Zoom, November 2021
Saskia is a multi-disciplinary artist working across movement, music & text. With a practice drawn from Krump, Waacking, House & Hip hop, they've danced for ZooNation, House of Absolute & Rugged Estate at venues like: Institute of Contemporary Art, the V&A, Sadler’s wells & Love Supreme Festival. They are a commissioned artist at The Place, set to produce their first full-length work by 2022 and Creative Producer & Composer at House Absolute, currently- Artist in Residence with the Philharmonia Orchestra (2020-2022). As a violinist, they have studied 10 yrs classically & 5 years in jazz, performing for FKA Twigs, ESKA, Dr. Martens & BBC Sounds. They're interested in creating innovative multidisciplinary work that is visceral, engaging & accessible.
IA: Could you introduce yourself and describe what it is that you've done so far?
SH: Interesting question. OK, my name is Saskia. I am a bi, genderqueer, multidisciplinary, artist/alien. What I've done so far in my life is definitely a multitude of things. But up until this point it has mostly come from two directives - embodying a world of dance (or movement) and a world of music (or sound). Those two worlds have been the most present ones for me that I have been involved with for the longest time and that I've been the most passionate about. Not least because up until recently, there was quite a denial of ‘multidisciplinaryism’ being a valid career path or even a viable one. I have very strong memories, all the way from being a young child to an almost adult, of people trying to dissuade me from pursuing a professional career in dance and music at the same time. That’s a very brief summation of what I've done so far.
IA: Crews and kinship is really prevalent in both hip hop and bands and they’re spaces that you exist in. With your relationship with House of Absolute (HOA), your bands and other crews that you've been in, could you talk about what kinship is to you and the idea of a family that you choose?
SH: I think you can't search for kinship. True family finds you. I think that you attract the energy that you most need to support your growth - if you can be open to them and not if you're trying hard to integrate into a community or a group or style. Then it becomes inauthentic and you're much less likely to find genuine bonds. What was the question, what is kinship?
IA: Yeah, what is kinship to you and the idea of a family that you have chosen.
SH: You've chosen? Yeah. I'd say that's it. It's also about sisterhood, brotherhood, sibling-hood. I think an interesting thing is the kind of sibling relationships that you can develop with people, it can be quite close but then there's not that co-dependency that one might have with a parental relationship. It's more like supporting. We talk about ‘Each one teach one’, but it's deeper than that in terms of ‘Each one teach one’ about life principles, about what is movement or dance or music on a deeper level, why are we doing this? Aligning your values and mission. No, that sounds too like business like, I just mean your ultimate end goal in doing these things should be aligned for the ultimate kinship.
IA: What are the energies that reverberate for you in HOA?
SH: Oh wow yeah. So. Julia is our mother and will hate me for calling her my mother...our nicknames for each other, should I say this? Is Mama Juju and Baby Sass. When I saw Julia for the first time in the club, that was the first embodiment of womxnhood and femininity that actually wasn't gendered; it was strong, warrior like and undeniable. It was a different type of motherhood, one that I'd never encountered before and she took me under her wing, taught me, shared with me the principles that have grounded her through her dance journey. It changed my life. I think she does that for whoever she sees. We're called House of Absolute, and it's a little controversial, as we have appropriated the ‘house model’ from Vogue, but we are not a Vogue house, none of us Vogue. We’re a Waacking/Whacking house. I felt like I didn't find home until I met Julia and Ffion. There's been lots of people who have come in and out the company, transient members and whatnot, but the core of it. (I like to call us the holy trinity.) That's my perception, because that’s how I was brought into the house, through Julia and Ffion and through our enigmatic connection that we found in the club, at Four to the Floor, for several years. It was like an intense boot camp of training, where I had a sister and a mother figure guiding me through this new journey, style and culture. People like Jerry, I don't know if you know- Diva J - she's in the scene and won locking international...I don't know if it was an international battle...when she was about 10 years old. She wasn't even allowed to compete because she was too young, but she got to anyway. She's been in HOA since she was ten, much longer than me. There's other members like Lula, who is more of a musician, but also is an incredible punk dancer, stylist, epic multidisciplinaire. It's a really interesting and varied family network. But, this is the first place I found that I called home.
IA: Thank you. Generational hierarchies and lineages are really present in hip hop dance and other dance forms. Could you talk a bit about your choreographic lineages?
