Lesson of the Day: ‘Lil Buck Feels the Dancing Spirit All Over Again’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Lil Buck Feels the Dancing Spirit All Over Again’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “Lil Buck Feels the Dancing Spirit All Over Again,” by Gia Kourlas

In this lesson, you will first watch “Nobody Knows,” a short film in which Lil Buck, the “willowy dancer who spins on the toes of his sneakers as if they were point shoes,” explores his struggles as a Black man and his relationship to dance.

Next you’ll read how a Times critic describes the dance and what it expresses, and identify moments in the piece that, for you, exhibit those qualities. Finally, you’ll consider Lil Buck’s argument that street dance is fine art, and investigate jookin or other forms of street dance to make a case for their artistry and rigor — and their ability to bring about change in the world.

Have you ever heard of the dancer Lil Buck, or of Memphis jookin, the style he has helped popularize? Watch the video above, the latest from this artist.

Afterward, react in writing or in discussion with others, answering questions like these:

  • What is your reaction?

  • What moments stood out for you?

  • What do you admire about this film in general? About Lil Buck’s performance in particular?

  • If you had to describe the dance in this piece in one sentence, what would you write?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What childhood moment does “Nobody Knows” echo for this artist?

2. “There is struggle and pain, joy and healing, and ultimately, a transformation. And throughout, the Black Lives Matter movement informs his dancing, too — a root connecting the past to the present,” writes this critic. Where in the dance do you see each of those things?

3. What is the name of this style of dance, and where did it originate? Do you agree with Lil Buck that street dance is fine art and no less rigorous than classical ballet? If you had to defend that statement with just the work in this video, what details or moments would you point to?

4. What was Lil Buck’s childhood like? What happened when he discovered dance?

5. According to this critic, “Buck’s power derives from the ability to get to the bottom of what something feels like for him and then to express it to the world.” Do you agree, based on this work? What other artists — in any medium — do you think do that well?

6. Do you agree with Lil Buck that “dance can really be used as a tool to help bring change about the world”? If so, how? What other dance performances have you seen that you think might have this power?

Option 1: Learn more about Lil Buck and jookin.

You might start with Lil Buck’s YouTube channel or the Netflix series “Move,” referenced in this article. But you can also learn more about the artist via past coverage in The Times, first through this exploration of one of his most famous pieces, shown above, then via a video of his collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma in Beijing in 2011, and, finally, with this 2014 piece in which he tells you what he’s reading, watching, listening to, following, wearing and eating.

Then, learn more about jookin and how it grew up from the streets and clubs of Memphis. How did it begin? How has it evolved? What are the steps and moves that characterize it? Can you learn any of the footwork yourself?

Option 2: Investigate another form of street dance as fine art.

If you agree with Lil Buck that street dance is fine art and no less rigorous than classical ballet, choose another form of street dance to research and use it to make your argument.

Though it’s hard to see dance live right now, you can watch the style you choose online, and try to describe its artistry the way the critic does in the article you just read. What characterizes the style? What is its history, and how did it grow out of a particular place and time? How has it evolved? Who are its best known practitioners? What is rigorous about it? What do you think this style adds to the language and culture of dance in general? Do you think this particular style has been or is a “tool to bring about change”? How?

Finally, if you would like to, you might choose one particular dance, observe it closely and write a review of it for our coming Student Review Contest, which will run from Dec. 8, 2020, to Jan. 26, 2021.

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