Jon Boogz & Lil Buck: Love Heals All Wounds

NCSU’s Stewart Theatre, Raleigh

Saturday, Feb. 2, 8 p.m., $30–$35

Alumni of their respective hometown street-dance scenes, Memphis’s Lil Buck and Miami’s Jon Boogz saw things they recognized in each other when they met in LA: a certain theatricality, a drive to tell stories, and a technical capacity beyond belief.

Buck, subsequently trained in ballet, was a prodigy of jookin, a fast and fluid street dance welded to the bounce of crunk music. Boogz came from popping, a jumpy flicker of a style born in California. After first bonding in street performances, the pair embarked on separate paths to national renown. (Buck has worked with everyone from Yo-Yo Ma to Madonna on television and fine-arts stages.) They reunited when both worked on Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson show and formed the company Movement Art Is, which produces narrative street-dance content for the web.

They’re currently showing their collaboration with spoken-word poet Robin Sanders, Love Heals All Wounds, at select institutions—including a presentation by NC State LIVE this weekend—before its official premiere at UCLA in May. We reached Buck by phone to learn how dance uniquely can change the world and the childhood encounter that set him on the path to stardom.

INDY: How do you approach showing the serious themes in Love Heals All Wounds to a general audience in entertaining dance?

LIL BUCK: Our process is pretty much, how does it make us feel? A lot of these issues we’ve either had experience with, or people very close to us have. So these topics hit home for me and Boogz and the other cast members. Whatever we’re bringing awareness to, we try to bring that emotion out through movement. We believe dance is a tool to push powerful narratives. We touch on climate change as well as social issues with mass incarceration and police brutality, and there are ways they can all connect seamlessly because they’re all connected. That’s what we’re really diving into right now.  

Why did you and Jon Boogz click, and how did your collaboration come together?

We clicked because we both believe dance is much more powerful than just entertainment. It has the power to ultimately create social change in the world. When you communicate through movement, it reaches the soul. It’s deeper than a conversation. Me and Boogz met in LA years ago—he moved there from Miami, I moved there from Memphis. I knew Boogz was a special popper; he had so much flair to it. It was the same when Boogz saw me dancing and jookin. We’ve been good friends ever since. We used to street perform together, and then I started doing my thing touring, with Madonna, Yo-Yo Ma. I worked with the Michael Jackson: One show in Vegas, and when my contract was up, [Boogz] ended up doing the same show. That’s when we started reconnecting and putting our thoughts together, and, ultimately, we formed the company MAI.

How did your styles influence each other?

The way that poppers and jookers see musicality is almost the same, the way we bounce and vibe to the rhythms. But me and Boogz have always seen eye to eye on performance quality. When we street performed, we had shows that told stories, and that’s what separated us from other street performers. We’d dance to some popping music and get down to some jookin music, then top the show off with Evanescence, a more classical feel. We’ve always had that as part of our performances.

Tell us about Movement Art Is and how it relates to this project.

MAI is a company me and Boogz started about three years ago. We produce short films and shows driven by movement with powerful narratives. Me and Boogz are so inspired by the Gene Kellys and Fred Astaires and Michael Jacksons, the way they combined film with art and dance. We do that through our films such as Am I a Man?, about mass incarceration, and Color of Reality, about police brutality. We want to give a platform to street dancers that don’t have one, because we believe street dance is a fine art, and it tends to be put in this box. So we use MAI to push that and to show that dance can be so much more than entertainment.

Is there a way that dance connects to the soul uniquely, different than visual art or music?

The thing about dance is it’s all in us. Dance is movement, and movement is life. We’re all connected by dance because we’re all connected by movement, all the gestures we make. When we’re dancing, most people who see it will feel something from it. You can change someone’s life right there on the spot. I remember walking into a skating rink and having my life changed, watching this guy with gold teeth in his mouth and big, baggy pants glide across the floor. I was ten years old, and that picture in my head of him moving stuck with me forever, and inspired me to do what I’m doing right now. That’s the power of dance, to connect people on any level at any time. It’s not just for when the camera’s on. That’s the most powerful thing to me, to be able to walk outside and dance on the sidewalk and change a kid’s life that gets a glimpse of it.