The Dance Enthusiast Asks Lite Feet legend Chrybaby Cozie
About His Upcoming Workshop
Jul 27, 2014 at 3:00 p.m.
Studio 305, 3rd Floor, Barnard Hall
$10 suggested donation, no one will be turned away
On July 27, the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) will host a dance workshop with Chrybaby Cozie, one of the forefathers of Lite Feet, a Harlem-born hip hop dance form. The event is hosted by dancer and BCRW Alumnae Fellow Ali Rosa-Salas. It is part of her project “No Such Thing As Neutral,” which will culminate in a lecture-demonstration and dance battle on November 8.
“No Such Thing As Neutral” is an extension of the research Rosa-Salas did for her undergraduate thesis, which was “a critique of Trajal Harrell's appropriation of voguing in Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem. Rosa-Salas is interested in examining what she calls the false and problematic binary between “formal” dances and “street” or “vernacular” dances.
Chrybaby Cozie teaches at Broadway Dance Center and has appeared in music videos by DJ Webstar, Chris Brown, and others. He will lead a dance class and discussion about Lite Feet, the dance form he helped to build from the ground up. The Dance Enthusiast talked with him about his career, cultural appropriation in dance, and how the internet has changed the game.
Garnet Henderson for The Dance Enthusiast: What is Lite Feet?
Chrybaby Cozie: For someone who does not know what Lite Feet is or has never seen it before, it's basically where hip hop dance is going right now. Back in the day people were doing the Running Man, the Roger Rabbit, dance moves like that. This is a revamped hip hop. It's at a newer level.
TDE: How did you get bitten by the dance bug?
CC: I started dancing very young, at about five years old. Just at birthday parties, winning dance contests. Then it became doing school performances, or talent shows. Talent shows led me to want to explore other options in dance. I started going to parties, and things of that nature, and seeing the party scene which is where the dance emerged from. It's a street dance, but its home was always the party.
TDE: You've taught at Broadway Dance Center and around the world. How did you get started as a teacher?
CC: I got into teaching around 2010. I was being managed by a gentleman by the name of Leslie Feliciano. He was the first person I ever worked with that was a choreographer who made dance work for him as a business. He created his own business teaching and traveling overseas. He showed me what it was to be a full-time dancer. This is his life, his livelihood, he just fills it all with teaching dance.
And the dance that I do is so brand new – the fact that people want to learn it and nobody is giving out the fundamentals of where it comes from, the history, it's imperative that I started teaching. People in Lite Feet, this movement, couldn't start teaching this style without the foundation, or history, because without the fundamentals, it's all wrong. So it's important that I start and get the ball rolling before someone else who came after me, who doesn't have a sense of where it comes from exactly, the roots. I put it out there in the world. My very first time teaching was subbing at Broadway Dance Center for Leslie Feliciano. So that's a very big mark in my life, being able to teach and to have my first time teaching be somewhere so prestigious.
TDE: Besides laying down the fundamentals of Lite Feet, what else draws you to teaching?
CC: The fact that this dance doesn't belong to anyone else. It's a New York staple. So to see the dance go from the street, to the party scene, to a place like Broadway Dance Center, or next, Barnard Hall, these are very big steps for a dance that doesn't have any professional foundation like jazz, ballet, contemporary. I mean, all dances derive from each other in a sense, but Lite Feet is not directly from the bloodline of those dances. Also, the fact that I get to be expressive with this dance. And just seeing people do these moves that I've been doing all these years, people that have no idea where it comes from and I get to explain. It's like going on a journey with the dance. It's like a child of mine. I've grown with it, it's grown, and for it to be in these places is remarkable.
TDE: Your workshop at Barnard is leading up to the “No Such Thing As Neutral” symposium. One of the key issues that symposium will address is the problematic binary between "formal" dance and "street" dance. Have you personally felt that separation?
