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.

Time Out New York: I know she does other things, but I really just think she’s truly a dancer at heart.
Lil Buck:
Exactly. That was what she started doing. She has the utmost respect for dancers. She loves it, and she treats her dancers like her family. She puts us before so much. In Brazil, she wanted to go to a favela, and she invited some of the dancers. She didn’t want a whole flock of security, so she had two security guards; it was madness a little bit, but we enjoyed ourselves, and we watched the kids who performed for Madonna. They were happy, and she was happy, and we were happy. We got out there and danced with them, because we felt the spirit of it. That made her happy. She invites us to everything. She brings us out to her private parties, her birthday parties—everything. She loves our company.

Time Out New York: It’s real.
Lil Buck:
It’s really real. She’s very caring. On tour, it’s amazing how she cares about everyone’s everything. Even down to the hair, to the outfit. She’ll line everyone up and look at you one by one—22 dancers. She would look at us one by one and say, “I love this, but I would love for your hair to be like this.” And then she would go to the next person, down the line. She sees everyone as an individual. It’s amazing to me. Especially at that caliber. She makes you not even see her at that caliber. She makes you see her as a friend. I just love her.

Time Out New York: Back to your dancing: You don’t rehearse with a mirror, do you?
Lil Buck:
Never. It’s all feeling. That’s the spiritual part about it. You’re not looking in a mirror trying to get a move right—it’s feeling it. If it feels good, nine times out of ten, it’s good. I wanted to learn ballet. You know when I was offered to take class and become a company member and to get a scholarship—and to not even have to pay to take a class? Katie Smythe is amazing for that. I always thank her. At first I was like, ballet? No. No tights for me. She was like, “It’s okay.” She’s a different breed of ballet teacher; her teaching style is so unorthodox. She doesn’t just teach. She communicates and interacts with the kids she teaches. She’ll grab your foot and say, “This is what you want to feel when you’re in turnout.” She’ll work with you and signal you out just to fix you up. She can do that and still have her eye on somebody across the room at the same time. So she was comfortable with me coming in in sweats.

Time Out New York: Did you wear ballet shoes?
Lil Buck:
Nope. Socks, sweats, T-shirt. I was like, I can do this! [Laughs] Because she believed in me. As I grew, I got comfortable wearing ballet slippers when I had to and just taking class period. I used to act like a little clown in class, but it grew on me, because I felt myself getting more flexible and stronger.

Time Out New York: So ballet made you more flexible?
Lil Buck:
Absolutely. I was never as flexible as I am now. When I started jookin, my ankles were the only things pretty much. You know the stretch where you bend over and touch your head on your knees? I was halfway—at a 90-degree angle. I saw my friend who was taking ballet class was grabbing the back of his legs, folding his shit. I was like, You know what? I’m going to get that. That’s my first goal in ballet. I did everything I was supposed to do until I could hit that level, and after that I felt so good I just kept going and started performing with the company and did my first ballet show with them. I had to wear tights. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: In New York, what are you performing? Are you doing The Swan?
Lil Buck:
I am. And I have a lot of surprise performances, too. I’m performing with Philip Glass. We have a debut. That’s all I can talk about right now, because I don’t want to give away too much.

Time Out New York: What is the future of jookin?
Lil Buck:
I think it will fall into the same category as ballet or jazz, tap or modern dance. Jookin will be right there with them. In a few years, we might end up writing a book about jookin. We might end up naming the steps just like ballet so people can actually know what they’re learning.

Time Out New York: Would that take away the magic?
Lil Buck:
It depends on how you would teach it. You would have to teach the history of jookin before you taught a move. They have to respect it. Back in the day, people tried to steal it. I can’t name names, but some dance choreographers came to Memphis back in the day when MC Hammer was hot.

Time Out New York: For instance.
Lil Buck:
For instance, right. [Laughs] They came to Memphis and learned jookin. They went to a studio and learned the gangsta walk before it was jookin and started doing it in all the videos and saying that they made it up. That’s why it’s been underground for a long time. After it evolved, that’s when we started getting more comfortable with people seeing it. It’s hard to mimic. The gangsta walk is a little easier to mimic, but when it evolved to jookin, it was really hard to mimic. Especially my style. Right now, I would teach the history at first. In L.A., a lot of people ask me if I teach and I say, “No.” L.A. is a great place for opportunity, but there are people who will learn your style just to make money off of it or learn it to just to go do auditions with it and you’ll never see them again.

Time Out New York: Or maybe worse is that they’ll say that they’re jookin when they aren’t and look like crap.
Lil Buck:
Exactly. Jookin is not 100 percent established like ballet. But that’s the overall goal. That it will be that structured, that solid. [Laughs] So I’m going to be working my ass off until I reach that point.

Lil Buck is at Le Poisson Rouge Apr 2 at 7pm and 10pm.

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