Zoom, November 2020
Emma Houston is a creative dance artist, choreographer and activist based in London. Otherwise known as Shortbread, Emma is involved in many facets of the dance industry, from Hip Hop to Contemporary, and is well known in the breaking battle scene, most recently reaching Red Bull UK Cypher semi-finals in 2019. Emma’s latest performing accolades are in Boy Blue’s production ‘REDD’ and ZooNation’s West End production ‘Message in a Bottle’. Emma founded Houston Dance Collective in 2017 and is passionate about social justice in their work and dance as a tool for positive change. They have extensive teaching experience working with children/young people and adults in professional and community outreach settings.
IA: Could you introduce yourself and describe what it is that you do?
EH: I’ll give it a go. My name is Emma Houston and I am a dancer…I guess I would say movement specialist, creative, a maker…and the way that question sounds is what do you do…I guess that’s maybe what makes it more of a difficult question to answer. It’s like…[laughs] yeah…I’m an artist.
IA: The idea of kinship and crews and families that you choose are important in Hip Hop and breaking. Could you talk about some of the experiences, kinships and families that you’ve found?
EH: Oh yeah, absolutely. They’ve changed over time because of where I’ve been located, and many other reasons as well…I was writing some stuff down earlier about how many people and groups have influenced me and shaped my journey. I guess when I first started finding a breaking class, which was in Glasgow, there was a group of Turkish B-Boys that started teaching me, as well as a martial artist…he was Glaswegian. They were my first…in terms of like a crew, they were my first group of people that were teaching me. Before that, I was taught by Martin Robinson who is a London-based dancer, as well as contemporary, a breaker, popper, he was around right at the time when it was all happening in the UK…he was my first dance teacher basically. But then if I think about community, I got more of a sense of community from the Glasgow class that I was going to, cause I could see them all vibeing together, you know? And encouraging me with what I was able to do. [pause] I don’t know if they had a crew name but, they were the first group that I saw, and then when I moved to Dundee, I trained with Prostyles Crew, who were a few people in Dundee that were from all over the place. They had just come together to form a small crew. That was great as well. And then there’s been so many different…then it was Flyin’ Jalapenos in Glasgow, coming to London it was Boadicea, Heartbreakerz Cru and then it was all of the breaking crews that I was around and all of the individuals who were around places like Trocadero and the London Bridge sessions and Royal Festival Hall. There was crews that were based there all the time or in certain locations like in East London at Maryland studios, like Rain Crew and Boy Blue Entertainment, and then we would rehearse there as well as Boadicea…so many groups and people were around too…that was a bit of the reason why I moved to London, because it had a huge community of people and dancers with all different styles. Being in places like Trocadero you would be…I knew very little about krump, for example, apart from watching Rize, and so I was able to witness different styles happening that I was right next to, and then there was krumpers and people doing house, passing through all of those places…crews like BirdGang and Far From The Norm that I trained and rehearsed with for a while and Renegade and all of his sessions a bunch of us went to. I see myself as like…almost like I’ve floated…so many different groups and people have influenced me from those crews and companies. I think it’s nothing without that. None of my journey would have been possible without those groups. Nothing happens in isolation, right? All of those things are integral to what I was doing and why I was doing it. Especially, and I’m sure we’ll get onto it but this time of physical isolation, I can really see how much of my drive and motivation and joy comes from community and connecting and being in space with people and sharing Hip Hop culture, dance and breaking.
IA: Can you talk a little bit about your choreographic and breaking lineage? In terms of lineage, think family trees and peers or who you’re sharing with.
EH: Can you clarify what you mean a little bit more?
IA: Yeah. You’ve spoken about some of the people you’ve learnt from. The idea of the family tree - in your breaking and choreographic world - who are your parents or aunties or cousins? I’m interested in people talking about their lineages, those who you’ve learnt absolute gold or juice from.
EH: OK. That helps, thank you. Again, there’s been so many people. I remember some really significant learning for me happened with Ken Swift when I did six days with him in Edinburgh…I think it was maybe 2010…2009, 2010? [pause] In terms of gold, I’m learning from one of the greatest in terms of breaking and especially linked to the style of breaking that I really like and I found myself connecting to the style…footwork, top rock, that explosive…especially the build, being short and stocky, I guess you couldn’t really call me that stocky but…[laughs] it was invaluable to learn from him. He was so generous with his teaching as well and he let me take three extra days of the course and took me under his wing…he gave me that really rounded experience that I think I was yearning for, as someone like super far-removed from the culture of Hip Hop. I was pushed to attend by Flyin’ Jalapenos, and they really gave me a lot of insight into the history of breaking and helped me get involved with the scene in Scotland. That was big in terms of my breaking career, a kind of slotting into place of my understanding, cause again, it was like I’m not learning moves, I was learning why and how those moves were created. I mean there’s countless…learning from people of that generation is where you really grasp a deeper understanding of what you’re doing and why. Initially I went into it because of lots of other reasons, and then the more I learned, the more it solidified my connection, my understanding and the meaning behind what I was doing and actually how much bigger that was…in everything, in the wider sense of why I was doing it.
IA: What about your non-Hip Hop, your contemporary training, who was your equivalent in that world?
EH: Ooh, that is a good question. [long pause, then laughs] I trained at the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance for a couple of years and then I went on to train at Laban and I think I was the kinda person that would extract the gold from whomever, I think that goes across the board, you know…just having such a keenness and a hunger to learn anything and everything that was to do with movement and dance. Hip Hop was my love but the contemporary side of things was more for me to broaden my mind in other ways, it wasn’t the focus necessarily of my passion, it was something I was like ‘Oh, how can I use the tools that I can get from this training, in a formalised dance setting?’ It’s so interesting as well, the more we look at what’s considered…reputable ways of training. I was under that influence as well of, ‘Oh, if I’m gonna be a dancer, I have to go to one of these places.’ And actually where so much of my learning came from, is not being in those places. [laughs] It’s hard to equate one to the other. I gained a lot of knowledge about my body and structurally taking it back to very basic ways of moving. Again, choreography, making theatre, for me as someone who loves theatre and simultaneously was introduced to dance…first through street dance movies like You Got Served to then seeing breakers in a club which I snuck into…and to then see Bounce Dance Company perform in my home town, to seeing them all cyphering in the foyer afterwards to A Tribe Called Quest. I was blown away by that – probably more so than seeing the show, you know, for me it’s always been connected. The theatre element and the cypher element…in my head I was like ‘I just wanna do it all. Right? I just wanna do it all…sign me up everywhere, I’ll do it…’ It came from that almost naivety of wanting to just move. So in that case, I don’t think there was one teacher at either place where I would be like ‘You were my mentor or this was the person I would go to to assimilate all my knowledge,’ it was like ‘How can I be influenced by every single teacher and extract the gold from what each person has to offer?’ I don’t know if that answers your question but… [laughs]
IA: In terms of your networks and people in your orbit, who are the three people that nourish and support you?
IA: It can only be three.
