Tag Archives: music

“This Is America” Review: The G.O.A.T of Dance Art?

Donald Glover’s (aka Childish Gambino) “This is America” is one of the most genius works of contemporary art in the history of music videos. The piece’s balance between ambiguity, clarity and entertainment throughout its historic commentary on blackness in the United States is unrivaled.

tia3I have been seeing multiple responses to the video about how the dance is used to distract the audience from the “real issues” being portrayed. Claims have been as drastic as calling for an ignoring of the dance component altogether. Frankly, I have been perturbed by this separation of dance from serious issues. It shows the magnitude of disregard our society has towards the body’s capability to reflect and respond to these very issues that we face as a nation.

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David Pilgram: Owner of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University, MI

Even within the African-American community where dance is such a vibrant part of the culture, we have leaders minimizing dance by segregating it from issues in our society. An article from the Huffington Post [1] was recently published about David Pilgram, the owner of the Jim Crow museum, belittling dance through his interpretation of the “This Is America” music video, “You see children dying, parishioners dying, then we pause and go back to dancing,” as though dance is a lesser choice than any other response to the witnessing of death. Pilgram goes on to say, “…it seems to me that, from the minstrel period to the present, both the people being hurt and the people doing the hurting have often ignored the hurt by dancing.” The fact that we have an African-American historian dismissing the crucial intersectionality of hurt and dance is an exemplar of our society’s general lack of understanding when it comes to the body’s socio-political value.

There has been opposition to these commentaries from choreographers Sherrie Silver (This Is America) and Camille A. Brown (Jesus Christ Superstar). Silver, in a Pigeons and Planes [2] interview, has labeled the dance-as-distraction notion as “interesting,” suggesting that the dance was rather more of a contrast. Brown, in an interview with DANCE Magazine [3], has followed up by claiming, “If you ignore the movement, then you ignore the commentary in its entirety.” Both have spoken to the complexity of the viral dance phrases by offering an alternate suggestion that the movement was to foreground black joy in the midst of turmoil (I will provide my own suggestion in my next post, stay tuned).

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Choreographer: Sherrie Silver (middle)

I respect both of these ladies for showing opposition to the dance-is-distraction theory. I desire to add on to their analysis by using Gambino’s work to serve as a moment of education for all you people who don’t see dance beyond the 5-6-7-8 and Gwara Gwara. As an African-American-Latino male dance professional and hip-hop scholar, I continuously study the significance of dance within the black and brown communities of the United States. As such, I feel a yearning to discuss how “This is America” is a dance piece, maybe the greatest mainstream dance pieces of all time.

The discussion must begin with the question, what is dance? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, dance is to move one’s body rhythmically, usually to music. However, as a dance professional— choreographer, videographer, scholar, performer, teacher— I feel that the definition misses key elements. I took the liberty of restructuring it a bit- dance is the art of using one’s body to express oneself, many times in conversation with music. I believe Merriam-Webster’s definition is what we often see within a typical music video; however, my definition is what creates a dance piece— a work of art that foregrounds the moving body as the primary source of content to make claims about our world.

tia4“This Is America” is human beings expressing themselves through their bodies in relation to music in order to frame the condition of blackness in America. Sometimes that looks like the viral dance move that we so often associate with the word “dance”. However, I encourage us to broaden our view and recognize, too, the dancing of the person who jumps off the balcony, the church choir, and the rioting individuals scattered throughout the piece. Gambino uses these people to kinesthetically and rhythmically emote with each other, the music, the concrete warehouse, the video camera, and more. tia7Ultimately, this creates a cohesive portrayal of Gambino’s messages through an intersectionality of art forms with dance as the center. It is worth noting that the video fails to exist without the use of expressive moving bodies. The dance aids in the reenactment of American history while simultaneously commenting on that history, all without saying a word (watch the video in silence and the video loses very little cultural relevance). Therefore, even if dance-as-distraction is a part of the video’s narrative, it is simply a piece to a greater puzzle.

In the next post, I want to use the viral dance scenes that the dance-as-distraction theory is based upon to showcase how much deeper the dance goes beyond the fifteen 8-counts shared between Childish and the children. Thanks for reading!