CC: To be honest with you, it is at places like Broadway Dance Center and Peridance, where they do these dances that are staples. Dances that are on Broadway, things that you see on television. There's a hierarchy that's just appreciated. So when they see something new it's like, well that's cool, but it's not what's going to get you gigs. I mean, I feel all dances are worthy to get anywhere. It's just how you promote them. So for street dances to be on that avenue, not to be looked at as full in that way, it just means that the dance has to take its course and eventually they will see it for what it is. Get some recognition. In due time.
TDE: How do you think the mainstream dance world could become more inclusive?
CC: It's really about who makes the connections. Like making this connection with Ali is bridging a gap, because there are people from her world who have no clue what Lite Feet is. She's giving them a full on eye-to-eye, face-to-face with it. That's what you need in the dance world now. So I think that things will change as people build more relationships. Merging styles, trying to see how can we as New York City can build each other up, help each other out. Or just see what's new.
Lite Feet has been out since 2005, but I'm glad that someone like Ali didn't come across it in 2005 because she probably would have just seen it as a very lighthearted trend. But as the years went along it became something that has technique and foundation, and style. And music has changed over the years as well. So for her to come in contact with it now feels preordained, like she was supposed to find it. Now is the time that the dance should be seen because there's so much vocabulary that needs to be expressed. And that's what makes a dance, when it holds up its own pillars it's because of the vocabulary. Being able to speak about it. The bridges are made and people are going to walk across. It's going to be something amazing.
TDE: Over the past few years there have been a number of high profile conversations about the cultural appropriation of some dances in pop culture. For example, the "Harlem Shake" viral video craze, which had nothing to do with the original Harlem Shake dance. Or Miley Cyrus and what she presents as twerking. What is your reaction to these controversies?
CC: People are going to put out whatever they think is the brightest, cheesiest thing, which is unfortunately what consumers want. Whatever the corporations are saying is hot, the consumers are going to be on it. And whatever the consumers are saying is hot, the companies are going to be on it. So its a cycle where no one's really looking for anything authentic. So to see the Harlem Shake go off like a volcano, and it wasn't the real Harlem Shake, being from Harlem and doing this dance, it upset me. It just goes to show that they're not looking for good talent, or anything that's really of great quality. It's just whatever is popular. And it's like a slap in the face all the time. I just hope that eventually there will be one corporation out there that's really looking for the real deal.
I blame the share button. When people share something that's terrible, but then another ten people share it, it spreads like wildfire. Especially if it has a certain connotation... If it's controversial. Seeing a bunch of people freak out in a video, just going crazy, doesn't really hold any depth. People just play the video just to see what in the world is going on. So people who are from Harlem and knew what the Harlem Shake was were upset. It was outrageous to make a mockery of something we all used to love to do. And then all those videos had a million or something views, but now that it's all gone, it's time wasted. I just wish it could have been about the actual dance, because if it was, it would still be going.
TDE: Speaking of the internet and social media, how have those technologies changed your career?
CC: If this is how things were when I first got started, I think I would be in a very different place. Because the generation that's coming up now, in this era of behind the computer, behind the mobile device, they're fully maximizing all those opportunities. They spend so much time on these social networks that they understand how it all works down to a tee. Don't get me wrong, I'm on every one, but it's not the same. I have the foundation of a dance style, relationships all over the world, but I don't have 11,000 fans. One kid who has one dance video doing one trick that went viral, he'll have 11,000 views from just one video. I've done music videos with Chris Brown, Jim Jones, DJ Webstar, and the list goes on. I'm not mad about it, it's just all about timing. It's also about relevance and longevity, because that person with 11,000 views, they can be done in one night if people only know that one video. Whereas I have a resume of great things I've done that hopefully aren't going anywhere. I’m not a fly-by-night. And that's what I mean with the social networking is that you can really be a fly-by-night. But still, it kind of puts a damper on people who are putting in all this time to see the one dude that has one cool trick get a hit. And if a celebrity shares your video, that's all it really takes. People are going to want to find you and find more. Especially if you're on a social network like Vine, oh man.