Lil Buck talks about jookin and his show at Le Poisson Rouge

Lil Buck, the jookin sensation, talks about the Memphis dance style and his new show at Le Poisson Rouge.

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Time Out New York: That’s so crazy.
Lil Buck:
I don’t think a lot of people really even know about that. That’s just how I found out I was really flexible. As I was jookin, I think I did a move and my ankle twisted, and it didn’t hurt, and I found out I could actually hold that position. I was like, Wow, I’m really flexible. Let me incorporate this into my style. So I just started incorporating my flexibility into my jookin style and formed a whole new style within the style.
 
Time Out New York: When did you introduce ballet? 
Lil Buck:
I took ballet for two-and-a-half years; I started when I was, I think, 17. But I started incorporating that into my dancing when I moved to L.A. I was 19 and moved to L.A. with $20 in my pocket. [Laughs]. We were not rich or anything like that. All my mom had was $20, and she gave it to me, blessed me, prayed for me. She believed in me, that’s why she let me go. And I got on the plane and just made it happen.
 
Time Out New York: Why did you choose L.A.?
Lil Buck:
I’d been flown out there before for a music video. Someone hit me up on Myspace. [Snickers] That’s when Myspace was popular. They wanted to fly me out for a music video for a local artist. I had a lot of people hit me up when I was in Memphis and never came through, but something made me stick with this person. I kept in contact with him, and it took a whole year, but after that year they said, “We have everything ready, we’re going to fly you and one more person out. Do you know anybody else you can get to jook with you?” And I was like, “No problem. I have a friend, Ron Myles.” His dance name is Prime Tyme; he lives with me in L.A., and he’s out there bringing the style of jookin up with me.

Time Out New York: So you live in L.A. now?
Lil Buck:
Yeah, I live in Burbank. But going back to your other question, I moved to L.A. and that’s when I actually started incorporating ballet into my style. I got an agent ASAP, and I started doing auditions. And I was just like, I might as well just keep what I learned and put it into my dancing so I can always be working on it and perfecting it in a way. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I just remember everything I’ve learned.

Time Out New York: Do you study videos?
Lil Buck:
I watch videos from jookers in Memphis to keep up with it, but I don’t watch too many other dance styles. The only dance style I really watch that’s not jookin is flexing. Flexing is a dance style from here in New York. I also have a lot of friends who do other styles like hip-hop and contemporary. When I get a chance to, if one of my friends is doing a contemporary show or something like that, I’ll come out and support them, but I don’t really watch a lot of videos.
 
Time Out New York: How did you meet Damian Woetzel?
Lil Buck:
I met him through his wife, Heather [Watts]. Heather found me on Facebook. Facebook is amazing. [Laughs] She actually saw a clip of me dancing to The Swan before I even knew who Yo-Yo Ma was. I was with New Ballet Ensemble. [Artistic director] Katie Smythe, my ballet teacher, took me to a show in Arkansas for kids, and it was my first time dancing with the company; she wanted me to stay in my own element because I was still learning ballet. She really respected jookin, and I love her for that. And she was like, “Well let’s try something.” She put in a CD [of Camille Saint-Saëns’s The Dying Swan] and she was like, “Do you think you can dance to this?” I told her, “I just have to hear it once and then I’ve got it.” We were on our way to the actual show. I didn’t know what I was going to do. She let the CD play on our way there, and I heard it twice. We got there, and I performed. The kids went crazy.

Time Out New York: Heather saw that on YouTube?
Lil Buck:
Yes. She showed Damian I guess, and Damian was like, “Yo-Yo has to see this.” They just went crazy, and they reached out to Katie Smythe. I was invited to see Yo-Yo do a show at the Walt Disney [Concert] Hall. I was like, I don’t even know who Yo-Yo Ma is, but this sounds cool. So I looked him up on the Internet and I’ll be damned if Yo-Yo Ma isn’t the greatest cello player in the world. [Laughs] I was like, what? That really messed me up in the head. I met Yo-Yo, and this was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. Yo-Yo looked at me—he didn’t shake my hand—and he gave me a big hug. He said, “I want to try something.” Exact words. He opened up his cello case and he just started playing with no hesitation, no warning. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t start dancing. The chemistry was there. We were so in sync. He played the whole song, and I danced to it so fluidly, as if we had always been performing together. After that, Yo-Yo gave me another big hug and he said, “Beautiful, man, beautiful.” And it’s just been a great relationship ever since then.
 
Time Out New York: How do you and Yo-Yo work together? Is it just as spontaneous? 
Lil Buck:
Always. He loves it like that. It’s just something so natural for me. It’s not anything out of the ordinary at all. I love doing freestyle and dancing improv because I just catch on quickly to music. I’m really in sync with the beat. I’m like a vessel for sound. Whenever I hear a sound, my body just takes over. It’s no longer me.

Time Out New York: Do you always dance to music and never to silence?
Lil Buck:
Well, it’s never silent to me. From the outside-in, maybe, but never with me because I have a big jukebox in my head. Every song I’ve danced to, I remember. So if I hear that song again, I can move to it and know every beat. I learn really fast. That’s why I got really big in my peers’ eyes in Memphis. I got their respect because I learned extra fast. I learned jookin well in two years. And it [usually] takes like five years or more to really get seasoned.

Time Out New York: What are fundamentals of jookin?
Lil Buck:
The gangsta walk is one of the fundamentals. We have a move called the L-step; it looks like you’re drawing a big L with your heel and your toe. We have push-toe, that’s a basic fundamental. We have the buck jump, which isn’t my jump; my name just so happens to be Lil Buck. The classic buck jump might remind you of African dance back in the day. It’s really spiritual. Jookin is a really spiritual dance as well. We get energy from the earth, you know? Every time our feet tap the floor, you just feel it.
 
Time Out New York: How do you train now?
Lil Buck:
I train just by waking up early in the morning and dancing with my friend. We have a nice hardwood floor so we just dance in the kitchen until we gotta do something else, or we have to start our day. And that’s it. I don’t necessarily have a certain time or a practice that I do. I dance everywhere and all the time. No hours! This is life.

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