EH: One person, and again it’s not even to do with how much physical time we’ve spent speaking. It’s not even to do with that but it’s someone that has definitely been a consistent supporter and nourisher. Kenrick Sandy. Hands down, I don’t think he even realises how much, because again it’s not necessarily…he’s a busy guy, do you know what I mean? I’m not there like ‘Kenrick!’ [laughs and gestures to phone] But…everything about how he does what he does has so much integrity behind it and I have so much respect for him. That’s been a real example to me of excellence. [long pause] I’m thinking about the people close to me who are supporters of me on a daily basis, whether I’m dancing or not, you know? [pause] The people that I live with…I know you said three, but I’m… [laughs] I’m gonna disobey you! My flatmates, my partner, my friends…I can’t really identify one or two specific dance heads right now because I feel quite removed at the moment from the dance scene. I’ll be honest. It’s hard to do this interview at this point in time, because of that and because I feel, personally, zoomed out of things. That’s not to say that won’t change.
IA: Is that an active choice on your behalf, stepping away? Or is that pandemic 2020?
EH: Oh it’s definitely because of the world of pandemic 2020. That would definitely not be my choice. [laughs] It’s circumstantial, purely circumstantial. I don’t think there’s much access to these public spaces right now, but even if there was I think because of the situation I’m less inclined to be present at the moment in those spaces…obvious reasons. I think that’s a bit of a dilemma isn’t it? To know what the balance is because at the same time so much of what I do is…you know…breaking on your own is not the same as breaking with people? We’re still finding…obviously I’ve trained on my own lots before, but that’s never been the only option. So much inspiration and joy comes from sharing that, so I think I’m just feeling that and separation and loneliness. Obviously I’m associated with a lot of companies and groups but I’m also doing my own thing a lot of the time which is a choice of how I invest my time…but at times like this, that can feel very isolating, especially when the way that I would relate is to have public sessions where they’re open and everyone’s mixing…do you know what I mean? That kind of space is not available and I feel further removed from the scene than otherwise I would usually.
IA: Can you talk about the first Hip Hop theatre work you saw?
EH: I reckon the first Hip Hop theatre work I saw was Bounce. ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Bounce Dance Company, a Swedish company. I don’t remember all of it [laughs] but I remember key moments, how they used the set and there was a guy dancing on crutches at one point, which was really cool, and then there was a diagonally raised part of the set where they were running up on bungee ropes and all sorts…it was just sick, it was a really, really great show and I was so glad that it came to Stirling! [laughs] The Macrobert Arts Centre is where it was. I actually can’t remember what age I was…maybe I was sixteen. Something like that. I just remember being obsessed with all of the dancers in the programme, I looked them all up, and was in touch with them all. I still remember a couple of their full names, you know, it was proper like, ‘Oh my god! You’re my hero!’
IA: You were stanning them.
EH: Oh yeah. I was like ‘This is the company I’m gonna be in one day, that’s it, that’s what I wanna do.’ Interestingly enough, it was my friend’s sixteenth birthday, so I must have been fifteen, at this bar round the corner from the theatre…the bar was attached to a club, but we were in the section that was not the club part, but we heard this loud music coming from the club part and we just snuck in and opened the door and the company were rehearsing. There was a guy doing windmills…in my mind it was on a raised bit of floor, but I don’t think it was, I think I was just like ‘Ahhh!’ [laughs] Raised it up in my mind. I don’t know, I was waiting for something like that to come along in my life, to actually be like ‘Oh my gosh, this exists…this exists and I can be a part of it.’ Like I was saying about theatre, that was so connected, seeing what was happening outside of the theatre realm was as exciting, if not more exciting, than what I was seeing onstage. The idea of them all cyphering…I think it was them that was all cyphering afterwards in the foyer…just doing it because they wanted to…it wasn’t that it was a part of the show, it wasn’t to entertain us, it was actually for the love of it. I was just blown away by that.
IA: From Bounce to Boy Blue and ZooNation. Two of the biggest names in Hip Hop theatre in the UK and you’ve had a central role in both of their most recent works. Can you talk about that?
EH: [laughs] I had actually seen Boy Blue do ‘Pied Piper’ in Edinburgh…again this was before I moved down to London in 2011, and similarly when I had just moved down to London, one of my mates who is in Boadicea, Natasha Gooden, she was one of the lead roles in ZooNation’s ‘Into the Hoods’ and [pause] ‘Some Like It Hip Hop.’ I had seen…watching Boy Blue in Edinburgh was just like…mad. I still remember Ken on stage. It was like ‘Woooo!’ I’m just thinking in my head…I’m sure I’m getting all of the times wrong…I feel like at that point in time I could just…I might just be getting the names wrong, but seeing Boy Blue and then seeing them rehearsing after just moving to London was quite a…I think there was a couple of years difference after seeing the show and then coming down, but Boy Blue was heavy on my radar. I had seen them perform on…it wasn’t a Top Of The Pops but it’s something where they were dancing for an artist and were doing a bespoke performance in a TV show and I was like ‘Oh, it’s Boy Blue again.’ Being in Boadicea and us rehearsing next door to them…some of the members were also in Boy Blue as well. It was a company that I’d always been like ‘Ah, it would be a dream, you know, to perform with them.’ The same with ZooNation. After seeing ‘Some Like It Hip Hop’ and the way that Kate had worked all of that into a storyline I was like, ‘This is all so dope… one day, you know?’ I think I let go of that for a long time, because my focus was on training, and my focus was on breaking and when I say training I just meant my training at Laban which I had to prioritize, I couldn’t just sack off that and be like ‘I’m just gonna do everything else!’ Although at the time I found that difficult to manage, you know, how to divide my time whilst still wanting to like commit to the course. Coming back around to the auditions for ‘REDD’ for Boy Blue, I just knew I needed to do it…it all lined up, dates all lined up and I had heard about the audition…I feel like I’m the last to find out about auditions, I remember ‘Blak Whyte Gray’, I wanted to audition for it and then the timing wasn’t right and there was other stuff going on and I was just like ‘OK, next time! Next time there’s an opportunity, I have to be there, I have to give it everything I’ve got.’ And with ZooNation, and ‘Message in a Bottle’, Gavin from Soul Mavs and Tasha Gooden, had both recommended me to Kate because she was looking for…it was a contemporary and breaking opportunity, I think she was keen to look for dancers that she might be able to include in her R&D and she asked me to join the R&D stage, which was the year prior to us doing the job itself…I was recommended for that and given the opportunity to work in that environment for a couple of weeks, which then meant I was offered that contract. With ‘REDD’ it was…three stages of auditions…I don’t think I’ve ever pushed myself further physically. On the recall audition, that day was a madness, an absolute madness. But it was the best feeling because…I knew that it had…it was just lining up, and I guess to know when you’re right for something and when you’re not right for something is also really important, I truly felt very connected to it, so in many ways it really felt right…that it would happen. And it did…it’s kinda crazy to think about it now that it’s happened…both things happened.
IA: Could you talk a little bit about the inside, the building process, the mechanics of making and your roles?
