Whenever Lil Buck and Jon Boogz take to the stage, in their tennis-shoed pirouettes and glissades, we understand that social life — and death — are proper subjects to be interrogated and examined through the creative process. In the landscape of their bodies, they celebrate a rootedness in the African diaspora that is both timeless and timely. They exist in the present moment but have no qualms about paying homage to those who have gone before. In their own era, such unique talents as Buck’n’Bubbles, Vaslav Nijinsky, Jeni LeGon, Fred Astaire, Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker and others inspired radical change in notions of what movement could be, what it should do, and what it might mean.

As we experience Lil Buck and Jon Boogz, we are inspired to take note of linkages — from balletic jookin’ to moonwalking, from capoeira-inspired postures to street-dance poses — that give us a glimpse into a psychic “No Man’s Land” where pain — and pleasure — are partners, accidentally thrown together and shaping emotions that lurk just below the next pop-and-lock. Whether sitting in front of a television blaring stories of “Stand your ground” and “I can’t breathe,” or walking through menacing city streets, they pause the everyday and give us an opportunity to contemplate what we often ignore.

Their kaleidoscopic world illuminates a planet where every choice is a political one, from climate pollutants to the poisonous racial, gender and class divides that infect modern American discourse. We begin to empathize with that “other” who does not hear, see, feel, touch or share our taste(s). And by sampling their visionary “artivism,” Lil Buck and Jon Boogz remind us that, for human beings existing in the 21st century, standing by and watching is not enough. We will all have to put our bodies in the struggle.

Michael Dinwiddie, an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, NYU, is a playwright and composer. As 2018 marks the sesquicentennial of Scott Joplin’s birth, Michael is commemorating this musical genius by playing “The Maple Leaf Rag” on any piano within reach. 

Suggested Readings

Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez, eds., Black Performance Theory (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2014).

Brenda Dixon Gottschild, The Black Dancing Body (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).

Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2016).

Nikhil Pal Singh, Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004).

Harvey Young, Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory, and the Black Body (Theater: Theory/Text/Performance) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010).