SH: Choreographic lineage? What do you mean? Because, I know my style lineage for example. I know the styles I've done and the lineage they have. I know my teachers' lineage, so the teachers who have taught me and the teachers who have taught them. But choreographic, I’ve not had anyone teach me how to choreograph. I have not had a specific space like I have had for the styles that I've learned. Not a specific space to cultivate a choreographic practice, besides the space I have cultivated for myself and the ways in which I have observed other people when working with them. I just collate and collect ideas and evidence. I'm a serial hoarder of information, I'm very much like an archivist. Like yourself, in terms of...I have books and folders and that accumulation of knowledge and information is how I put together my choreographic practice, but I kind of struggle to state my choreographic lineage.
IA: Could you talk a little bit about a lineage in one of your styles to get that sense of depth of practice and history?
SH: Yeah, that's nice. If we go with Julia, Julia was taught by Stuart Thomas, who also taught Dickson. He comes from a contemporary, jazz and ballet background. He teaches Graham too and he's taught a few company classes for HOA. It's quite interesting actually, because I didn't understand that lineage for a long time. In fact, I don't think it even clicked with me until about last year. Before, when we'd have company classes, Julia would start all of our warm-ups with Qigong and other things - like classical technique, which baffled me. Apart from the fact that I know that waacking comes from a jazz lineage, I was like, why are we doing a tendu? I knew it was important but I didn't get it; ballet was what I wanted to escape from when I fell into hip hop. It wasn't till I learnt from him and got closer to him as a person that I understood the profound effect that he had on Julia’s generation and all the dancers who she came up with. Stuart has told me loads about his teachers, I can't remember names, but he really did learn from the source when it comes to Graham, contemporary and jazz dance. He has that sense of wisdom and knowledge of someone who has lived a lot and learned a lot. I feel the weight of that. Then, with Waacking Julia learnt from Tyrone Proctor. He came over to the UK and formed by IHOW - International House of Waacking and Tyrone was an original Soul Train dancer and original punk. So that's directly from the source of where Waacking really started. Sadly he passed away last year and I was lucky enough to get to meet him when he came to the UK for an event. I think it was after his judge demo and he gave a speech commemorating all the Punks who birthed this culture into the world and who have passed away from the AIDS epidemic. Dropping their names so that people can hear and remember them. Andrew, Lonnie, Tinker, Michael, Tyrone, Victor. Just some of the names that must be remembered. They were the ones who danced alongside Diana Ross on her tour and were the epitome of finding a voice within an era of oppression against the LGBT community; finding a freedom of expression through disco and to funk music. Authentic. We can get into Punking later. I would call myself a Punk. I wouldn't call myself a Waacker. Anyway, that's that lineage. Then there's the Krump one, but that's more musky in my mind. I suppose I was in a fam called ‘Crooked District’. Laurence Cooke. He's from Bristol and is very accomplished right now. He's definitely on the top of his game in terms of, he's one of the most well known UK Krumpers and most well travelled, battling across Europe. He's sick. I would gravitate towards him because he had a really unique style. He had trained in contemporary and that was where he got the impetus or the idea to deconstruct a lot of the Krump basics, a lot of the storytelling elements. He was very methodical and used to do a lot of moves that people were just cussing him out saying that's not even Krump, but now he's like killing it. He was taught by KeLLias who is in France. KeLLias ThaBiJuu is his full name. KeLLias is an OG in France and his style was really experimental. I mean, it's monstrous, completely character driven. No combos or anything. Laurence was the main person that I was under for the longest. I was in other farms before that, but my Krump lineages are from everywhere and everyone. I was in Buckness Personified and Rugged Estate. I travelled to the US, to Australia, to Germany. France. I travelled everywhere to learn from everyone because I was eager.
IA: One of the things that you do in your performance is dissolve the binary between waacking and krump; you've spoken about the buckness in waacking and the raw sexual energy in krump, could you talk about the transfer and the shifting of energies between these forms?
SH: I believe there's no binary to dissolve really, because they're not opposite styles. To me, they're exactly the same in terms of the energy and where they come from. They're both intentionally character driven. They’re styles in which you cannot lie. You can't. You can't cover up your dance with a cool set, combo or a sense of bravado. If you're not dancing from a place of authenticity, it's completely obvious. But I love what you said about the raw sexuality in Krump, I think that is something that I'm still afraid of almost, or I think a lot of people are afraid of focusing on and dealing with. Whereas I definitely recognise in Waacking, because of its queer undertones and roots, it's embedded in it, this dissolving of the gender binary. You can see a masc lesbian waack in a suit, but you could also see a trans woman waack and you have completely different gendered energies, types of dominance, submission and power play - which is exactly what is there within krump. One thing I meant to say was where I learnt Waacking, my lineage as you've called it, if I hadn't met Julia, I would never have gotten into it. Before that, I had always seen Waacking as inherently sexual and inherently feminine, which I completely despised. I had an aversion to it. But when I saw Julia Waack, it was presence that she emanated, not sexuality, it was power, expression and storytelling. Not attention seeking. Julia and Fionn are both trained in various martial arts, which is a key element of Waacking as a dance. It comes from a fighting style, Krump is a battle style. So there's a buckness in Waacking where you can definitely explain that. But within Krump the sexuality element, or maybe the gender bending element, which I think people don't look at - or are afraid to - really stems from it being perceived as a really masculine, male dance. Then there are divisions in categories in most Krump battles - you have a female category and a male category, which is the same for B-girls and B-boys. But for someone who might transgress the gender binary, there’s not much choice there. At that time, identifying as a female in Krump, I felt like I had to hold on to my ‘womanhood’ for dear life just because I had this body and I had to prove something more because I was in this body. I wanted to dance like guys, but I knew that people saw me as a girl and that was really frustrating. It was just so hard to wrap my head around, and to go back to the sexuality part, I suppose, hips thrusting, the groove, the sensuality in the groove, the body isolation in Krump and also the creativity. Creativity and sexuality come from the same place in the body, if we're talking about energy centres. Krump has such a deep, deep, deep sense of creativity and storytelling, that it's like, how could you not be in touch with your sexuality? How I dissolve them? I don’t know. I've just gone so deep in both worlds, in the same way I have in music and dance that’s like who I am. It's just a product of that.
IA: In terms of your network and orbit, who are the three people who nourish, support and feed you? It's important that it's only three.
SH: I'm very isolated at the moment, so it's a difficult question in itself because of that. OK, first person is Emma Houston. They’ve seen something in me that I didn't, that I didn’t see in myself, but we were able to hold up mirrors to each other in the pandemic of self discovery, of truth telling, and creative exploration as artists. We have similar forms of inquiry around dissolving binaries in dance. I have to say Ffion Campbell Davies, because she's the only person - or was the first person - to recognise and reflect back to me that “Kraack” was a real thing, which is in Waacking and Krump and is the worst name. We were like kindred spirits really and we met at a crossroads. Her coming from a completely Waacking background...at the time we met, they had long blonde braids and I was dressing in all black and I was super masc. We met at a crossroads and cross pollinated our practices. Krump/Waacking, boom. She constantly supports me, especially the journey I'm on now through healing and things that are so much deeper, but are still intertwined with artistic practice. Like ancestral work, looking into your familial and cultural lineage to support music/dance practices. Also her multidisciplinary music/musician/dancer. There's just so many connectivities there. Who's the third person? Who's the third person? OK. Yeah, I'm gonna say, Lorenz, who isn't a dancer. He's my brother. He's a pianist and a producer but used to be the pianist in Nihilism, which was my band. I mean, he's just a mastermind. He's just so authentic and invincible. He's very multidisciplinary in what he does as a musician, he's a producer, he's a pianist, he's a composer and he produces other artists as well. He can tell me things that have insight into dance and Krump and Waacking that no dancer would ever come up with. Yeah. Lorenz Okello-Osengor.
IA: You've mentioned your archivist qualities and your notebooks already. Could you talk about how you consider your archive, documentation, and your legacy?
SH: Those are three very big things, archives, documentation and legacy. I feel like my archive is very personal. It's so many notes and books on process, as well as ideas for workshops, workshopping movement and dance. As well as history, I definitely have documentation of the history of what we've just talked about, but also the broader history of the styles I’m currently working with and other things I'm interested in. I'd say it's deeply personal, but it really excites me to look back on my writing. If I had it here, I would pull it out and start reading, but it's things like ‘groove theory’. Basically, I'm a writer. I'm a writer first and foremost. I started writing at the age of seven. It's the thing that just spills out of my brain whenever I'm doing projects, and now that I've stopped doing projects and stopped working, it's the only thing that's still spilling out of my brain. It's actually the only thing that is still accessible for me. I can't lie through words. Then there’s the archival documentarian style of writing that I have; I love reading theses and essays. So I try to write miniature essays on all the research that I've done, the R&D that I did in 2019, which involves Ffion and Isaac and other people. There was so much that came up from the discussions we had, because the piece I was making is around race in music, the legacy of pop culture and an osmosis of black music culture into the mainstream, from where it was before in the 60s and 40s. Lineages of music, really, but especially in today's highly tense climate, what does it mean for these cultures to survive and for us to recognise them? So much came up from those discussions. I have writing that detours away from dance completely and it's really just in depth research on music history, race politics, critical race theory and different things...so much writing, but I love nerdy shit. So there's that documentarian in me, I haven't been trained, so I'm very aware that the last thing I did was English GCSE. But I literally read so much and reading is my lifeblood. That's how I've learned to write.
