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: So you don’t do anything other than dancing?
Lil Buck:
Well, I got back into sports. So I play basketball again. I’ve still got it.

Time Out New York: Does basketball affect your flexibility?
Lil Buck:
Dancing actually helps my basketball. Jookin helps out a lot in my way of life. If I have to remember things; it also helps out with my balance and my equilibrium. The combination of ballet and jookin just helped out with my whole lifestyle. It’s hard for me to trip and fall. It’s hard for me to twist my ankle—very hard. It’s a discipline. It takes discipline to learn this dance and a lot of patience. So once you learn it and master the craft, your whole way of life changes. Especially from the environment I’m from. You just see the world differently, you talk differently. Learning jookin and ballet teaches you about a lot of other things. I’m not fluent, but I learned French learning ballet. You have to remember the names of the steps. You learn more about yourself. You have more control. Jookin is basically having control over every part of your body. Not just the feet. You move those mostly. But jookin is just total control over your body. Every muscle in my body I can control and I’m aware of.
Time Out New York: How is jookin spiritual?
Lil Buck:
There’s a zone that you can go into; a lot of people haven’t reached this level, but it exists. It’s a level where you’re seasoned enough or you’re so happy doing what you’re doing that you kind of zone out. My eyes look crazy when I do it, but it’s like you see everything as beautiful, you know? You reach a point in your mind where, as you’re dancing and listening to the music, you can create anything. You make other people see it. And that’s the power of it. People give you energy, they push energy to you when you dance, and you push it back out at them in your dancing. It’s a cycle.

Time Out New York: Do you have to be in a certain state to accept that energy?
Lil Buck:
Actually, the music will bring you there. It starts with the music. Memphis jookin came from Memphis sound. We didn’t start jookin to any classical music or to any hip-hop music. It was the Memphis sound. As far as the rap category or the urban category, Memphis has a certain way of making beats. The beats they used back in the day had a certain sound to it. It had a certain wave; the music made us bounce a certain way. That’s how it was born: The music made us bounce even before we started dancing. You’d just bounce your shoulders and groove into the music. If you know the music really well, your feet just start moving. That’s what jookin is: Jookin is bounce. It starts with the shoulder bounce. Basically, you have to feel the music first before you go out there. You bounce your shoulders, you get in tune with the music, and from there your feet start moving. And the next thing you know, you’re out on the floor killing it.

Time Out New York: What have you experienced so far that’s deeply surprised you?
Lil Buck:
[That I] reached this level where I am right now. Really, right now at this table with you—that’s how everything keeps coming in my life. From the point when I moved from Memphis to California, everything was surprising. When you’re in Memphis, jookin is such a native, common thing to do that you don’t really think about trying to make it into a big career. It’s just something that everybody does. It’s like cooking barbecue. A lot of people don’t make careers out of opening a barbecue store, but they sure can cook it. It’s the same with jookin. A lot of people do it and might not make a career out of it, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it. And in Memphis, there aren’t a lot of outlets as far as getting this style out to the public eye, to a mainstream level. Memphis is a very small town; when I moved to L.A., there was so much opportunity. So many doors that could be opened. The reason why I was comfortable moving to L.A. was because I moved out there with a mission to put this dance style on the map. And I did it for myself as well. When I was in Memphis, I was jookin, but I was around a bad crowd when I was growing up. They were really good friends, but they didn’t jook. They were just good street friends. I used to get into a lot of trouble, but I was a great person—a very nice person—I just hung around the wrong people. At the same time, hanging around those people really made me who I am now. It’s made me a better person. I always knew right from wrong anyway; I always knew what not to do with my friends and what to do with my friends.

Time Out New York: Do you miss Memphis?
Lil Buck:
I do. I miss it all the time, but the thing about Memphis is I miss the energy of the sessions and just jookin with my friends and the whole aura. And my family. I miss the blues, I miss Beale Street, I miss hanging out with my friends, I miss dancing there, but that’s about it. A great place, don’t get me wrong. A beautiful place to visit. I plan on buying a house so I can go back. But that’s all I really miss about Memphis—the music, the environment, the energy.

Time Out New York: Would you ever live in New York?
Lil Buck:
Absolutely. Everyone wants me to move here. You know, I’m a fashionable guy. That’s what I love about New York. It’s such a fashionable place to live. I used to hate the cold here, but then I grew to love it because I love wearing jackets. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: I totally understand that line of thinking. It’s another outfit.
Lil Buck:
[Laughs] It’s a whole other outfit! You can’t really do that in L.A., because it’s so sunny, and it rarely rains and it rarely gets cold.

Time Out New York: What designers do you like? 
Lil Buck:
I’ve really grown to like high-end designers like Givenchy. I really like Rick Owens. Raf Simons. And I like to wear upscale streetwear too. I go more for style than fashion. I might mix it up and wear a Comme des Garçons blazer with an American Apparel T-shirt.

Time Out New York: That’s almost exactly what I’m doing right now. 
Lil Buck:
Exactly! I love putting different pieces together. My friend Hobby—he was one of my friends on tour with Madonna—and he’s the one that got me into fashion! He’s from New York. He does flexing—bone breaking and all of that. He’s really fashionable; if you see him, it’s all over him. It’s a natural thing for him. He’s always been like that.

Time Out New York: How do you like performing with Madonna?
Lil Buck:
I love it. She’s such a good person. She’s really giving. Very caring and giving. She’s the most inspiring woman I’ve ever met in my life.

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