EH: In ZooNation’s ‘Message in a Bottle’ I had three roles in the show itself. One was an emergency cover, which I hadn’t gone on for, who knows what will happen if it comes back, hopefully it comes back. I had three roles to focus on…it was my first time working for ZooNation and adjusting to the movement style, the ways of working and alternate systems was all really new for me, so I just felt constantly switched on, and switched on in a way that was very different…I think I was more used to being physically switched on, that job required a lot of compartmentalisation…as someone who likes to get things and perfect them, I had to really like let go of that initially, I had to try and get a framework of what was happening, to then be able to zoom in and perfect it. I find that really tricky to tune in and switch up my way of learning…I need to let go of my way of needing to have…what’s the word? Just have a hold on everything at that time, I needed to let a lot of stuff go, then revisit it…especially with multiple roles. I learned a heap doing that. I think it definitely helped my pick up rates…it definitely helped my brain even through at the time I felt like I needed just a brain massage! [laughs] I was also Dance Captain and that was a role I was asked to do quite last minute, so I didn’t have the mental prep of what that actually meant to be Dance Captain. Again, I’m really grateful for that experience and opportunity, to feel like I was being thrown in the deep end, that opportunity to be trusted with that…again, I learned so much on the job and realised again how much it requires for me to be zoomed out and witnessing what’s happening, whilst being zoomed in at the same time. It was trying to figure out how best to do that and work in a team, and figure out what is my place in that jigsaw of facilitating everyone else and managing and liaising with Kate and the rehearsal director Lukas and Robia and working with Michael who’s the other Dance Captain…you know, it was really cool, to be almost removed and also be in it, to find a way to navigate all of that…ultimately with everyone having a shared goal of making the show as best as it can be, and making sure everyone’s cool individually…yeah, that was a mad experience. To go from something as intense as that whole process, and it is intense, you’re working six days a week, there every day…there’s a lot of prep and your brain doesn’t…or at least my brain doesn’t switch off that whole time. Which also made it such a significant shift when COVID came in…suddenly it was all done. Which again, I think I’m still processing, even though it’s November, I think I’m still processing that like ‘Wait, what just happened?’ kind of thing. That happened a couple of months after ‘REDD’ finished, so again I think I was still very much…I hadn’t fully processed ‘REDD’ either, and how that had all went down…with ‘REDD’ I was one of the performers and Ken had broken down the piece into sections and we were looking at grief and stages of grief…and I was sharing a section with Ken that was around acceptance…again I felt very honoured to be a part of that and a part of that stage. I always felt a real deep connection to the purpose of the work and…I definitely had an emotional response at being…when I read the storyboard…well not the storyboard, one of the briefs and that was a section I was gonna be doing, I was really moved by that…knowing the subject matter and…I think everything was navigated sensitively in the space with our check-ins and check-outs and what we would work on as group pieces and how we got into it…again that process was five weeks. Was it five or six weeks? To make a whole piece in that length of time [laughs] and Ken’s on stage the whole time and is also choreographing it…I mean, yeah, I was like ‘Wow.’ It was an eye-opening experience. To watch choreographers like Ken and Kate make and be witness to that as a maker myself, and then also be in the pieces and how to navigate them…I keep saying ‘navigate.’ Sorry, my thoughts are kind of all over the place…it was really fulfilling as a performer to get to be in those works and explore how different they were in all senses - in terms of the process, in terms of the performance, in terms of the creation.
IA: From that into ‘The Purple Jigsaw’, and Houston Dance Collective. That’s you as a maker, as an author, wanting to say things in the world. Can you talk about the genesis of that and where it is at the moment?
EH: Yeah, absolutely. The birth of ‘The Purple Jigsaw’ started in the UK. I was seeing the world through a very specific lens at that point in time…specifically related to gender binaries and how I was witnessing that both in the Hip Hop scenes I was moving in, but also of course in the wider world and feeling the limitations of what that presented…that was something that I wanted to express. I think that was a seedling of something that for a while and I wasn’t really sure what to do with it…I went to New York on the Lisa Ullmann Scholarship to go to the birthplace of Hip Hop and be in amongst it…to go there and to get involved in the scene rather than be on the outskirts, I really wanna be invested in everything, meeting everyone there and battling, exchanging and learning…I went over and had seen an event called ‘Dance KommUNITY’ that was on a Monday night and after that there was a vogue night that was happening, and I witnessed the whole room shift, from a certain kind of music to another kind of music and watching all the voguers. I was like ‘Wow, they’re incredible.’ They were expressing gender in all sorts of different ways, in the breaking scene we’re seeing predominantly one way of expressing gender, and not only that but also there still being expectations of gender roles expressed. I could go into that more but…really though, I was drawn to what I was seeing, and I was mesmerised by watching all the voguers and was like… ‘Do you know what? I wanna know more about vogue.’ I knew that breaking and vogue had come about around the same time, born out of oppression from Black culture…again, I hadn’t specifically heard about breaking and vogue’s connection from people in the breaking scene. I was like, ‘There’s definitely a connection between the two.’ Even personally, just going ‘How do I feel in connection to…’ seeing it through the lens I was seeing it at the time, somewhat naïvely, not through the lens of race, seeing it through the lens of my connection to Hip Hop and my connection to the LGBTQ+ community and feeling ‘Oh, these are two worlds that co-exist. Why do we not see them co-existing? Why do we see them as separate entities when they’re not?’ That was my own personal question that I wanted to look at. And that lead me into discovering loads about ballroom culture and going, ‘I see so many parallels between breaking and vogue’ and also looking at this idea of masc-presenting women and more femme-presenting men, again at the time, that was lens that I was seeing it through, how it was really important to platform and celebrate those expressions within a Hip Hop setting…that was by bringing in the LGBTQ community…making them more visible in a Hip Hop setting. Again the focus being on gender expression, and it’s diversity just being celebrated basically. I guess going to New York and seeing it in that specific context was a really powerful discovery. Wanting to create something and make something…I went to see Jay Jay Revlon first, who runs a lot of the ballroom scene in the UK and I wanted his blessing like ‘Hey, this is what I’m interested in doing and you have some people that might be interested and what do you think?’ Him and Phoenix (Tatiana Ivanova) helped me get set up with some people that would be interested, which is where I met Raymond Wade and Duane Nasis who were the dancers who were then part of the piece. And also Rox, B-Girl Zana. Originally we did that at Open Art Surgery with Jonzi D. That was again, just me exploring that as a first stage. Then I was fortunate to be supported in continuing that research and development through an ACE fund and showing it as a part of East London Dance’s and London College of Fashion’s night called ‘Identity’ at Shoreditch Town Hall…getting to perform as well with Levi’s as a part of their Pride campaign which happened at Rich Mix…it was like Houston Dance Collective was formed for that specific work and since then I’ve taken some time to go…what does it take to sustain a company or one that is about a specific topic. How do I as someone new in this sustain a company at this point in time? I was also using a dancer from Switzerland, Olivia Rufer, so having an internationally-based dancer for the second leg of it was tricky because I like…’How are we gonna run a rehearsal after that?’ We’re not gonna be able to do that. So it came together for this piece and then for me as a maker, I think it was like ‘OK, I need to do X, Y, Z first before I come back to revisiting this in different forms and working with more dancers to create and make things.’ It was an amazing time of getting to make and create something and actualising the beginning of that journey.