Referenced Articles
1. Huffington Post Article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-glover-this-is-america-jim-crow-history_us_5af31588e4b00a3224efcc40?utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=hp_fb_pages&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000047&utm_source=bv_fb


2. Pigeons and Planes Interview: https://pigeonsandplanes.com/in-depth/2018/05/childish-gambino-this-is-america-dance-choreographer-sherrie-silver-interview

3. DANCE Magazine Interview: https://www.dancemagazine.com/this-is-america-dance-2567663747.amp.html?__twitter_impression=true

Hiphop Lesson #1: Empower Yourself while Encouraging Your Community

Ain’t a way around it no more, I am the greatest
A lotta niggas sat on the throne, I am the latest
I am the bravest, go toe to toe with the giants

I ain’t afraid of you niggas, I’ll end up fading you niggas

We all kings
Kings of ourselves first and foremost
While the people debate who’s the king of this rap game
Here comes lil’ ol’ Jermaine
With every ounce of strength in his veins
To snatch the crown from whoever y’all think has it
But rather than place it on his head as soon as he grabs it
Poof, boom, paow, it’s like magic
With a flash and a BANG the crown disintegrates
And falls to the Earth from which it came
It’s done

Ain’t gonna be no more kings” J. Cole Fire Squad, Forest Hills Drive

Maaaaan, I’m fascinated by Hiphop! Over this past week I shared a lecture from Youtube by KRS-One called “40 Years of Hiphop” with my dance classes at The Ohio State University (Buckeyes National Champs say what!?) in order to get them exploring the question of “What is Hiphop?”

In pondering the question myself, I have gained insight to a powerful characteristic of the culture. Hiphop culture contains a paradox that emphasizes self-empowerment and peer-encouragement simultaneously through the form of art and competition. In other words, Hiphop allows the opportunity for an individual to be confident enough to claim that they are the best while also being selfless enough to claim that their peers are the best as well.

This brings up the question of, what is it to be the best? I would say that to be THE best means to be YOUR best. Hiphop culture in the form of bboying, emceeing, djayin, and graffiti writing offers an artistic format in which individuals are encouraged to show their best selves. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I am dancing within a battle, I am going out with the mindset that I am the best dancer out there! Nobody can touch me- I am better than you, you, you, and you! Before you claim me as being pretentious, let me remind you that I desire for my competition to show me their dance with the same mentality!

Why you may ask? Because ultimately, I am Hiphop, and Hiphop is me. But Hiphop is not just me, it is also anyone else who claims that they’re Hiphop. So, therefore, by both of us expressing our best selves through dance, Hiphop is at its best. If both my competition and I consider each other as whack, we ultimately devalue ourselves, and therefore, Hiphop. However, if both my competition and I find empowerment in being our best self, while encouraging the other to be their best self, we both leave as individuals with more value than when we came into the space.

When you look at the quote above, you see this same paradox in the rap element. J. Cole released his album a few months ago and with that release, claims that he is the greatest emcee alive! If you’re agreeing or disagreeing with that statement, you’re missing the point. Now I have to admit, I cannot claim that J. Cole is doing anything more than simply laying out some hot, yet narcissistic lyrics; however, for the sake of this post, lets say he is being intentional. Now J. Cole, being Hiphop and having a Hiphop mindset, is the greatest because he said so! As a fellow Hiphop artist, I say that he is right. Not necessarily because I believe J. Cole’s talent beats all others, but because I believe he, through his album, is contributing his best self to the Hiphop collective.

Hiphop is not the only culture that shares this mindset. As a Christian, I know that Christianity also contributes to this idea of being your best while encouraging others’ to be theirs in order to fulfill the body of Christ. The thing that fascinates me about this concept in regards to Hiphop is people’s perception of the culture. I am generalizing when I say this, but I do not believe many people think that Hiphop culture touches upon anything deeper than money, women, materialistic pleasures, drugs, guns, and partying (Thanks mainstream media!!!). Yet, Hiphop’s foundation also lies in the concept of power to the individual and responsibility to one’s community, amongst many other things. So what is Hiphop? Hopefully, you’ve gathered that it is deeper and more complex than you ever imagined!