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Nathan Geering

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Bristol Old Vic, Bristol, September 2018

In 2006 Nathan was introduced to Hip Hop theatre by Jonzi D who made him an original cast member of TAG. Since 2010 he is Artistic Director and creator of The Rationale Method which has been pioneering research into the link between Hip Hop and visual impairment. His company have enhanced accessibility by reinventing audio description combining beatboxing, poetry and emotive text to provide a richer soundscape for people with visual impairment. In 2017 he was appointed Artistic Director for the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony and in 2018 he worked with the Royal Opera House teaching B-Boying to people with visual impairment as a means of injury prevention and to improve spatial awareness.

IA: Hello Nathan. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on Hip Hop as alternate kinship/family and the support that brings to the self and the group.

NG: If we’re looking at Hip Hop I think in general it’s really important because it’s almost a family away from your family as you’re growing up. You naturally have parent/offspring conflict. That’s only natural. So on a number of levels what Hip Hop does and being in a crew does is give you a sense of belonging as you’re trying to find yourself. You align yourself with people who have similar passions, a similar thought process, similar goals to you that you might not be getting at home. I guess the emotional connection and distance is increased with your you’re going through these tougher times you can turn to your crew mates as a source of support and family with an understanding and belonging. In that sense if you look at Hip Hop being an answer to a socio-economical problem when it first appeared, a lot of families came from broken homes. There was a lot of stresses and a lot of dramas. You know they couldn’t express themselves at home - I myself being one of those people. It allows you to have an outlet and not be judged. The thing is your crew will always know when you’re going through stuff. Some B-Boys tend to have a disregard for their physical well-being when they’re going through certain emotional heightened periods in their lives. You’ll see them practising ‘suicides’ a lot. Or they’ll be going through riskier moves that they’d normally be more cautious about. It’s incredible that they have a pent up energy which galvanises them to try riskier things. You often find during those periods of stress and turmoil the B-Boy gets better. And stronger. And they push through things. There’s a saying that ‘The more you suffer the greater artist you become.’ Within a crew context I remember looking around my old crew and that was could always tell when some guy was going through some stuff because they put all their energy into their breaking and their breaking would just skyrocket. So in terms of kinship and family I think it plays a massive role.

IA: You mentioned parental at home, but there’s also a parental within Hip Hop. Who do you look up to and who looks up to you?

NG: Wow. That’s a deep question. With myself...a bit of background. I started B-Boying when I was 21. I taught myself by watching the old breaking videos as a kid. I first got the opportunity to try it at uni, as part of a breaking society. I have a background in kung fu and because of the way my kung fu teacher taught me - whenever I would ask something he would make me go through a process of elimination changing one thing at a time. So for example he’d go ‘This is a straight punch.’ I’d do it, and he’d say ‘That’s not a straight punch.’ I’d go ‘But that’s exactly what you just did.’ He’d laugh in my face, and I’d go ‘Well teach me then.’ He’d go ‘No figure it out yourself.’ I’d go ‘How am I supposed to do that?’ ‘Go through a process of elimination, change one thing - put your hip into it a little bit more, put your shoulder into it a little bit more, put more emotional content into it, change your breathing.' And obviously this is a massive…

IA: Mind explosion?

NG: Yeah!

IA: When did you start kung fu?

NG: I trained in martial arts on and off as a youngster; it was between 17 and 21 when I focused on it intently. It’s during that period that I started learning breaking, towards the end of that period. I ended up having to teach myself a lot of it. How my kung fu teacher taught me had a massive impact on me but also because there’s a real strong link between kung fuand B-Boying. Massive. An incredibly strong link. He was my mentor.

IA: How would you articulate the relationship between kung fu and B-Boying?

NG: In kung fu and B-Boying there’s a number of layers. The first layer is, where Hip Hop came from, everyone was the underdog. They came from poor backgrounds, society didn’t hold them in high regard for who they were or where they lived. Around that time B-Boys were going to watch late night kung fu movies. kung fu is the cinema of the underdog. You know you’ve got someone with so many odds against them. They’re training hard, working with diligence and they’re overcoming the odds. A lot of people within the Black and Latino communities could relate to it. The same over here in the UK, people could relate to it. I related to it. That was one link. A by-product of watching was a lot of people would put kung fu movements into their B-Boying. It goes hand in hand. Even the philosophy of teacher/student, each one teach one. It’s synonymous. From kung fu I went over to the US to train with a crew in Detroit, Michigan. I was online and this guy was giving me loads of tips and he said ‘Why don’t you just come over?’ After about a year I decided that’s what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna head over and train with his crew. I went and trained for a few months, again, that was a family.