IA: What do you want to dismantle in Hip Hop?
EH: What do I want to dismantle? It’s interesting to say what do I want to dismantle in Hip Hop because whatever I want to dismantle in Hip Hop, I want to dismantle in the world, right? [laughs] I wanna dismantle binaries and that goes for the world as well, even within myself, you know. I want to dismantle my own binary thinking cause it’s such a conditioned way of seeing things…even to the point of the way that I’m engaging with daily tasks or my physical learning. I’ve noticed that that even comes in such a binaried form…right or wrong? Good or bad? Success or failure? That’s really not good for me personally, ‘Oh goodness, I’ve done it again!’ It’s really not good…I think that goes beyond good and bad and right and wrong…like I was saying, seeing the world through a lens of gender and how releasing that binary way of thinking or engaging with a binary sense of gender could be quite liberating. Rather than necessarily specific to Hip Hop…I like this question, I’m gonna ponder on it more.
IA: We’ll come back to it again. You might brew some thoughts in the background…
EH: I’m gonna wanna do this interview again in a week or two weeks’ time and be like ‘OK, I know all the questions, let me think about it.’ That’s the other thing, I definitely like to percolate on a question before I answer it because I think that’s what my mind’s doing, it’s going ‘OK, how do I make sure I answer this in the best way with the truth that’s I think now blah, blah, blah?’ I’m sure you’re gonna hear from me after this! [laughs]
IA: As a companion question to dismantling…can you talk about institutional and structural power biases and dynamics in Hip Hop?
EH: Oooh. [long pause] Institutional and power biases. In Hip Hop. Alright. When we talk about it in Hip Hop, is it Hip Hop the community or is it Hip Hop the commercialised entity? Because we see a lot of structural and institutionalised racism, it’s huge…I mean if we’re gonna talk about dismantling things in the world, dismantling White supremacy is the most important thing we can do. I guess the reason I didn’t say that within Hip Hop is because Hip Hop is the place where there is freedom from that. However, that being said, you can see where Hip Hop has been taken by cis White men and monetized…where that goes, it goes out from the community, from the origins where it was birthed and where it should remain. It should remain within the hands of the community…that’s a tricky one cause then we’re talking about…we can’t talk about that without talking about capitalism and class and all sorts of power imbalances that exist…it’s a huge, huge, huge, huge, huge thing. For me, I feel a huge responsibility as a White person, especially as a White person in a Hip Hop space. I’m a guest in Hip Hop…to negotiate the lines of where I should/should not be and again, tryna to not make that into a binary thing in my own mind. That’s been on my mind a lot…who am I in this…in this space? What is my responsibility to do and say? What is my responsibility to shut the fuck up? Then on a personal level, how am I dismantling my own White supremacy? How am I prioritising that in my daily life? How am I showing up for BIPOC people? That is on a world level, White people, we need to be prioritising this. I’ve been listening to some really interesting podcasts…there’s a gender non-conforming person called Alok Vaid-Menon, and they’re not involved in the Hip Hop scene as far as I’m aware, but they’re talking about the racial history of the gender binary and how much of a connection that has…it’s this huge, huge topic of conversation and again for me at the moment, as an artist and as a human being, as someone who wants to be a better human being, I’m really sitting in that at the moment. How am I doing my daily work to dismantle White supremacy within myself first? Because, how do we go…it can’t kind be externally until it’s a very conscious thing within our own beings. Navigating this gender binary is really toxic and leads to a lot of issues as well. What was the question? [laughs]
IA: It was around structural and institutional power and bias…
EH: To turn around and go ‘I know where all of that lies within Hip Hop,’ I don’t. I don’t have all the answers on that and right now specifically, I’m feeling a little bit out of the loop. Can I turn that back to you just for a second. Where do you think the structural and institutional power biases are within Hip Hop?
IA: It might be funders, venues who commission artists, what they choose to programme…
EH: For sure. The funding models that exist are exclusive and that’s problematic. I think that’s where it all comes back to dismantling, personally dismantling all of these conditioned ways of seeing the world and behaving and assuming things…to be able to be an active participant in shaping and changing things that have been considered the norm of ‘Well that’s just the way the funding model is. Well that’s just what happens.’ And actually…well how do we all take a vested interest in making it better, making those decisions more accessible, making them fairer and without bias. Maybe that’s not me answering the question as such, but it’s going with it, by us all taking that personal responsibility…every individual taking that personal responsibility…how do we as the artists change the hands of how this thing is? So that there is more power in the artists themselves and in individuals so it isn’t just big companies and institutions that are reaping the benefits of the funding, of the support and philanthropy…that’s one way of moving power, but again there’s a course I’m doing right now that is a community organising course that touches on unilateral power versus relational power and how we’re operating in a world that uses linear, unilateral power as a means of power over people and how relational power is hopefully the power we want to manifest within ourselves and our communities to actually gain power to be able to challenge the bigger powers. BLM is an incredible example of that…you have enough people putting pressure on institutions and organisations to say ‘No, I wanna see your plan, what is your plan for dismantling institutional and structural racism within your organisation? You’re gonna have to follow through.’ Knowing that they can’t ignore that. You can’t ignore that when there’s that many people behind it and we’re going ‘Hey! Hey!’ For me a reason why I am doing this course, is also so I can gain knowledge how that grass roots organising works and how that relates to Hip Hop and how we can organise within the community and the industry. Cause the Hip Hop community and the Hip Hop dance industry are two different things, and we see Hip Hop being exploited and put into commercial things all the time without the roots of it being there. Anything commercialised is often watered down, otherwise it’s not accessible or it’s not for everyone. Which again is problematic. [laughs] My focus has maybe not been on what are those structural imbalances and power dynamics but how can I empower myself to be a better member of the community, so I can bring that to the community. What is something that I can offer through whatever knowledge I might gain in this course.
IA: It’s a big question. Thank you for your answer.
EH: [laughs] I mean there’s plenty more to say right? There’s more that we could get into.
IA: Yep. 2020…I’ve picked out three things that you’ve done this year, creative things that I’d like you to talk a little bit about. First, the work with Adam Kammerling.
IA: Then the film ‘Wish I Could’.
EH: Oh yes!
IA: And then the five-part blog for Greenwich Dance.
IA: Three things exercising different muscles.