IA: How have you documented what you've been involved with it? Is it diary, reflection, how do you process this new information? I'm interested in the mechanics.
SH: I haven't looked back on these folders for a very long time. I'm incredibly proud of them but I haven't reviewed them. Off the top of my head, like, if I got it, I could definitely go through it, a chapter by chapter review because I have a filing system and different sections. But it's also very organic. I don't force myself to write essays on dance or cultivate ideas about ‘what do you get if you cross pollinate this style of choreographic movement and this improvisatory form?’. I don't do that. It's very much when I'm in a workspace with people who inspire me, it’s the findings from our conversations. I definitely write and record constantly, so I always have my phone on, recording voice memos and I will go through hours and hours of voice notes, make notes, bullet points and then shorten those bullet points into paragraphs, or I'll expand them if I want to write them into a definition of something. None of this has seen the light of day because it is very personal and it's all contributing to the foundation of my choreographic practice. I'm just happy to have it. It's good to know that I did that and I learned some stuff, especially now because I don't know what's gonna happen. Maybe they'll see the light of day, I don't know.
IA: How would you define Kraack?
SH: Kraack? Oh my god. I think it needs to have another name...no, I love it. I love it. Kraack is like, ‘Cracking’, the sound and the visual you get from snapping something in two. The funny thing is I have a folder of Kraack workshops with warm up exercises, breathing exercises, movement generation exercises that are all based around ‘Kraacking’. This moulding of the two styles. But, you know, my investigations are ongoing. One thing that has...that I tried to start investigating this year with Fionn and Emma - but we ended up stopping - was a link between Qigong and Krump. My character in Krump is called Atom. That was actually given to me by Kendrick ‘H20’ Sandy. He said I should be called something like ‘Atomic’ because I was really explosive, but I just took it from that, Atom. It's taken a very long time for the idea of that character to develop. Very early on I met a very spiritual Krumper from Perth, Western Australia who told me that atoms are the building blocks of everything and essentially your character is an expression of connectivity to the universe. I was like, nah, it’s just a cool name but as I’ve gone on in my movement practice Qigong has been become such a foundational element in my healing and day to day life. So and I know for Emma and Ffion, they've both separately been through various trials and tribulations in the past few years and have also found a solace in a home place in Qigong, so I’m adding that into it; the shaking from Qigong, the different hand gestures and the way you manipulate Qi with the hand is so reminiscent of Krump movement. I know that my practice has to be grounded on breath and an understanding of breath work. That didn't come from Krump or Waacking but it's definitely a part of Kraack. It's definitely still forming itself, I can't put a label on it.
IA: In our email exchanges you spoke about people policing things that are and are not hip hop. What do you mean by that? And is that something that you've experienced?
SH: I think I may have worded that wrong. Though I definitely had the intention in that sentence correct. The idea of policing and policing people or feeling policed. But maybe it's not “things” as much as it is people. I feel like there isn't really a space or not a safe space or clear space for trans and non binary and even queer people within Hip Hop. I think there's not really a safe for disabled or chronically ill people within hip hop. I think it's tricky. I think I've just always felt outside of the box. I've always felt like I don't fit in even with everything we've talked about and the movement styles that I embody. I think for a long time, I felt completely delegitimised, in my own practice, because I had been in Krump completely, deeply and authentically, but then I fell in love with Waacking completely, deeply and authentically. But there wasn't a space that was there that allowed me to express both those things at the same time. I could only be one or the other. If I went to a Krump session wearing anything with colours, or sequins or flares, I wouldn't feel comfortable and everyone would stare at me. I literally couldn't jump in the session, because I would feel wrong. Similarly...vice versa, but it was the opposite with Waacking. I suppose there isn't really a policing, but there are gatekeepers right now within Hip Hop as the style and especially Hip Hop theatre and the culture growing around presenting it as an art form on stage. There are people within our community who are stepping up onto pillars and becoming gatekeepers, which is a good thing because they have a power to distribute. But it's, it's also scary. I think what I would feel less scared about is if there was more an acknowledgement from those people of the power that that's growing and that they hold and a delineation of that power, especially to marginalised groups and under-represented groups. I couldn't call what I do Krump theatre, but I know that's a thing. I've talked to Ffion and other people about the intense fear of appropriating certain styles or being seen as not authentic because you're mixing styles. I just try to not believe the hype and also close my ears to anyone who's trying to delegitimise what I’m doing. The policing thing is more of a people thing, like what bodies are allowed in hip hop or what bodies or even seen is very contentious.