IA: Who was that?

NG: There was two crews; Deadbeats and Lunchbox Jams. I stayed with them, ate with them, hung with them. It was a really intense period, but it was great. When I came back I carried on teaching younger kids breaking as I liked passing knowledge on. We went down to London for a competition and one of my students Anton (who is obviously one of the top B-Boys in the UK and goes all over the world now) was 15 at the time and he entered a footwork battle. Footwork for me wasn’t a strong suit. It was something I didn’t pay much attention to. I like power, but when my body’s mashed up that’s when I focus on it. Anyway, he wanted me to enter this battle with him and I really didn’t want to do it. But I thought I can’t sit in my ivory tower and be like ‘No you go and battle, I’m too good to battle.’ We ended up getting to the semi-finals in, I think it was, Battle of’s going back a few years now. This guy spotted me, and he was like [impersonates him] ‘Yo man. You dope! How’d you like to come and work for my company?’ I thought he was another nightclub owner who wanted to exploit me. Turns out it was Jonzi D. I was like ‘I'm so sorry.’ Went down and auditioned for his company based at Sadler’s Wells. Jonzi gave me my first experience of Hip Hop theatre. He became a massive mentor for me in terms of how I approached my B-Boying and how I would make it my career. He took me to Korea and I got trained up by all the world champion crews in Korea. I had mentors from Gamblerz Crew, Maximum Crew and Last for One. All the major cats at the time. They were my mentors and then came back and carried on teaching.

IA: Do you have disciples under you?

NG: Yeah. There’s quite a few. I used to teach in community centres; there’s one called Street Vibes which is the main group I used to teach. Quite a few of them ended up becoming part of Rationale - a theatre company I set up. Everyone in Rationale has to be of the same heart and mind, so we’re on the same page, pushing towards the same goals. I ended up teaching a girl who was a Latin and Ballroom champion in South Africa. She came over here, and I taught her the foundations of Hip Hop and locking and she went back to South Africa and became South African champ at locking! She is one of the main judges for Hip Hop International and she gets invited to Las Vegas and all that.

IA: What’s her name?

NG: Michelle Oppenshaw. She’s just been on Dancing with the Stars as one of the professional dancers and I’m going out to do some work in South Africa with her later this year. It’s not just within people being successful within Hip Hop. The guy that was here that you saw me talking to earlier, Josh, he started off as my student and he fell in love with contemporary dance; now he’s a professional contemporary dancer. You have another guy LB another professional dancer in his own right, but he blends Hip Hop and contemporary. I’ve branched off Hip Hop into other contexts. I used to deliver for the Street Cheer UKCA and teach them the real foundations of Hip Hop. I’m trying to get them to understand that when you’re having all these competitions and they’ve all got a number and everyone’s dancing at the same time it’s really like ballroom or competitive disco. Whereas with Hip Hop it’s all about battling and showcasing. What I’m trying to do is educate other genres and areas what the true representation of Hip Hop is, rather than a watered down and exploited version. When people come to you and say, ‘I want to learn Street Dance...’ and they get mad that they can’t do a move within one session and they’re not looking like someone from a music video. It’s about trying to educate people on what true Hip Hop is and how it can benefit you in any aspect of life. Not just within dancing.

IA: The idea of self-care and mental health isn’t very visible in Hip Hop, so I’m asking people about their process and how they incorporate it.