EH: [laughs] Yes. So, I first met Adam at a workshop run by Breakin’ Convention and Apples and Snakes, that was a spoken word and movement workshop and we connected afterwards…that led to him asking me to come in and do some rehearsal directing for his piece ‘Shall we take this outside?’ That’s a piece about toxic masculinity, the conditioned way of being a male and what it means to be a male. That started as me rehearsal directing, which I really enjoyed being…and definitely something I’d wanna do more in the future. It eventually led to me then being asked to be part of the piece itself…initially it was two cis males that were playing the dancers. Being asked to be a part of that I was really chuffed cause I didn’t even think that that space could include me. So, to be included in that was really really cool. Then I worked with Adam and Si Rawlinson on that trio and absolutely loved it, it was a great, great way of making and integrating Adam’s work as a poet and spoken word artist. He’s an amazing storyteller. Linking all of that in with movement and facilitating his story…I had a great time with that…we did the rounds and did performances at Stratford Circus and Canada Water and Latitude, the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol…I don’t know if it will ever resurface but I wish more people had got to see it. At the same time, I think the audiences that did see it, it was a special night to witness Adam’s work. I’m also a part of his R&D called ‘Sedar’ where he’s looking at his own Jewish family and heavy metal is a part of that. He’s also written a book that’s been published as well…I’m looking forward to doing more with this new project as well. Which actually leads me on quite nicely to ‘Wish I Could’. I met Bellatrix on that project with Adam and they’re an incredible musician…we did some tasks together within that R&D and was like ‘Do you know what, we should make some shit together.’ That was one of the first things, my response to having COVID…everyone has a unique relationship with COVID and mine was pretty drastic…I definitely could say life-changing. I was desperate to do something creative as a response to what I was personally going through and simultaneously inspired by, which was…I wanted to use one of Bel’s songs. It was just to get myself out of the house. I was contacted by Sharlene Carter who had put me in touch with Queer Cabaret by Studio 3 Arts who were doing a queer cabaret event online, they asked me to be a part of it and it was really great because it just gave me…there was a videographer, Hannah, who had generously offered to come and film me…I thought I was gonna be filming on my own phone, one of those ones and I was really happy that Hannah had been like ‘Do you know what? I’ve seen your work, I’d really love to film you.’ And I was like ‘Sick.’ So…I storyboarded it and did some movement ideas and then just went and filmed it. I wanted it to be that raw response to how I was feeling regarding COVID and, again it made me really keen to do more stuff on film. Develop that more as a performer and as a director of dance on film, I mean it has obviously been a thing for a long time, but how could that be more of a focus, especially now, at this time. [pause] What’s the other?
IA: The blogs with Greenwich Dance.
EH: At the time of writing the blog, I was still really not well. I think I had done some workouts…I’d written about my workout hadn’t I? I think I’d then been hit with a relapse. Basically I was like, ‘Am I gonna be able to write this blog this week?’ But again, having had a lot of thoughts and a lot of writing, I was really chuffed to be asked to contribute to a blog, cause when I get my website up and running I wanna be writing blogs, like regular blogs, so this was like ‘This is a perfect way in to see if a) I can do it, and b) if there’s any interest in what I’m talking about…’ I really enjoyed that. Greenwich Dance is an organisation I’ve worked for for a number of years, I used to teach kids breaking every week, from age four to age eleven. Going through the heartbreak of them losing the Borough Hall and moving to Charlton House and then this pandemic, it’s really cool to have that link with and they’re very local to me…it was lovely to be writing and showing something that wasn’t really me as the dancer as such, it was more me as the human…how important that aspect is and how sometimes that gets lost in the being a dancer thing, how it takes centre stage. Haha! You know how we focus on what the dancer is saying, as opposed to what is the human being saying? I think sometimes, even from my own projections of how I was treating myself and my practice…seeing me as dancer first rather than how am I doing as a human being? Or what am I feeling, what am I thinking, what am I connecting to? I’m guilty of this, super-guilty of it…I’ve not written so much in the last few years but I’ve written so much through this time, it’s been the most I’ve written in such a long time, which is why I’m like ‘Argh!’ Tryna speak half the time as well because I think we’re so used to expressing everything that we’re feeling and going through through movement, rather than verbalising it and writing it down. It’s so useful to do that and it’s a practice, just like anything else, a practice that I’ve not always prioritised. However it’s something I’ve always loved to do and I’ve always loved to write and…not just limited to writing a blog but writing poetry or writing random thoughts down or writing as a part of making, writing as a part of your process. If I’m not making something I can really let that slip…that part of it, just moving, moving, moving as a way of me figuring things out and realising that actually I need to be really plugged into the world and what’s happening and how do I share my thoughts verbally because that’s really important. Shying away from that is also a bit of a dancery thing to do. It’s like ‘Oh, I don’t need to talk because I’m a dancer, that’s how I’m gonna communicate with you’, and actually how I was doing that as a way of hiding from my own truths, hiding from my own responsibilities, to being more active in the world around me…verbally.
IA: A fine segue to the next question, which is around archiving, documentation and legacy. It’s one thing that I don’t think Hip Hop and breaking does very well. What is it that you do to archive and document your own practice?
EH: I need to write these questions down Ian. [laughs] What is it that I do to archive and document my own practice? Argh, Ian! You’re right! Hip Hop’s not very good at doing this. [pause] Wow. I think I should be doing more to do that. I’ve been going through…culminating all of my footage together. That again is very specific to performances and dance films or clips being made, as opposed to maybe…I realise that…there’s a lot of stuff that either I haven’t documented or haven’t got access to or I don’t know where it is. A lot of me battling and cyphering, things like that, which again, you’re not really gonna document a cypher… [laughs] Or if someone has it’s a really short clip. The battles themselves are what’s predominantly captured like on film. I have footage, as one way of documenting my own journey. That being said, there’s a lot of early stuff that is not documented. This year has given me time to really think about that, how am I recording and documenting what I’m doing, and what are the reasons that I wasn’t doing that. What is valuable enough to document, what is worthy of documentation and what’s not? I’m not the techiest person…actually I’m far from the techiest person, it’s like ‘Eugh, I don’t want to deal with that,’ that then results in ‘Well, I’ve actually not got a physical copy of that having happened…I think that so much documentation can come from sharing and community and stories, that is one way of keeping a lot of things alive, through community, I’ve learned a lot about Hip Hop history through older gen people telling me stories and filling in blanks for me, learning new nuggets of information at random points in time that I can re-consolidate and go ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ [pause] I guess this time and your question is definitely, definitely making me think, well how else can I do that? I think that’s one part of what the blog offered, a moment in time to read back my thoughts and that’s another thing I’d like to do, write specific pieces on my experience, say for example writing a piece on ‘REDD’, writing a piece on ‘Message in a Bottle’, writing a piece on Adam’s work, writing a piece on the other companies that I’ve been a part of over time…of course I’m not gonna have that perspective that I had in the moment, which is a shame, but you know that’s gonna change again over time anyway. It’s so easy to keep dance footage, but again I think there needs to be a bit more of a, that’s why I think for me the COVID response was an important thing to have, ‘This happened and this is how I was feeling at that point in time.’ As soon as I started to feel better, I’m not gonna keep dwelling on me feeling awful, but then if I’m referencing that point and that was really real for me, at that point, it’s a really important marker in my journey as a mover. It’s definitely something I’m much more aware of now, especially because of the way things have gone in the last year of my career before COVID hit. Yeah. I definitely could be better at it. Definitely don’t think I’m organised…which is why I still don’t have a show reel, which is why I’m like ‘OK, let me get all of my footage together so I can make a show reel.’ [laughs] It’s stuff like that, which again has not been prioritized…maybe that’s just me having issues with that. [laughs]
IA: Lets talk about Shortbread.
