What would I do?
06:13
Yeah!
06:14
One, two!
06:14
[Girl] Mr. Homer might be a father figure
06:16
for some people, too.
06:17
And even us, to the younger girls,
06:19
we're kind of, like, guiding them, and yeah.
06:21
[Girl] He gives them an outlay.
06:22
Instead of being out on the streets doing illegal things,
06:26
taking their anger out in different ways.
06:28
Sometimes, when I'm angry or I'm sad,
06:31
or I'm just emotional, everywhere, all over the place,
06:33
I can come here and leave it all
06:35
on the dance floor, then I'll be fine.
06:37
(moves into ethereal music)
06:39
In my life, I have experienced violence
06:41
in my family life; people have died.
06:43
And I've had friends that have died too,
06:45
and it's not a good feeling at all.
06:48
When my parents grew up in Chicago, we was safer.
06:51
But now, if you go outside in Chicago,
06:53
you really have to be cautious.
06:54
(murmuring) (giggling)
06:58
CMDC has been very important to me because
07:02
if I'm not at school, I'm in CMDC.
07:05
If I'm not at home, I'm in CMDC.
07:08
So it's a second home.
07:09
(funky music plays over top)
07:12
When my paents were going through a divorce,
07:13
I held alotta stuff in.
07:15
And when I came into class when I was really upset
07:18
or mad, I definitely am not one of those type of people.
07:22
I can't just keep it to myself.
07:24
I have to express it in some way.
07:27
Instead of, like, clenching my fists,
07:29
I would point my foot harder, or use my muscles harder,
07:33
and it really helped me as a dancer.
07:35
(murmuring)
07:36
[Girl] Need help with your hair?
07:38
[Man] It is not easy for a dark-skinned kid
07:41
to be a classical ballet ballerina.
07:44
People that love hiplet are saying Thank you.
07:47
You're stayin' relevant with kids,
07:49
you're makin' a change in dance,
07:51
and you're bringin' other people into the fold
07:54
that wouldn't ordinarily have a chance to do this.
07:57
You hear about the violence
07:58
and everything that's going on in Chicago.
08:01
This is a feel-good Chicago story,
08:03
(giggling) one of the best.
08:05
(light tinkling music)
08:08
[Girl] I love the feeling when I'm dancing.
08:10
[Girl] It feels fantastic!
08:11
[Girl] I feel beautiful.
08:12
[Girl] When you fall, you get back up
08:13
[Girl] and you keep on dancing. And I love
08:14
being able to express myself.
08:15
[Girl] I want people to see past the color,
08:17
and I want them to see the talent any girl
08:18
[Girl] or a guy could hold. And I think
08:19
really an incredible feeling, not to have
08:21
any worries, even for half an hour.
08:22
[Girl] I am proud to be finally showing the world
08:25
that there are some black girls who have technique,
08:28
and are very versatile, and can do anything.
08:34
(moves into funky island hip-hop music)