IA: What do you want to dismantle in hip hop?
SH: I want to dismantle the idea that we have ‘arrived’. That we are good people. That because we do a style that was born out of oppression and also rising above certain circumstances and liberates...although we are part of a culture that is about liberation, that doesn't mean we are necessarily liberated. Especially for people like us who are white, or white passing, or mixed heritage and have white privilege...I lost my train of thought. I get brain fog...
IA: What else do you want to dismantle in hip hop?
SH: Yes. People with white privilege...we need to dismantle white supremacy within hip hop, we need to dismantle transphobia within hip hop. That's just frickin rampant, especially in the music side of it. You know you've got Da Baby and all these different artists shouting out homophobic lyrics. At least we do have two sides of it now, we do have like the Little Nas X's and Janelle Monae’s - maybe the good and evil, haha. We do have more diversity, but we can't just pat ourselves on the back for being a part of a culture that is uplifting and has broken down many boundaries before. It is our duty as carriers of the torch of that culture to keep on breaking down barriers. I definitely want to dismantle the binaries within Hip Hop. Man, woman. B-girl, B-boy. Me versus you, I’m gonna take you down and smoke you. I think battle culture is super important, but it's about dismantling the ego within Hip Hop and realising that when you're battling, you're battling to better yourself, you're battling to better the community and to raise the standard of the entire style that you're dancing for. It's not just to smoke someone. Even within the forms that are being created, which are very powerful and notable, I think we need to dismantle those forms as we create them, which sounds really paradoxical, but...don't make it inaccessible. We can't fall into the trap of becoming, white collar...high art...it's not that we can't be high art, it's just that we can't become inaccessible. I want to dismantle any of that inaccessibility that is going to arise from Hip Hop being in certain spaces. Accessibility in general, Hip Hop is not accessible for someone like me right now.
IA: What was the what was the first Hip Hop theatre work that you saw?
SH: Oh, god. Into The Hoods. No, take that back, it wasn't that, I said that because I was in that one and it popped into my head. The other one. Some Like It Hip Hop, I saw it when I was 14. I definitely see it through rose coloured glasses, because I was a kid. It was the first time I'd ever seen, not just dance on stage, live musicians and live singers on stage in something that wasn't musical theatre. That was really powerful to me because it was like the ultimate representation of everything that I was told I wasn't allowed to do on stage. The narrative is obviously about women dressing up as boys which was extremely...OK I’m gonna take a minute for that (laughing)...it's funny when you ‘Come out’ and you then you look back through your life and you realise… all the moments…(you were really obviously queer/trans). So that resonated to me for obvious reasons but also the ‘woman empowerment’ thing and the transgression of gender binary in that show. It's very weird not to see it from my lens now as a judgmental adult. I actually watched it again when it was on YouTube last year and I still have the same feelings of profundity in terms of the exact way it is made. It tugs at your heartstrings, you can't not feel things, you can't not empathise with those characters and what they're going through. It is brilliantly crafted and written. I suppose what latched on to me at that young age was the idea of storytelling. And I think, probably from, as young as 14, I was walking around being like, I want to be a storyteller, I want to be a storyteller. It's funny though, it's only recently that I realised how...because I used to actually identify as that, (I would say, I'm a storyteller, even before I'm hip hop dance or whatever.) I understand how much of an impassible task it is, it's so much more complex than you can even imagine to tell a good story. I'm nowhere near there yet.
IA: As someone who achieved their grade eight in violin by the age of 13, practice and craft is not unfamiliar to you. Could you talk about your practice and craft within Hip Hop?