IA: Who is Shortbread?
EH: Who is Shortbread? Do you know what, Shortbread is the name I have gone with as a breaker name…the history of Shortbread is that that was actually my first name. Before I was Emma, I was Shortbread. My mum’s American and came over, she met my dad in America and then she came over when she was pregnant with me. So to her I think all things Scottish were a novelty. It was a novelty nickname basically. With breaker names, you get named by your crew and I had always felt like, ‘Ah, no one’s named me or this isn’t…I’m not Hip Hop cause nobody’s named me!’ I was really obsessed with this idea of a breaker name. Then I remembered Ken Swift calling me ‘Shorty Rock’ or…it was Shorty something that week, then Foggy from Trinity Warriors was like…he was really hot on naming…he would always call me ‘Shorty B.’ Even though I’d introduced that name, from it being a nickname of mine, I remember having a conversation with my mum in a car and we were talking about…she was talking about how that was my nickname and I was like ‘Yeah, that’s it! That’s it! That’s my breaker name.’ Then it naturally cottoned on, it wasn’t like it was like, ‘Guys, you’re all gonna have to call me Shortbread from now on, OK?’ [laughs] It just naturally happened and then people like Foggy and the people I was around started calling my Shortbread and Shorty B and it made sense. I really liked it because it was it’s own thing. It wasn’t a name that was…I could just be Shortbread. I was short…I say I was short, it’s not like I’m tall now. [laughs] Probably shrunk since all of this! This COVID shenanigans! So I’m short and it also fit with other things. I really liked the name and how it correlated to how people were calling me ‘Shorty.’ It was like ‘Oh, I’m Shortbread.’ It cottoned on when I went to places like New York, they were like ‘Yo, Shortbread!’ Then I could be distinguished between other breakers that were called Emma. Cause you’ve got Emma Ready from Edinburgh, and people would be like ‘Yo, Emma, you were there,’ and I was like ‘No, that was the other Emma.’ It was getting confusing. So I was Shortbread from Scotland, you’re not gonna get Shortbread confused cause there’s more than one Emma from Scotland that breaks. It was a way of going, ‘Alright, it’s me, it’s me, it’s me.’ Internationally it’s memorable, a sort of site-specific name. People will remember, ‘That’s Scotland! OK, sick.’ [laughs] I think it worked out quite well as a name. Who knows what will happen moving forward but I think it’s stuck. I don’t think I’ve got a choice any more. [laughs]
IA: Can you talk about breaking as a craft and a practice?
EH: Hmmm. Breaking is something that you’ll never run out of things to discover. Never, ever, ever. Much like learning in any sense - there’s always so much to find…as a craft…breaking is so many things. I’m coming from quite a unique perspective on it, right at this point in time because of my own absence of movement. This is the longest time in my life that I’ve not been physically able to work on my craft, in the sense of actually doing it…as I would be normally. It’s very bizarre, I’m not gonna lie. It’s kind of let everything settle and let me look at other elements of my life that will inevitably feed back into my craft in breaking. Breaking itself is extremely physical, there’s so much in it. There’s so much in the foundations of it all, the physical maintenance, how you’re intersecting as an athlete and an artist. The consistency of practice is a huge, huge part of it…how structuring your training is important with nutrition, consistency of practice with what are you training…are you training certain moves? Technical moves that you wanna be able to implement into your flows and your style. How do you break down those strands? Do you keep it separate? Are they all part of the same thing? Who do you learn from or take influence from? How much of it is a structured thing and how much of it is completely free from all of that? That also comes back to what are you breaking for? For me that’s definitely changed over time and is always changing, initially it was the music and the community, which is always at the core of it, but then if you wanna make it into a more formalised…not formalised, if you wanna focus on it like, ‘OK, this is what I’m doing. I wanna break professionally,’ then what does that mean? That informs your approach. How do you approach training for a different means, I’ve gone back and forth between it…what it means…the end goal, this idea of what is the reason for me continuing to do this…depending on what that answer is, it also shapes the way that you train. At certain points when I was getting really into competitions…physically pushing the limits of everything, right now that feels quite far away for me because of the last six or seven months I’ve had. Looking at how I get back into it now, it’s a daunting prospect, but at the same time an exciting prospect. I have this wealth of new life experience to influence how I wanna break. That’s another one that’s really interesting, there’s arguments for each thing and I’m not gonna really know until you interview me in a year’s time and say ‘Emma, what are you doing?’ I might be like ‘Oh, the seven month break was…it finished me,’ or it might be, ‘This opened a new door for me and I like have found so much freedom in this re-integration back into breaking.’ I don’t know if I’m answering your questions, I’m waffling…it’s very individual the craft of breaking. Everyone has different ways of relating to it in their own lives and it means different things to different people, I know some people that wanna break as a hobby and that’s freaking amazing. Some people wanna push the boundaries of breaking in theatre and how breaking can merge with different styles, some people break just in crew settings or just competitively, and that’s influenced how they train and how they see it…I’m a bit of a floater in between all of those worlds, and enjoy that as well. I enjoy being able to battle and then research my own movement, a bit more abstracted from cyphering and battling and then how I can use that…use my breaking in theatre settings and how it’s influenced differently by different styles of music and the physical aspect of training my body to be able to execute certain moves…the discipline it takes to learn a certain move like learning swipes or windmills or having the right technique in footwork, all of that takes a long time, effort and discipline to be able to execute with your body changing at different points in time with different health or focus…you’re getting the longest answers ever!
IA: [laughs] I’ve got some more questions but I wanted to ask, is there anything that you’ve not spoken about so far that you want to talk about, to record? It could be a memory, a person, a moment? It’s a space for you to articulate something that is important to you.
EH: [long pause] I think…maybe we’ll get onto it with some of your further questions, can we come back to at the end? Is that OK?
IA: Yep. Back to breaking. How did it manifest on your body?
EH: That’s a really interesting question. How breaking manifested on my body. It’s a bit of a paradox how it’s manifested on my body…in one respect it’s…this is the way that makes sense for me to be moving. Like, ‘Yes! I’m so glad this exists as a way for me to express myself. Yeah.’ Then on the other hand, I’ve also had physical ailments from it. I don’t know a breaker that hasn’t, but I’ve struggled with injuries, physical set backs and my own limitations, physical limitations that have come from breaking, I can’t say my body’s just taken to it. It’s definitely been…all of my hours of practice allowed me to develop the technique and grounding in it that I have now. But the left side of my body has taken a lot, it’s taken a lot you know? My left knee, left wrist and shoulder, I’ve had…I’m very aware of the disparity between the left and right. That’s been something the last few years that I’ve been tryna to even out and been really conscious of. Also through functional training and doing other styles that have a bit more of a balance…ballet technique is really evenly matched on both sides, so I’m like, ‘OK, let me take that approach,’ just that specific way of working the body equally on both sides…in breaking everyone’s like ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, do everything both sides’, but I’ve definitely not been that person to prioritize learning everything both ways. I’ve tried to bring that more into my practice of learning things both ways as a way to even out my lop-sidedness. [laughs] Is that what you mean when you say ‘manifesting on your body’?
