Modern dance: Hiplet crew keep traditional ballet on its toes

Much of the appeal of hiplet is seeing classically trained ballet dancers pirouette and then burst out into a sassy moonwalk or nae-nae.

modern dance hiplet crew keep traditional ballet on its toes 1024x1177 - Modern dance: Hiplet crew keep traditional ballet on its toes

Hiplet challenges traditional ways of thinking about dance and is jiving elegantly round social media once again.

But also, it has a social impact, giving black dancers who have often struggled to fit into the world of ballet a space to shine.

What is hiplet?

97c200c9 hipletballerinas 20200701 162726 4 - Modern dance: Hiplet crew keep traditional ballet on its toes
Image by Ernest Collins via Instagram @Hiplet_Ballerinas

Hiplet (which is trademarked) fuses classical pointe technique with African, Latin, Hip-Hop and urban dance styles that are rooted in communities of colour.

According to the ECE Touring website, it was specifically designed “to make ballet accessible to all, by mixing it with current popular songs that will be familiar to audiences who don’t normally attend ballet performances”.

The style is distinguished by its blend of Eurocentric ballet moves combined with an African-rooted urban hip-hop. It is important to note, however, that dancers first need to be trained in ballet in order to progress to Hiplet.

Who created hiplet?

Former principal dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem, Homer Hans Bryant created the style. Hans Bryant is the artistic director and founder of the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Centre, also known as the CMDC, which is the only studio in the world that trains dancers in Hiplet.  

According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s website, Bryant said it started in 2005 when UniverSoul Circus came to him and asked for one of his dancers to perform rap for the circus.

867bc73b hipletballerinas 20200701 162726 6 - Modern dance: Hiplet crew keep traditional ballet on its toes
Image by Ernest Collins via Instagram @Hiplet_Ballerinas

“They had a black girl playing Eminem’s violent piece ‘Lose Yourself‘ on the violin. I thought, I can’t call this rap anymore. What are we going to call this, ballet and hip-hop? Hiplet!” Bryant said.

“In 2009, I got the trademark on the word hiplet.”

Hiplet dancers dance en pointe, a technique where the ballerina performs on the tips of his or her fully extended feet, with the toes in blocked ballet shoes which support all body weight.

All the dancers who are seen doing Hiplet use pointe shoes.

Who are the Hiplet Ballerinas?

The Hiplet Ballerinas are a performance group based in the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Centre (CMDC) in the US. After going viral on Homer Hans Bryant’s Instagram in 2016, they have received recognition worldwide with appearances in Germany, France, Spain, South Korea and Hong Kong.  

Since then they have had partnerships with Mercedes Benz, Vogue’s Anna Wintour, New York and Paris Fashion Week, W Magazine, Versace and Old Navy.

42befa18 hipletballerinas 20200701 162726 1 - Modern dance: Hiplet crew keep traditional ballet on its toes
Image by Ernest Collins via Instagram @Hiplet_Ballerinas

The Hiplet Ballerinas have made appearances on television such as ABC and have featured in the following campaigns and media:

  • Nordstrom Fall Fashion Campaign 2017;
  • Nylon Magazine Featured Story 2017;
  • Google Brandcast Conference Paris;
  • Visa New Normal Campaign 2018;
  • Swarovski Athleisure Beats Campaign 2018;
  • Jonathan Simkhai for Carbon 38 Campaign 2018.

Old-School opinions

A 2017 Dance Magazine article – “Why Some Dancers Are Giving Hiplet Serious Side Eye” highlights why the dance community might not be ready to welcome Hiplet as genre.

Here are the four reasons writer Theresa Ruth Howards gives:

  1. The lack of ballet technique
  2. It’s neither hip(hop) nor (bal)let
  3. It undercuts legit advances for black dancers
  4. It feels immature and opportunistic

“For ballet dancers of colour, hiplet is something of an embarrassment,” Howards opined.

“Just when artistic directors are finally taking the need for diversity seriously, and a few black ballerinas are climbing the ranks in major companies, there is hiplet.”

However, it is definitely popular. Bryant’s studio CMDC has trained famous faces such as Sasha and Malia Obama, as well as Lady Gaga.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *