Ballet has a reputation for being pretentious, stiff and formal. But the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center (CMDC) is trying to change that with a dance style they call hiplet.
Hiplet is a blend of ballet en pointe with hip-hop, where classically trained ballet dancers infuse traditional dance steps with moves not usually choreographed alongside padashas and arabesques, like body rolls, hip sways — and plenty of attitude.
The term was coined by CMDC founder Homer Hans Bryant, who says African-American dancers sometimes struggle to fit into the ballet community.
"I grew up thinking that I couldn't do ballet because of the color of my skin. At my old studio, because I was African-American, I was often overlooked," says Zipporah Wilson, one of Bryant's students. Famed ballerina Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, has expressed that same sentiment during her rise to fame.
"I think some people get mad when they see us doing hiplet. It's not traditional classical ballet, we're ruining ballet. Well, it's not ballet, it's hiplet. Hiplet is so freeing and so open. It's a different culture here," he says in the Facebook video above.
A new term for a not-so-new concept
Like food cuisines or musical styles, different genres of dance have been blended and mixed for ages. For example, contemporary dance can be a combination of ballet, jazz and/or hip-hop. And jazz can incorporate ballet technique with pirouettes or jetés with the funk of hip-hop. So while the term hiplet is new, we've seen this blend before.
In the 2001 movie "Save the Last Dance," Julia Stiles played a ballerina whose African-American music-composer boyfriend inspires her to inject a little hip-hop into her choreographed routine for an important audition. I'll refrain from venting about casting non-dancers in dancer roles, and just say that the CMDC dancers are much, much better at blending the dance forms:
And check out this tiny dancer named Annika Verplancke, who took the combination of hip-hop and ballet quite literally when she performed this routine at the 2015 Youth America Grand Prix European semi-final in Paris:
Even this 2014 Misty Copeland performance on "The Arsenio Hall Show" isn't pure ballet, even though she's wearing her pointe shoes. When's the last time you saw a proper ballerina perform with bare legs, flowing hair and this much sensuality?
I say anything that breathes new life into old art forms is a good thing. Hiplet, welcome to the dance vernacular.