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Dance Y'All: Blending Country, Hip Hop and Audience Participation

by Marilynn Larkin
June 15, 2013
Comcast Theater
61 Savitt Way
Hartford, CT 06120
(860) 548-7370
US National Tour: See www.danceyall.com for upcoming venues
Dance Y'All is a dance company — but more importantly, it is a concept. The idea, explained CEO James Rink in a backstage interview, "is to provide an opportunity for people to let loose and have fun." Jessi Peralta, dance captain for the crew, echoed that sentiment, adding that Dance Y'All is "more about getting people to dance than about performance. We encourage audience participation every way we can."

I was at the Comcast Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, talking with Rink and Peralta before Dance Y'All's opening act. Billed as "the first-ever dance crew in country music history to open for a major tour," Dance Y'All gets its 13-minutes of fame sandwiched between The Band Perry and Rascal Flatts —and, from what I could tell in this particular performance, which was early on in a year-long tour, they make the most of that opportunity.

Though clearly a work in progress, Dance Y'All rose to the challenge of merging country with hip hop, with rousing numbers such as "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)" and "Devil Went Down to Georgia." These were followed by an energetic "Two Step" featuring Broadway star Laura Bell Bundy, in which three audience members who won a pre-concert competition danced with the crew. With "Wobble," Dance Y'All closed what had to be among the most action-packed short openers ever. I expect audience response and involvement to grow with each performance, especially if the group gets more time onstage.

Why mix country and hip hop? Choreographer Robert Royston explained in a post-performance interview: "The hybrid started with 'college nights,' a phenomenon that takes place in country bars across the United States. College kids enjoy the novelty of country line dancing, but DJs also play hip hop numbers, so people then get to dance to the music they normally listen to," he said. "That led to hip hop artists like Nelly and country artists such as Eric Church starting to fuse the two genres in their songs." Underpinning the trend, Royston observed, is the fact that country dancing is "much more of a social dance than hip hop, which tends to be more performance oriented. The challenge for me as a choreographer is finding a way to keep the 'street' factor that someone would normally find in a hip hop club while still showing some of that 'Bboy' movement that would be in a music video — and, of course, getting country in there, as well. It's about creating that fusion—like swango [swing and tango] — in a way that works."

Dancers face a challenge, as well, Royston acknowledged. "In the dance world, the hybrid doesn't exist so much; I'm actually training the dancers who can do hip hop and cross over to country and vice versa. It's not easy. You can have a great hip hop dancer who doesn't know how to partner, and a great leader in country dance who doesn't look so great on his own."

Personally, I would have preferred an alternation between country and hip hop rather than the fusion, which I found somewhat unsettling, maybe because I love hip hop and don't have the same feeling about country. Regardless, I am certainly behind the Dance Y'All mission. "We're trying to create a movement of people going to clubs who feel empowered to dance, and so we're coming up with numbers that are danceable," Royston stresses. "That's why our show will vary depending on where we go, and what will make people respond most in that environment. And we'll continue to bring the audience along with us and get them up and moving, wherever we are."
Dance Y'All

Dance Y'All

Photo © & courtesy of David Vaughan


Dance Y'All

Dance Y'All

Photo © & courtesy of David Vaughan


Dance Y'All

Dance Y'All

Photo © & courtesy of David Vaughan


Dance Y'All

Dance Y'All

Photo © & courtesy of Michele Fischer


Dance Y'All

Dance Y'All

Photo © & courtesy of Michele Fischer

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