NG: That’s very easy for me as I did a degree in psychology. I also worked with a cognitive behaviour therapist and we came up with a way of treating depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder through Hip Hop dance. So it fits in very well. A lot of the high-level stuff that I’ll teach my students is really about learning to connect with themselves, physically, spiritually and emotionally. We’ll do meditative practices where they’ll do their movements in slow motion and as they’re doing the movement they’ll have to imagine white light coming through and leaving a trail; they have to really connect with their breath in a slow way. It’s to make sure they’re in the moment and feeling every single detail. By only ever doing things quickly you stop appreciating the finer details and it just becomes something you do rather than who you are. Whereas by stopping and doing it in slow motion you get chance to really embody everything you’re doing. With Hip Hop movement we do a lot of meditation and mindfulness with it. Trauma is stored at a cellular level not just in your head. What we get people to do when they identify a particular issue or problem is to identify where in their body they feel uncomfortable; because it’s normally associated with a certain tightness in your body. Once that’s located we get them to access it on a sensory level. We’ll get them to give it a colour, a smell, a texture, all these types of things, to bring it into something they can see. They’ll locate it and breathe energy into it. From there they’ll change one thing at a time. They’ll change the shape, and they’ll use Hip Hop movement to change’s like dough, something more malleable so they can change it. Then they change the colour, change the texture and all that kind of stuff. The thing with trauma is that the last place it usually comes out of is your mouth. It may be that they can move the shape quite quickly, or move one bit at a time and it takes a bit longer. It depends on the person and we go with what they’re thinking and feeling, it depends what their trauma is. Even if they just move one small piece from one side of their hip to the other side, they could end up moving it through their chest and through their arms. They can really play with it. The idea is that it works with acceptance commitment therapy. We get people to change their perspective on it and in focusing on certain elements of it they feel they have a bit more control over these traumatic events. They might not be able to change it, but when they think about it, relate to it, it won’t be that spiky nasty thing. It might be that balloon dog they decided to make it into. How they relate to it becomes different and they know that’s OK, it’s happened but it doesn’t necessarily have to define me. And that’s in a a broad nutshell.

IA: Are you working with people who are dancers or non-dancers with that process?

NG: Both. Right across the board. I work with human beings. Everyone has trauma and we work with anybody and everybody.

IA: I’m interested in your training. You mentioned a degree in psychology. What is the psychology of a Hip Hop dancer going into battle?

NG: That varies from person to person and the context. Let’s start by thinking what’s the purpose of the battle. What is it going to achieve. It may be for some people on a very basic level it achieves an ego boost. It boosts their self-esteem. Makes them feel a sense of worth because everything they’ve been working so hard for has been approved by the judges to be better than someone else’s. Another level is the fact that they just need escapism. They might be having a stressful time at work or home or whatever and they just need to get away and be in the moment. B-Boying is an incredible mindful activity that keeps you in the present moment. I think the other thing with battling can I put this? It’s a way of taking control of your problems. Because really….you’re battling yourself and bettering yourself. You know that on an ultimate level. It doesn’t matter who is in front of you. You’re trying to do better than the last throw down or get further in the competition. Or maybe you just wanna smoke somebody because they pissed you off. With the psychology of the cypher you can go deep with that. On a basic level a cypher is a circle of people, one person goes in the middle, starts dancing, comes out. The psychological factors that go into that is it’s a test against yourself. Everybody feels those nerves on the edge. Everybody feels that. Can you overcome those nerves, or will you be paralysed by them? Once you’re in the cypher there’s the psychology of will you perform well? Will you throw down knowing that everybody around you is judging you? All eyes on you. Then the other psychology of a cypher is that anyone can step in and call you out at any time. You’re really putting yourself as a human being on the line in so many ways. You wanna go deeper? Cypher is an exchange of energy. Full stop. It’s an exchange of energy. Every person on the edge of the circle is as important as the person that’s in the centre. It’s the crowd that hype up and can give the B-Boy even more energy. Even if you go past the hype, it’s the ability to connect with the music, being that present and being one with the universe, with your movement, with the rest of the cypher. It’s a beautiful thing.

IA: You mentioned mindfulness and the B-Boy, can you expand on that? I’ve not seen it related to the idea of the B-Boy/B-Girl?

