The Latest Out Of Chicago: Hiplet Ballerinas

A group of male and female Hiplet Ballerinas
Hiplet Ballerinas at APAP 2020 NYC. Top row, center: Nia Parker; middle row, l. to r.: Alexandria Franklin, Chantal’ Ashanté Hill, Allison Harsh, Tay’Hiana Welch, Elexis Gibson, Cameryn Stevens; bottom, l. to r.: James Williams (“JStatic PlanetX”), Roberto Whitaker (“Aero Da Avatar”). Other company members: Camryn Taylor, Trevon Lawrence, Alexis King, Jayda Perry, Taylor Edwards, Yetunde Washington Photo by M. Hadley

Viral sensations are often a flash in the pan; here today, gone tomorrow. What gives it longevity? Homer Bryant and his Hiplet™ Ballerinas are looking for the answers.

In 2016, clips of a group of teenagers doing Hiplet™ on morning TV, chat shows and online news feeds, received over eight million views. They also faced backlash from some viewers about poor technique, the “ghettoization” of ballet and amateurish performances. These were harsh words for a group of young teenage students with no professional experience.

Hiplet™ was born from the rap ballet classes that Homer Bryant held in the 1990’s at his dance school, that became known as the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center (CMDC). He rapped out ballet instructions, making it fun and relevant for youngsters who had little connection to the old European dance style. As time went on, it evolved into Hiplet™, a term Bryant coined. A combination of Hip Hop, Urban, Latin, Jazz dance styles with ballet which came to be another way of having fun on a Friday afternoon and keeping youngsters off the street. They dance to everything from Bach to Beyoncé.

Homer Hans Bryant was a principal dancer with Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre Harlem in the late 60’s and 70’s and has a reputation as an excellent teacher, strong on technique and discipline. His catch phrase is “The Fun is in the Discipline, The Discipline is in the Fun.”

The demand for Hiplet™ has continued to grow. They have starred in advertisements for major brands, performed at Paris and New York fashion weeks, showcased in TEDx talks, trotted the globe and joined in on cultural celebrations. The credit card company VISA used them to demonstrate the “New Normal” and Homer Bryant has been labeled a “Ballet Disruptor;” a term he relishes. Nia Parker, the sole remaining dancer from the original group that became a viral sensation explains that in Hiplet™ “you embody…a more empowered feminist perspective” than the more ethereal classical ballet.

2 Hiplet ballerinas on point.  One in red and the other in blue

It was inevitable that Bryant would create a professional company. The Hiplet™ Ballerinas as a professional organization has only been in existence since September 2019. They are in the midst of their first tour. They have added male and female dancers who do not dance on pointe to the group to make them more inclusive and accessible to dancers and audience alike. Cheryl Taylor their manger says, “Pointe work is difficult and takes years of training but the Hiplet™ experience is for everyone.”

At a recent APAP conference in New York, the Hiplet™ dancers performed several short showings to give a flavor of their repertoire to industry insiders. They were sharp and focused, in turn sassy and elegant, technically skilled, engaged as a group, and connected to the audience. They were professional and they looked like they were having fun.

Most of the sixteen dancers in the company have had some previous professional dance experiences, however for many this is their first experience touring as a professional company. Although some have been dancing Hiplet™ for many years, several for as long as 12 years, others are relatively new to the genre.

Overall, they are a young group in a very young company. The oldest are only 26 years of age. Yet they all show a maturity in performance, teamwork and demeanor far beyond their years. In between sets, the group were chatty and friendly, happy to talk about the company, Homer Bryant, their own personal lives, exercise and make-up tips, audience engagement and the importance of giving back. They were comfortable commenting on the negative feedback: “yes there are risks but no more than any other form of dance or sports,” “the audience doesn’t see the hours of practice that we put in”, “we did years of classical ballet before we started Hiplet™.” They talked of being a team, practicing and performing as a unit “one for all and all for one,” helping each other ‘clean-up’ their technique and style, of “being punctual” so that they don’t miss anything and make it difficult on their fellow team members. Their positivity, enthusiasm and joy in performing and being a part of the company is truly refreshing.

Hiplet™ has weathered the initial storm of criticism and grown to be a thriving professional company – they have 17 engagements during
February 2020’s Black History Month alone. Whether they will blossom into a fully-fledged dance form with longevity will depend on the ability of Bryant, his dancers and choreographers to develop enough of a unique Hiplet™ vocabulary like the “Duck-Walk” and “Vivian” to create dances that will continue to engage a wider audience.

The dancers of the Hiplet™ Ballerina company are ready and determined to take it to the next level.

4 Hiplet Ballerinas in black leotards, tights and brown, white and black feather headresses

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