Dancer Lil Buck teaches a community master class

Dancer Lil Buck teaches a community master class. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


Lil Buck teaches Memphis-style jookin at USC

The Tennessee native brings the popular street dance style to students, staff, faculty and fans at USC Kaufman

December 01, 2016 Joanna Clay

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The USC community had a rare opportunity Wednesday night — take a dance class with Lil Buck.

If the name isn’t familiar, Google will quickly get you up to speed. Charles “Lil Buck” Riley has been featured in The New York Times and Vogue. He’s performed with Yo-Yo Ma and Madonna.

A mixture of the public, students, staff and faculty — likely nervous, since they weren’t dance majors — filled a studio in the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center.

Lil Buck and Jon Boogz
Lil Buck, right, and Jon Boogz teaching at USC Kaufman School of Dance. (Video/Joanna Clay)

“When I first started jookin, you don’t want to see the tapes,” Lil Buck said with a laugh.

Raised in Memphis, Tenn., where “jookin” was developed alongside the city’s underground rap scene, Lil Buck brought the street dance style to the mainstream.

He taught the group of roughly 20 the basics of jookin — like the “gangsta walk.”

“Really believe in this walk right now,” he said behind his shoulder, shifting his heels. “Attitude helps a lot.”

Lil Buck taught the workshops this week alongside Jon Boogz, a friend and movement artist known for poppin. He met Boogz when he lived in Los Angeles less than a decade ago, when the two of them were busking on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

He said it’s special to be teaching in Los Angeles, the place where his life took a “360 turn.”

“To be teaching it at USC, just an amazing college — it’s been a blessing,” Lil Buck said.

His big break came in 2010 when he worked on the choreography for Atlanta-based singer Janelle Monae’s music video Tightrope, which was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for best choreography.

Making their moves

Since then, Lil Buck, also classically trained in ballet, garnered attention for his collaborations — performing jookin to every type of music, from jazz and classical to rock.

“I personally feel it’s important to get jookin out there to the masses because when I saw it for the first time, I knew it had global potential,” Lil Buck said. “I knew it was one of the most beautiful things I’d seen in the streets — period.”

At the end of the hourlong workshop, Lil Buck and Boogz did a short performance for the group — showcasing jookin and poppin — and then they pointed to 23-year-old Gang Fang. Without hesitation Fang, a computer science student from China, came out and showed off his moves.

Fang says dance is his life. And even if he decides to join a startup after he graduates, he’ll always dance.

“When I’m 50 years old, I still want to dance,” he said.

But he couldn’t keep talking. He had to go talk to Lil Buck about his technique before he left.

“You seldom have the chance to talk to these people in China,” he said.

Lil Buck and Boogz will perform tonight alongside musician Ashley Bathgate at USC’s Bovard Auditorium. Find about more about the free event online, which is presented as part of USC’s Visions & Voices initiative.