NG: Mindful activity is about making sure you stay in the present moment. Being aware of yourself and your surroundings. When people are B-Boying, because their movements are so complex, you have to be in that present moment. Or because you’re connecting with the music, you have to be in that present moment with what that beat is doing and hit that beat. It’s a great present moment activity. It’s a great escape for people because they don’t want to be worrying about what happened at home or worrying about when they go to work tomorrow. They just want to be in the moment, creating and vibing out. It’s really incredible when it comes to mindfulness. You can’t be day dreaming while you’re air flaring. I’ve almost fallen asleep a couple of times doing a head spin. You have to be in it, it’s an integral part.

IA: You do a lot of collaborations outside Hip Hop, with Sonia Sabri, with plant cell biologists and a range of other people. How do people come to you?

NG: I think it’s the same with everything, the more work you put in the more benefits you will receive. There’s been a lot of times when I first started Rationale I had to go around all the theatres in London knocking on the door...literally knocking on the door handing a promotional DVD to the receptionist and them saying “We’ll hand it to the Artistic Director or the Programmer.” They probably never did. I had to put in a lot of leg work, after doing that I was always trying to connect with people. For me that’s one of the most important things in this life, true human connection. It’s making sure you connect with people on a human level. When I was talking to people I think they’d feel my inspiration and passion for what I was doing. They vibe off that positive energy and because they think what I’m doing makes a lot of sense they think ‘Yeah actually this guy would be a good person to work with.’ They’d recommend me to other people and other people. Or maybe I’d approach somebody with a possible collaboration which might not come to fruition for a few years. You never know when you’re going to be connecting with people, when they’re going to return your call or say ‘What you’re doing is cool.’ Then you won’t hear nothing from them for 4-5 years and then suddenly it’s ‘He’s the perfect guy for it.’ It’s also about thinking that you’re good enough, accepting that and not being too scared to go for certain jobs. Not being too scared to put yourself in certain spaces, to speak to certain people. We come from Hip Hop. We make something out of nothing. When I talk to people, I talk to them like they’re an equal. I think this is a really important thing. Never go to somebody for a handout. Just be confident and comfortable within your own skin and what you do, and people will respond to that. It’s more about what you can offer people than what they can offer you. Once they realise that - there’s been so many people I talk to about the research I do like funders- I’ll just tell them straight, this research is so important and it’s going to happen regardless of your support or not. I think they realise that this guy doesn’t need us, but he’s really onto some interesting and exciting things. It’s about being able to hold your own - being in that metaphorical B-Boy stance. This is me. This is who I am. This is my craft. If you want to come on

IA: You mentioned your research. Can you talk about beat boxing and audio description?

NG: I should explain the whole story of my visual impairment journey in order to get to that point. I’ll try and cut and paste. I was working with Jonzi and he was doing Open Art Surgery in Doncaster, we’d already done some research with Andrew (Loretto) and Kate (O’Reilly) in an r and d phase. From that they’d said that a lot of people find conventional audio description quite boring and unimaginative, as a direct response I turned to Hip Hop and asked how can Hip Hop enhance accessibility? What are the audible elements of Hip Hop? The first thing I did was explore audio description in all its entirety; when Jonzi was working on the surgery in Doncaster we did an exploration of audio description in all its forms. Conventional audio description, through to subjective, through to it being done in a different language. We went through all those elements. I’d been away working so I come back in the studio and Sarah went 'Boom', Hung went ‘Boom’ Sarah went ‘Cat’ and Hung went ‘Cat.’ Then Sarah went ‘Boom boom cat boom.’ Hung went ‘Cat boom boom.’ Then Sarah went ‘Boom boom cat cat cat boom boom cat boom.’ Then Hung said ‘Boom boom clap if you want but no boom.’ It was one of the most well received pieces we did at the sharing. We were using the booms and the cats. The foundations of beatboxing and at that moment it made sense. You know? The beatbox element. I mean, you’ve got MC-ing which lends itself to the poetic side and we’re exploring that now. It was from the beatboxing and the booms and the cat from Sarah and Hung and me not even being in the studio. I was like, we need to go with this and pushed it further and further. I started to get beatboxers on board and it went further and further. Then when we showed bits of it to people with visual impairment they said it adds an extra dimension. Sound effects by themselves are just sound effects, so we added descriptive words and sound effects. The thing with audio description is that it’s an add on, you normally get it at the end. The audio describers get a video, or an end result of the rehearsal and they have to shoe-horn in descriptive words between text and music. Audio description never has enough time to breathe. If you’re trying to provide a service that’s supposed to enhance access and it’s having to be rushed because the art only allows for certain gaps then it’s not really given a chance to do its job properly. I thought what if we utilised audio description as a means of choreography. So I worked with my beatboxer and I would create an eight count and say what do you need to make this audio description breathe more. He’d say I need you to do another windmill with your arms, or another four hops on your hands because by the time the description catches up the movement is gone. That pushed our choreography in a completely different direction because we were taking more time over movements, doing them for longer, or not choosing to do them. We were in a really comfortable place with the audio description and was letting it do its job. Every company that the Rationale Method are working with we try to be that angel on the shoulder saying to be a bit more accessible try this or this. Whether they take us up on that is by the by, but what happens is that it puts audio description and accessibility on their radar. They might come at it from another choreographic standpoint and it gets them inspired to think about things in a different way.