SH: Practice and craft. I'm imagining my 14 year old self now. I want to draw on the reference you mentioned because when I was about 13 or 14, I was practicing violin about three to four hours a day. Every day. There was a dexterity, obsession, but dexterity and durational work in that space where...first of all violin, particularly classical violin, is one of the hardest instruments to make sound good. But then on top of that, even to become proficient enough or good enough sounding to play grade eight pieces or concertos to the level at which they should be played. That requires such a mastering of technique, and hours poring over scales and arpeggios and pieces. I was lucky enough also to experience playing in orchestras from a young age and doing chamber music, which brought that communal element and much deeper sense of listening and understanding as well as conveying emotion and empathy through sound and storytelling through sound. That communal aspect is what has led me to such a love of hip hop where it's all about sharing, and cross blending your sounds or styles or energies. When it comes to it was practice, so when it came to Krump, when it came to Waacking I definitely approached them with the same level of dexterity as it took to learn classical violin. I was obsessed. I would drill and drill and drill (you wouldn’t call it that in classical music) so you can build up the muscle needed like, because in different styles you need different kinds of muscle density in different parts of the body to achieve the textures, grooves or isolations that you need to within that scale. The practice part of it is definitely being really focused and drilling, almost being mathematical about it. Take the emotion out of it and practice your scales. The craft part of it is where you put your emotion into it; if it was a concerto, it'd be where I dissect how Nicola Benedetti or Maxim Vengerov does it. To compare it in the same vein, I would compare battles of Tight Eyez versus battles with someone from Senegal, for example. One thing I love is how each country has its own unique Krump style. Then trying to find a way to light a fire of your own craft within that art form. I love the word craft, it's such a great word to use, because it creates this image of building something. You're choosing and gathering all these tools, and then you pick and choose which parts to build your structure or a version of a thing. There’s no way around it. Hard work.
IA: There’s a lot of conversation about environmentalism and sustainability. What are your thoughts on degrowth? Slowness? How might they manifest in Hip Hop?
SH: I’m glad you asked this question. Because even though it's through a different lens, I know it's where I'm headed. It’s the paradigm of a reality that I'm existing in right now. I think slowness and degrowth does not exist in Hip Hop right now - to a degree - there are people, there are individuals who are making it exist, but it doesn't exist as a concept. Because it's such a young style, because it's rebellious, because it's still at that growth stage, I feel like you can't deny a teenager their rebellion. I feel like we're still in that teenage phase, Hip Hop is still finding itself. So in some ways it goes against the grain to say that we should invest in degrowth or slowness, but I think any culture that has sustained itself for more than 100 years, say like classical music, has at some point invested in that idea. The idea I want to expand on is slowness as a concept, stillness as a concept. I think one thing I've been investing a lot of thought into is this idea - that a lot of people throw around rather casually - that ‘less is more’. I think so few people really understand what that means. Because what does it mean when you literally can't move because of chronic fatigue. Or you can only move for 30 seconds? Or you can't stand, you can't walk because you're paralysed from the waist down. What does it mean to be restricted in some way or to be forced to move incredibly slow in this world that is so based on capital, drive, excess and consumerism? It goes against the grain of everything we've been taught and brought up on. One thing I've gotten into over the past few years is video essays and, you know, I've watched this incredible one - I think her name is Kimberly, but her channel is called ‘For Harriet’ - on the whole trend of hashtag, what was the trend? Something about labour (#IDontDreamOfLabour) basically our generation, my generation and younger not wanting to work in the same way that older generations have, they don’t want to invest their whole lives into capitalism and capitalisation and growth. They want to slow down, take stock and invest in living as opposed to working. Within Hip Hop, I think that there's a few people that I have gravitated towards already - I don't know if I want to say who they are - but they are prominent people in the scene. People who understand, people who are from a different...who are disabled or have had a different entry into Hip Hop besides the ‘wham bam shablam’ - I did a sick move. We are sold this idea that Hip Hop is all about growth, the flashiest moves and the highest level of athleticism because we're trying to challenge styles like ballet and contemporary which have been around for so long. Like the only way to do that is to be bigger, louder and faster. I'm definitely one who's arguing for no, can we not be slower, quieter, and more profound? Is it not true that when someone whispers, someone intensely whispers in a room, everyone will crane their neck to hear what that person is saying? It's a different kind of quality, but it's something that I'm definitely looking to invest into creating spaces for people who are investing in slowness and de-growth.
IA: You as a collaborator. Some of the things you’ve been involved with TJ, Lucas, tyrone isaac stewart, Caravan, my panda shall fly, Rambert, Celine, Nathan...that's a lot in the past five or six years. Then there's you as a solo maker with Motown and the stuff you put out on Instagram, the short video portraits and offerings. I'm interested in some of your reflections about you in those two different spaces. You with others and you as author?