IA: I’m interested in how breaking manifests on different bodies, it’s different for everyone…I don’t have a ‘I want Emma to say this’, I think it’s an interesting question that isn’t often asked.
EH: No, you’re right, it isn’t. I think if we’re gonna talk about bodies as well, we’re used to seeing it being on the male body, breaking on the male body and how moves are done on the male body. The emphasis on correctness is also based on the male body and when I say ‘the male body’, I mean a very specific technique of if the move is right. Do you know what I mean? If you’re born, I’m tryna to say this in the right terminology. If you’re born with a vagina and breasts, you know that no two people born with a vagina and breast are the same, but if you have a more…a considered male frame…then that might be praised more by the way that you’re are able to execute movements. I find it really interesting cause if we look at the body and how breaking manifests in the body, you’re gonna see it’s different on different bodies, there will definitely be some things I’m gonna find more difficult, for example bellymills. They’re probably gonna hurt. I haven’t spent a lot of time working on bellymills, I’ll tell you! Some things are more difficult and some things are easier and depending on your body shape that doesn’t always necessarily correlate to your biological sex, a lot of times that has a predisposition for certain things, to be adapted and received differently in your body and how you’re able to translate that. I think that’s an interesting one as well, what is celebrated in that and what is not, how much of that is to do with this binary idea of expressing yourself.
IA: There is a big relationship between breaking and virtuosity.
EH: Can you expand on that a little bit?
IA: For example in photographs and trailers, we see the blow-up and the freeze and to me that creates perceptions of virtuosity. Why do we see that? Why is that the most important thing?
EH: Yeah, absolutely. I think that that’s similar to what is valued and who is hired for certain things because they can do a power move or a flip…how far away is that from…a flip isn’t breaking, it’s gymnastics, but that is how breaking is often portrayed. That raw element of what breaking is, is somehow missing from that…even for jobs for breakers, predominantly they want a male…I’m talking about corporate and commercial. They want a male that can flip and trick. If you’re more of a footwork or a style breaker, male or female or whoever you are…you’re not seen as that idea or brief of a breaker. There’s definitely been a kind of, translation of it…an idolising of the male form and the way that the male form executes breaking. Trying to translate that on my body and coming up against things that…that are just like ‘It’s not gonna happen.’ That’s obviously for a number of different reasons but that idea of perfect technique is often shown to be on a male body.
IA: Processes and practices of self-care. I’m interested in that especially within Hip Hop, I know Hayleigh Sellors published some good research in the summer…but I’m interested how you practice self-care? What do you to to keep your mind healthy?
EH: I think it’s changed over time, depending on how I’m feeling and what I might need at any given moment. I like to find a balance between switching on and switching off. Balance in general is an interesting one because it’s constantly negotiated…we’re always moving towards chaos of some kind. Talking about self-care in this specific moment is again very different to if you talked to me about self-care in January. It’s weird to be finding self-care mainly outside of exercise right now, I’m not gonna lie, because exercise and dance has been a huge part of my self-care, I think that having to almost turn the dial completely off that has allowed me to open up to other kinds of self-care that I was neglecting before. My focus was purely movement and dance work and I think that’s the other thing, being a professional dancer, the lines are really blurred between working and not working. Because it’s something that I love, right? So I’m less inclined to switch off from it. That being said, over lockdown I’ve tried to be more consistent with cooking and what I’m putting in my body and being more mindful of any sort of toxic things that I might be consuming. Again, just coming up against my own health limits and realising that external health is very different to internal health and how we have a real obsession in society with external health equating to internal health. Realising that that was also something that I wasn’t prioritising. That was in no way shape or form actually accurate to my internal health, so my focus has been more on my internal health and that includes mental health, whether that’s prioritising therapy, prioritising writing or excavating thoughts and things that are coming up. Now I’m meditating. Julia Cheng’s been leading group sessions of Qigong over lockdown…reconnecting with nature. As in literally the parks around my house…I think reconnecting in a way to a lot of the things I did naturally as a kid that maybe I have just missed from my day-to-day and recognising that every single day it’s the little things that we do that make up self-care. I had maybe seen things more in a blanket sense of what self-care meant to me without realising it. I think…it kind of creeps…like insidiously creeps in, and then before you know it you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m actually really out of whack with myself right now,’ or ‘I’m not prioritising what makes me feel good’. Again that lends itself to dancers…almost switching off that ‘How do I feel?’ thing because you’re there to be a vessel. You’re there to express yourself and you’re there to push yourself and you’re there to be better, you’re there to…no pain, no gain vibes…and I think for me it’s gone like ‘All of that still applies, how can I still push myself, how can I still expand?’ We can often achieve more than we think we can in any given setting with that little push. But how can I also…how can I also find that quiet, that intuitive voice that’s like ‘OK, that’s enough now’, or ‘Do you know what, why don’t you just have a bath?’ [laughs] For me self-care is listening to my intuition, not overthinking and not going too far the other way and then ruminating on things unnecessarily…it’s a constant negotiation for me what self-care means, ‘Oh, you maybe need to just sleep. You maybe need to just eat. You maybe just need to have a shower. And you maybe need to just take a nap. You maybe need to have a little workout.’ Realising that it’s often these basic needs is so integral to self-care.
IA: What does success look like for you?
EH: What does success look like for me? I think it’s a really…talking about dismantling again, there is a real pressure on this idea of success and it often equating to status and financial prosperity. I think that’s definitely something that plays a part…what I think of myself in terms of success…that’s an insidious one because it’s not one that I would outwardly go ‘Ah, I’m not successful until this happens or that happens.’ Success is a state of mind more than it is a destination…I’m really learning to separate…however, in the back of my mind, this expectation on myself, success-wise, and how to actually allow the creativity be at the forefront rather than, ‘Oh, I’m not successful until I can buy a house.’ Or ‘I’m not successful until I consistently get this…’ cause we all know that as soon as we get that thing, we’re gonna want the next thing. That’s just what happens, the goalposts move so quickly and when you arrive at an accomplishment, you may not even acknowledge it because you’re ‘Oh whatever, that thing over there.’ I am cultivating success in my every day, in terms of my mindset towards it and letting the driving force of my actions come from a creative place and a desire to make and connect and learn and shift and shape things around me…seeing success in this linear power idea of what success means…this capitalist idea of success is wrong. When I feel most enriched and most joy is when I’m connecting with other people and when I’m sharing with other people. When I’m learning and of service, when I’m of value to the people around me in however big or small way…to me that’s when I’m in my success the most.