IA: What would a deeper development of that look like?

NG: We’ve just done a ‘subjective and highly emotive text’ for what I’m currently working on (The Nature of Why by British Paraorchestra). I oversee it. I work with beatboxers as well as audio describers who have been working for six years. They’re really good wordsmiths and the audio describer working on this production is also a poet. I wanted her to work on the subjective text...really work on it because with audio description it’s normally objective and art’s subjective. My primary objective for the audio describers was to create a safe space for them to experiment and play. They’ve been doing audio description for years so they know what you feel can be tweaked, developed and expanded. Whereas if they’re trained audio describers, they’re paid to do it and deliver a job in a certain way. So they deliver it objectively. If you do a production and it’s not like that, then it’s a risk and that’s why I wanted to create a safe space for them to play. From there we worked with subjective text and poetry...the next step is to get some MC’s in there and take it in a different direction. What Rationale is keen on doing is, because audio description is pretty much one size fits all, is wanting to provide choice. Everybody has different tastes. Different generations, different cultures and different visual impairments. The dream is to have multiple channels. For example channel 1 is traditional audio description, channel 2 is subjective and poetic, channel 3 is MC-ing, channel 4 is beatboxing, just so people can have that choice.

IA: There’s not many non disabled artists approaching access in creative ways. You’ve mentioned your daughter as an inspiration for this work. What keeps you on this line of enquiry?

NG: When I worked with Kate it was brilliant. Kate is really hot on people being imposters, and taking a space they don’t have a right to occupy. I remember in one of our first emails she said ‘At this time cripping up is like blacking up because there’s a lot of funding going into it.’ I told her, where I spoke from was a place of truth and I stood my ground, this is why I’m doing this and this is who I am. It’s become a part of me. She said she could feel that. I’ve had to prove myself time and time again to disability arts organisations, because it’s like this is our territory what gives you the right...

IA: You could say Hip Hop gets appropriated by others...and it could be said that you are appropriating…

NG: Very much so. But. OK. This is a big but...I’m not coming at it from I’m a disabled person’s standpoint, I’m coming at it from a person who has realised that we all tread that line between disability and non disability. At any moment in our lives we can become visually impaired due to illness, injury or just by washing our faces. All of a sudden something that doesn’t have an impact on us, all of a sudden it’s in our face. We’re all human beings and we’re all one. When we worked on this production, this concept of visual impairment, my personal link to it was my daughter. Hung’s personal link to it was his grandmother losing her memory in Vietnam. He’s scared that when he goes back there she won’t see him, I mean she’ll see him, but not on a metaphorical level. Another company member lives with depression and a lot of people with visual impairment, when they first become visually impaired go through a process of shrinking and depression is quite highly associated with that. There’s many links and connections that we try and bring them together. I’m not trying to take any person’s disability spot. What I’m trying to do is say I’m coming at it from a non-disabled angle and wanting to connect because we’re all one. Another thing I’d like to mention, through exploring audio description it has allowed us to see how audio description might enhance the experience for sighted people. People don’t think how audio description can enhance experience for people who aren’t visually impaired but as you saw with this production everyone was standing and there’s certain bits everyone can’t see. If you don’t have the audio description then you’re missing out on certain elements too. It’s raising the profile of audio description and access...there’s 2 million people in the UK who have a visual impairment, that’s set to rise to 4 million by 2050. You’re either going to know someone who is visually impaired or you’re going to be visually impaired yourself. If we don’t tell people in the foyer that sighted people can benefit from audio description they’ll never know. If you don’t tell people that you’re working on a new methodology of audio description there’s a lot of people who aren’t engaging with traditional audio description, or if they do go to the theatre they’d prefer to have their friend audio describe it. If they knew that there’s something different and dynamic out there, it might be a way of engaging them, so it really does bring together people in a different way to what has been before. OK - answering the neuroimaging one...