SH: I probably can't remember all the collaborations I've done. It's nice to be reminded. I mean, wow. The first piece that I made was with Tyrone for Collabo in 2016. I'm sure I made stuff before that, but that was the first one I remember where we had a real process. I joke that he's my brother or he's me five years in the future because we went to the same uni, but I did that because he told me about it. With Krump and Jazz, we are very intertwined in our practice. I remember that first process that we had, he was the one who introduced me to making playlists every month to find new music and he was the first lesson who told me that we need to create a ‘movement language’. I was like, what's a ‘movement language’? For the piece that we were making, we wanted to make a playlist and a world of sound, but also a movement language and a world of movement. I think that really began a lot for me in terms of how I wanted to collaborate with people. I suppose it's hard to find a good collaboration honestly, it's hard to find a space where you really, truly honour each other as artists and hear each other, whether you're working for someone or you're on the same level and both employed as choreographers. It's a real balancing act. I've been in a lot of unbalanced situations where I've been working for people and there's a lot of strange power dynamics at play and uncomfortable situations that arise. It's been very interesting to be an observer in a lot of processes that I disagree with and it has taught me a lot. But I definitely got a shout out Nathan, because I love him. He's someone in terms of...if you talk about Instagram work and vignettes I find his video shorts so beautiful and so inspiring. He also works with puppets, and I love puppetry. It’s such a random thing that I love but ever since I saw Dark Crystal, I love puppets. Me as a solo creative, I suppose I'm not used to it. I'm so used to being a collaborator, that even in my solo work, I brought in Isaac and Ffion and Nevena and the whole work was very much generated by those conversations. But also by my research, that's a huge, huge, huge part of it. I would never downplay the role of research...it was probably two and a half years of research that went into Life According to Motown. We've only done a year of actual process, of creating. Let's not talk about the pandemic or my illness. Two years...has meant that hasn't been made. There's all that prep work as a solo artist that you have to do and self investigation. One thing in the future, like a dream, would be to be able to perform as a solo artist with my violin, a whole production with my movement, sound and music that I've composed and I've choreographed. That's an idea. But I won't hold onto it, because I have so many other passions as well within music. I'm not ready to be centre stage at the minute.
IA: Is there anything that you want to talk about, that we've not picked up on that you want recording? It can be joyous, political, a kindness.
SH: I could definitely talk more about the two things that are at the forefront of my mind most of the time, which are transness and disability. In relation to Hip Hop or what I think the climate is within Hip Hop right now. And accessibility really, because it's important. In our email conversation, I was wondering whether to do this interview because I wonder if there is even a space for me any more. Can I re-enter this scene at all? I think that has to be said, in this space where you're asking me how I contribute to Hip Hop. I mentioned that I might be just out of it. I don't know.
IA: Anxiety, mental health, disassociation, grief. Big, big things that have been heavy and real for you and for a lot of others in the past period. As an inversion to that, can you speak about some of the kindnesses that you've received in Hip Hop instead?
SH: That’s beautiful. OK, I think every person who just taught me something. I think the thing that I was initially bowled over by when I was welcomed into the underground Hip Hop community was like, because I actually was in the commercial, class scene before that. When I first walked into Charing Cross and the first person I met just walked up to me, gave me a hug and was like, do you want to learn this step that I'm learning? It's these people who people wouldn't even know anymore because they've moved country or were like a House dancer at Charing Cross for a few years or people who have come in and out the scene. But anyone who has taken the time to notice someone like me, who was this eager eyed kid, and were like you look like you want to learn. Sharing that knowledge for free and sharing that love of that culture for free. There's definitely that, but kindness is an interesting word because I think that's a very specific, a very soft energy and emotion. It's also an action, like an act of kindness. It's weird isn't it? How as we get older, we seem to hold on to more of the other side of things, the dark side, or the moments of ‘not kindness’. That's the most authentic example I can think of right now, it's anyone who was willing to teach me. That’s the biggest act of kindness.
IA: What is your strongest memory of dance
SH: A 100 memories of dance just crossed my eyes. My strongest memory of dance, it’s almost impossible. I can say the favourite show that I've ever been in was FKA twigs. We haven't talked about that collaboration. She's my idol in terms of multidisciplinarianism and creating alternate reality - that's something I'm really obsessed with too. But the show called Rooms was a takeover of a multi storey building in Shoreditch. The setting of it was 12 rooms taken by 12 different set designers - insanely done up and conveying each element on the zodiac. There was this whole narrative behind it to do with the 13th element and Capricorn and Capricorn’s mother and twigs played one of those Capricorns. It was an immersive theatre, dance, music, sound experience with an insane set design, and I got to play Sagittarius. What's so vivid about that dance memory is that every night, it was a two hour long performance, was completely improvised. I was given the space to create an entire movement vocabulary. I was playing my violin, so a compositional vocabulary too. I had the set which was like massive black rose with individual light bulbs dripping off of it. To create that alternate universe for myself every night for two hours, to exist in it and dare people to confront me and explore me and visit and expose it with me. That is the most vivid and empowered dance memory I have.