IA: One more question, before we go back to the other one. What is your strongest memory of dance?
EH: Woooo! Oh! Oh! How you gonna make me pick one? Ah, gosh. [makes noise] There’s so many ways I could answer that as well, it could be me seeing it, me experiencing it. There’s too many, I’m gonna have to reel off a list.
IA: What’s the one that came into your head first?
EH: I don’t have one that came in first. I had simultaneous ‘shwing, shwing, shwing!’ [laughs] They all just slotted in…I thought of being in New York, cyphering in New York at the Break Fresh NYC event…I reference this memory a lot. People are probably like ‘Ah, shut up about that.’ [laughs] Cause I just felt really free and I was in a really high energy supportive environment. I didn’t particularly know anyone in the space…there were some people there like Tara from Heartbreakerz…there was a few people I knew, but that being said I was very much a stranger and I was kind of discovering who I was in the moment…I know that sounds really… [laughs] I’d reached the point where I’d exhausted all of my moves, or things I had thought of what I was gonna do…I’d found a real freedom and I could feel a shared energy. Yeah, I was battling, but at the same time it was a shared energy with the whole room. I think that’s huge…connecting with relational power, being the power to influence and be influenced at the same time. I think those moments are the moments where I feel most connected to what I’m doing, it’s when there is no separation between what I’m doing and who’s there. That’s one moment where I really experienced that and really dropped into move my movement…there’s other experiences like that when I was battling at Queen 16 in Edinburgh. Performing on stage, when I was performing ‘REDD’…and being super alive, the feeling of being in the moment in a way that is so unique to being a mover when you’re being watched, it’s very different than when you’re not being watched. I love that difference of how translating practice into performance and how you discover so many things in those moments. Again, I’m waffling.
IA: I’ll stop ya. That was an answer.
IA: So, let’s rewind – is there anything that has not come up, that you want to document, to speak on or re-emphasise? This is a space for that.
EH: There’s one area I want documenting…I mean there’s probably loads, I’ve written down loads that I haven’t spoken about but there’s only so much that we can say, otherwise we’ll be here all night. I’m having a lot of conversations with queer individuals within Hip Hop and how we’re always exemplified as the female this, the female breaker, how that’s constantly being re-emphasised and the value placed on that before anything else…how that’s inadvertently meant we’ve had to cling to that identity because that’s the identity that’s always been at the centre of who other people assume us to be and associate us with. Again another interesting one about being queer and being gender non-conforming…how does that exist in a binaried system of competition? How might that change from individual to individual…simultaneously at the same time knowing that we need platforming…and specific categories for B-Girls and B-Boys…it’s more a query as opposed to an answer I have…I’m a big advocate for B-Girl battles. It’s more like…how do we move away from the emphasis on this gender binary that I see time and time again at events. B-Boys are not over-gendered in that sense…whereas I feel B-Girls or the people that would otherwise be in the B-Girl category, there’s a huge, huge emphasis on their assumed gender identity of, ‘B-Girl this, B-Girl that, she’s this, she’s that, she’s doing it for the ladies, da-da-da,’ There’s an over-stating of it, regardless of how you identify. That’s a lot to deal with. I guess it’s a query about why is that? Why is it that one person in a female category has to represent everyone? But people in a male category are not expected to do that at all…on the same subject, if we’re looking at events…there’s huge events that are having girls holding the signs and walking around like showgirls, they are suddenly a part of that corporate…not corporate, but big breaking events. How regressive is that? It’s hugely regressive and unnecessary. I’m moving away from gender binary here and moving into actual misogyny and…cis women…any kind of womxn (womxn with an x), anyone who’s been brought up with the female experience, how you’re objectified and how you’re seen as ornamental in the wider world, but also within Hip Hop. We see these big companies throwing money at breaking events and they’re stipulating that they need to have these girls at these events. What’s the agenda behind that? Why is that OK? Why is that the concession that the promoters are making? Going, ‘Yeah, do you know what, just give us the money, of course we’ll have these girls walking about as ornaments, holding up signs…’ We’ve never had that before! That’s never existed in Hip Hop events before, why now? It’s very bizarre. I’m finding it all very bizarre to witness. I’ve not seen it in any UK events yet, some events in America and Asia. That’s concerning to me because I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, aren’t we about progress here?’ When we talk…it links back again to things being taken out of the hands of the community and if you’ve got a huge corporation that has a lot of money and a lot of means to sponsor, do we relinquish all of our morals to get that money at all costs? Where’s the negotiation? Or is that being overlooked because it’s a cis male running the event? I think these are all important questions…
IA: This is a super interesting point…it reminds me of when Tate takes money from Shell or BP. It’s art washing, taking the corporate money from the big organisation. Is what you’re saying ‘Hip Hop washing’? Are Red Bull, if that’s who we’re talking about, Hip Hop washing?
EH: I don’t know specifically that Red Bull have done it, I know that Monster Energy have done it in one of their events, there was an event where Hong 10 had been invited over to battle…is it Hurricane? I think Dizzy organised it but I’m not sure who was in charge of that decision of having those women there. I don’t know how everybody feels witnessing that but I would hope that it makes everyone uncomfortable, no matter who you are. But let’s also acknowledge the specific ramifications that has for those who are not cis men in the space…it is like Hip Hop washing. I think it’s happening in varying degrees, but at the same time I also understand that organisers and companies like Red Bull and Monster are creating huge platforms, a lot of positive things as well, so I think there needs to be more of a dialogue with these companies. I don’t know how things run…like how these different places specifically run and who’s in charge of what and what the willingness is, but we need a spokesteam in each area, like we’re from the community, to be able to liaise with and have a bit more control over what happens at these events. Otherwise it is just…we’re completely removed and we’re consuming our own culture through someone else’s idea of what that is. Removing it from the people that are in it and living it, it’s very bizarre. I say it’s very bizarre but again it’s what’s happened with everything else. [pause] The questions of us dismantling…everything being dismantled, racism being dismantled, all phobias being dismantled, homophobia, transphobia…sexism, misogyny, ableism: all of these things need to be dismantled. The oppressed group aren’t the ones that are gonna dismantle that, it takes everyone having individual responsibility…what they’re privileges are and actively working to dismantle them, to ultimately create a better and safer environment for everyone. There’s another quick point about the sexual misconduct that’s been happening and coming out…how do we make environments safe for young people coming in and the womxn and children already in the scene? If grooming and misconduct is a thing that’s happening, which it is, and again grooming and sexual misconduct happens in every industry, but we’re in this industry, so our focus is gonna be on this industry…but everything is reflective of everything else and we need to all focus on moving towards a safer environment, an inclusive environment. Inclusivity and diversity are two very different things. That’s another point to throw in there…a lot of people are obsessed with diversity, but not inclusivity. That’s me moving away from the misconduct point, talking more generally about a variety of things. What does it mean to actually be inclusive and how can that also be at the forefront of companies and organisations? Not just tokenising people…but actually being there for them, in their wholeness!