IA: Neuroimaging of B-Boys…

NG: That came about from doing some research. Initially with the Partially Sighted Society of Doncaster, then I went on to do some research with other organisations across the country. A lot of people with visual impairments were saying they don’t go to the theatre because they can’t see the action. So I asked them what do you need to be able to see the action? They said they need the dynamics to be changing quite quickly, from high to low, wide to narrow etc. Hip Hop does that, as does a lot of other dance forms. They also said a lot of people with visual impairment - not all - see better when they look down, towards the floor. Where does most breaking happen? On the floor. When we worked with Kate there was the whole 2D/3D experience that she had. That was the catalyst. We need to start investigating this on a deeper level. We got all kinds of dancers - contemporary, ballet, B-Boys - to dance in front of people with visual impairments and they had a scale to rate the visibility of each performer and answer questions. We did that but we want to go deeper. Obviously it’s not just to prove that breaking is the most visible dance form, it’s also to find out what’s the most visible movement in each dance form because it’s all about access and being able to enhance accessibility for people. It doesn’t matter that contemporary might have some movements that are more accessible than breaking, if that’s the case and that’s what’s going to help people then that’s what we’ll be pushing for. It’s about finding out what are the most visible movements and informing choreographers and movement directors what are the most visible movements so we can enhance access on a global scale. A theatre show might have choreography ground based, or a comedian might do a lot of their gags ground based. If what we found out rings true and the phenomenon Kate has - she only sees in 2D. If she got to see in 3D watching B-Boys, if we find other people with the same condition we’ll be able to find out what it is about breaking that allows for that to happen. Once we find out what those elements are we can use them, put them into assistive technologies and help people with visual impairment on a global scale. One of the by-products of being able to do this is that it puts a legitimising stamp on Hip Hop in a way it’s never had it before.

IA: The medical profession would take it seriously and the world would take it seriously.

NG: Exactly. It’s not why I do it, but one of the drivers for me is that Hip Hop is looked down upon in many contexts and getting people to realise the value it has and how it can enhance people’s lives in different ways. Not just community engagement - because we know Hip Hop is great for community engagement...

IA: All the kids want to do Hip Hop dance...

NG: We know that. I can’t tell you how many times I get fed up with dance organisations bringing me in to do the engagement and then as soon as the kids (boys especially) are hooked, it’s alright we’re gonna teach them contemporary, some real dance now. The kids drop out because they feel like they been conned. Understand that it has value, this will give Hip Hop a value in a completely different direction. Most people when they think Hip Hop think about originality. Gotta be original. Gotta have your own moves and your own style. Even with beatboxing and MC-ing it’s in there. I’m going another way. Originality of thought. I’m going, let’s take Hip Hop and think about how it can enhance people’s lives that’s not community based. Let’s think about Hip Hop in terms of helping someone who can’t see. How can we make B-Boying a life skill for people with visual impairment? We teach B-Boying as a means of injury prevention and improve spatial awareness because people with visual impairment fall a lot. B-Boying is just falling with style! We know how to control our momentum and how to sustain it. It’s only when you stop your momentum suddenly that you fall and injuries happen. That’s taking it in a completely different direction - a life skill - not just community engagement. We’re just scratching the surface of what Hip Hop can do. If other Hip Hoppers decide to take a genuine interest in something they’re not normally interested in…show that originality of thought...this is when we’ll see the full potential of Hip Hop. In terms of how something that is rooted in Hip Hop can help other people. With the Rationale Method, it’s not just used for theatre. It’s used for TV, films and hopefully for museums. With marketing campaigns - you can audio describe e-flyers by adding sound effects and beatboxing. Doing this is making it more sustainable. We’re able to charge higher prices, than conventional ones because of what we offer, so I’m able to pay audio describers a higher rate than what they’re normally getting. I can give them more work and make sure that the fees they’re getting are reflective of their time. Getting audio description to be announced so that everyone can take part doesn’t normally happen, it’s usually a little side thing and people ask ‘What is audio description?’ With us raising the profile, we’re adding value to it and getting more people partially sighted, blind and sighted to take an interest in it. If you think about it from a monetary perspective, there’s going to be four million people with visual impairment by 2050 so if you’ve got a product and you’re not accessing four million people…