IA: Is there anything else that you want to speak on or talk about that has not been covered?
SH: I want to address the lack of availability, knowledge and understanding, and therefore space for trans identity within Hip Hop. We have Vogue and that was created by black trans women and that is an element of a street dance style. I don't know if voguers would put themselves under the umbrella of Hip Hop, but it has been more and more recognised as it's become more commercialised. But there are trans people everywhere, trans people in Breaking, in Krump, in Waacking, in Popping and every style, there's divergences of gender and how people express and explore themselves as human beings. I want to be a ‘lighthouse’. Even if I say it here and someone else reads this interview in the community and knows that they're trans and it's like, “Oh, I didn't know that there was someone else, that there was a space and there was people who are identifying and trying to make space for that.” Hi! What I'm finding most difficult to navigate right now, since coming out, is the misinformation and not knowing when you walk into a space, if you're going to find someone who's transphobic or ignorant. Even ignorance is really hard to navigate a lot of the time, because what you end up facing is an outright denial of your identity. You know - just weird and invasive questions that you would never ask a cis-gendered person about your body, about how you feel about your body; it's like mate, it’s really none of your business unless I choose to share that with you, or express that with you through dance, or experiment with that through dance. Then, you can ask the question why I wore that outfit, or talked a certain way or dressed a certain way. People really need to understand the difference between gender expression, gender identity and sexuality, and to separate these things. I am open to conversations with people who don't believe trans people exist, because I did have...the reason why I'm saying all this as well is because I haven't been able to re-enter into the Hip Hop community that much since the pandemic. But even all the small instances I have met someone who is totally ignorant...I had a quite heated - but I'm glad we had it - discussion with a prominent member of the community, who I didn't expect to be outrightly...I’m not sure about saying it - ah, transphobic, (they were). We had a very head-to-head debate about it and I'm appreciative to that person for holding that space. I'm glad that we had that discussion and we got to meet head on and they got to deny trans rights, all these different things and I got to fight back. In the social media bubbles that we exist in we think everyone has the same opinion as us, especially within the Hip Hop community where there’s such a diversity of culture, race, upbringing, sexuality, there are gonna be people with different views. Even if not everyone's aware of, or believe in queer...or wants to fight for queer issues, let's at least have a discussion about it. What was incredible about that discussion is that by the end of it, I managed to convince that person that trans people should just be allowed to use whatever bathroom they want. They ended up being like, “Oh, yeah, it's kind of weird, but why am I so caught up on that? Why not? Yeah, OK.” Even though they didn't believe that trans people exist. If we just had open spaces and discussions, I have seen some things going on, like A4A, I really wish that there was more trans and queer and non binary voices in those discussions to rock the boat and call out people's ignorance and preconceptions about what that means and why actually it's not that much of a big deal. We're all human. We did touch on the slowness and degrowth aspect of things, I think - this is really a societal problem with accessibility - Hip Hop should be a champion of accessibility, because we are...it is a culture of dismantling, it is a culture of liberation. So why are we not at the forefront of working to make all Hip Hop spaces accessible? That's just another little shout out. If anyone who's reading this is interested in disability rights and advocating for disabled dancers and coming together to make spaces for people with different or diverse abilities. Hit me up. I want to be a part of those spaces, I want to find those safe spaces. I feel like...it's very sad to me that a place that was my home for such a long time - and it is still my home - but it's not a home that I feel safe in anymore. I don't know how to keep myself safe and reintegrate into it. I urge theatre owners or big choreographers or creators to really consider how would a deaf person experience, how would a person in a wheelchair experience, how would a person with chronic fatigue experience...their work. I've been thinking about how to create performances for people who lie down and can't sit up because I've spent so much last year lying down. It's such an interesting way to see the world. Why not create from a different angle. That's what disabled people can bring, different angles that are completely ingenious ways of seeing the world, this could transform hip hop and elevate it to a whole other level. And it's all intersectional right? Our fight must be intersectional or it's bullshit. What you mentioned about environmentalism, ableism, sexism, racism, transphobia. I want to do the work now more than ever and that is my main focus while I cannot be within Hip Hop, to keep doing that work and find ways in which I can be impassioned and emboldened in fighting that fight. And then hopefully, when and if I'm able to reintegrate, I can bring all that good stuff with me.