IA: How would it work on a screen based format?

NG: With screen based it’s about the subjective text and the sound effects. Films have sound effects, but in terms of physical movement how are you going to differentiate between them and the sound effects of a machine or an explosion? You add a human element. The human sound effects relate to human movement. In terms of live sport on a screen, how does a person with visual impairment access boxing for example? If you look at a boxing match they don’t get an indication of the combination of punches that were landed, where they were landed, the speed of those punches, what punches connected, they get ‘Mayweather lands another right!’ Nothing about quality, speed or pace. Again, it adds an extra layer of access. If you have a sample with sound effects it can be quite tricky to add them in live, but with a beatboxer its easy. With the research we’ve done there’s a lot of sound effects that enhance access and also a lot of sound effects that inhibit access, so if you’re not trained, you may be making things worse. We’re opening up training for anyone who wants to learn. I’ve even created my own language like Laban notation. We asked people with visual impairment to physicalise each sound that a beatboxer makes. So if the majority of people are saying {sound effect} sounds like a jump, then we say it’s a jump.

IA: So it’s crowd-sourced?

NG: Exactly. If you want to create something for the people. Go to the people. You know what works for them, and what doesn’t. That’s what the whole Rationale Method is based on. Every single element and descriptive text that is used is from feedback from people with visual impairment. They give us such rich feedback and this is why we are able to create a whole training course where we train up lots of people and deliver this on a global scale. Not just a region. Not just the UK. Across the whole world. I’m looking to inspire people to find other original ways in order to utilise Hip Hop in order to make a living. That comes from the originality of thought, not just originality of your movement or the bars you, it’s not even originality of thought, it’s originality of approach. Get an original approach and stick with it.

IA: Have you had some looks from inside the Hip Hop community?

NG: They have been cool but some people have been like ‘That’s cool, but it’s not Hip Hop.’ Or they’re like ‘That’s great all that community and charitable stuff.’ It’s not charity. This applies to everybody. It’s done to empower the whole world and that’s the crux of it. Done!

IA: That’s all my questions is there anything else you’ve not spoken about that – a memory of the past, a funny thing, something profound that you want documenting?

NG: Oh wow. Give me a minute. OK. When I was working with some visually impaired kids in Rotherham there was this one girl who has zero light perception, it’s completely pitch black for her. I was teaching her breaking as a means of injury prevention; I was leading her from the foam pit onto the matted floor and she had her left palm up, and I had my hand resting on the inside of her wrist and my middle finger went slightly to the side and her whole body went zzzzhush and moved to the side. I thought, wait a minute and then I moved it slightly to the other side - literally just a millimetre and she went zzzshuh to the others side and I thought wow. From there I started to teach...I didn’t even teach her I just started doing salsa spins with her. She was hitting everything like a pro. Literally like a pro. Better than sighted people who were beginners, and it was because she was more in touch with feeling and connection. Life is all about feeling. Life is all about connection and that was a really beautiful and profound moment. Sometimes the smallest things you do can have a massive impact. There’s been other things too. I’m a creative mentor and work with young people in care. Studies have shown a lot of young people in care don’t access further and higher education but through having a mentor they develop the life skills to live happy and successful lives. I remember my first session with this young cut a long story short I worked with her for two sessions and she mentioned about going abseiling. I said you wouldn’t catch me abseiling and she asked why, let’s just say me and heights ain’t friends! So this 12 year old girl says ‘Right. I’m going to arrange for us to go abseiling.’ I was like, whatever. Two weeks later we’re abseiling! We’re coming down the rock and I look up and this 12 year old is holding my rope. That was a huge metaphor for me because with young people, with vulnerable young people, as ‘professionals’ we expect them to just trust us. However, we rarely put ourselves in positions where we have to trust them. On that day, my life was in her hands, and when I let go, I just accepted it and it was incredible. That was one of the most profound moments of my life. In terms of a final thing, I utilise Hip Hop to try and enhance accessibility. Completely unpacking it in every way, shape and form. It has become my life’s work, but it’s allowed me to explore other areas too. One thing I have in the Rationale Method is we use different Sim Specs that give you a chance to explore aspects of different visual impairments. These are normally used to give people an experience, and there’s a lot of controversy around using them, because you’ve got 20/20 vision and then you put the glasses on and all of a sudden there’s an abrupt change. That’s not everyone’s experience of visual impairment. Most people gradually lose their sight so they’re constantly adjusting. That’s not what I use them for. We use each type as a new creative point for making art. Whether we like it or not the majority of us create art from a 20/20 visual perspective. Even in this room there’s so much information that goes unnoticed and you’ll only notice it if you distort your vision and allow yourself to focus on things you wouldn’t normally focus on.

IA: It enables a zoom onto different details...

NG: Exactly. Before you know it, it helps you create a unique style and it works for actors and dancers to painters and graffiti writers. I took it further by working in a way of enhancing a company’s productivity within business. I’ll give you an insight. One of the Sim Specs imitates tunnel vision – where you can only see a small dot in front of you; what are the characteristics that are associated with that? They might say somebody that can pay attention to one thing at a time, or someone with great attention to detail. Once you’ve identified that you ask them who in your team has that visual style, and they might say ‘Tommy’ or ‘Claire’ or ‘Zoe’ and then based on their visual style, are you assigning them the correct tasks that are appropriate for that. That’s one element of it. What I’m getting at is, because I decided to look at something that I wasn’t genuinely interested in the first place until it became super personal because of my daughter, and then applied Hip Hop to it, it allowed me to go even deeper and wrench it out of Hip Hop to enhance things in a way that hasn’t been done before. It comes from Hip Hop. But someone outside doesn’t see Hip Hop, they just see the end product. Someone seeing the show today hears the audio description and they wouldn’t think it comes from Hip Hop because the lady’s quite well spoken and it’s not ‘Yo yo, to the max now, for you one time.’ But it comes from Hip Hop because the route of enquiry came from a Hip Hop base. That’s that base. One of my analogies is Hip Hop is like a water lily. It sits on the surface of water, and it’s a beautiful flower. But the roots are in the dirtiest, dankest, nastiest part of the river bed. From that horrible nasty shit, something beautiful comes out of it. No matter what your circumstances might be, negativity is a fertile ground for creativity. Any struggles or drama people are going through there’s always hope, because it can be changed into something beautiful and’s just finding that way and finding your path.

IA: Anything else?

NG: I was artistic director of the Special Olympics opening ceremony. As far as I’m aware, there’s never been a B-Boy who has been made an AD and overseen an entire Olympics opening ceremony. In terms of making history that’s put a stamp on that and I was able to give Hip Hop a bigger platform. Ill Abilities are doing incredible work, but this added to it. It had disabled and non-disabled people and artists all working together and it was broadcast on Sky and ITV. It took place at Bramall Lane, Sheffield in 2017 and I think it will pave the way for more Hip Hop artists to be given roles of this scale and artistic authority. We have to put ourselves forward. We have to step up.

IA: How did that come about?

NG: Sheffield Creative Guild put a call out on behalf of the Special Olympics asking if anyone wanted to lend a hand. No. I lie. First they were asking if they knew any provision for arts and disabilities in Sheffield, and they couldn’t come up with any. I said ‘That’s a lie, I’ve been working with people with disabilities for over 15 years.’ I went down and had a meeting with the organisers and the production team, and said to them about the work I’d been doing and what is available. They said, based on your knowledge, ability to put on professional work and you’re touring internationally and have been working with people with disabilities for over 15 years. They said ‘We’d like you to be the artistic director of the opening ceremony.’ I guess it was because I responded to that initial email. That’s why I say, if you feel you can do something, step up.


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