“We want to put ourselves in the same category of a Picasso, of a Basquiat, of a Van Gogh”
Photo by George Evan
Editor’s note: As part of our ongoing editorial coverage of GOODFest, we’ll be chatting with artists from each of our five shows about the intersections of music and activism as it pertains to them. Check out our complete GOODFest coverage here.
If ever there were someone up to the monumental challenge of demystifying the art of dance and packaging it in a palatable way for the masses, it’d be Jon Boogz.
A lifelong student and practitioner of dance and movement arts, Boogz found recent viral success in a video collaboration with visual artist Alexa Meade and dance partner Lil Buck. The video, titled “Color of Reality,” used dance to poignantly address the devastation wrought on the black community by police shootings.
To see Jon Boogz perform tonight, tune in to goodfest.live for the livestream and follow us on Facebook.
GOODFest: Both you and The Southern Poverty Law Center, our non-profit partner for the LA show, focus on addressing issues like police killings of unarmed people of color through wildly different approaches. How do you use body movement to convey such a life-and-death issue?
Jon Boogz: My partner, Lil Buck, and I have an organization called M.A.I, Movement Art Is, and the whole mission statement is to use movement and dance not just for entertainment, but as a tool to break down social, economic, and geographic boundaries. We believe it’s a healing mechanism and a universal language. We believe it can heighten awareness of the major social issues of the day.
But dance is not just entertainment. Like music, it has the power to send a message, and movement often has the power to send a message that words can’t. We’re physical embodiments of frequencies and energies, and the energy behind our movement is so powerful that we choose to use the platform and gift we’ve been given to try and bring about social change, even if just through exposure.
Was there a moment where you realized the personal catharsis you got from dancing could be shared with others?
I did a piece in 2012 called “Mad World,” using the (Gary Jules) song from Donnie Darko. At the time, I kept seeing stuff in the news about kids committing suicide—young kids. Nobody was really shooting videos like that in my genre of dance, so my friend and I shot the video about a father who was neglecting his son, but he didn’t know his son was suicidal because he’d been neglecting him.
When we released that, I had so many people telling me they were showing the video to kids in schools. A couple preachers and churches said they used our video in their sermons. It was crazy to me because I’d never had something I did [get] used to raise awareness of any kind.
That was probably the first time I thought I might be on to something and able to create things that can provoke emotion and spark entry points into and dialogue around these critical issues.
And these aren’t always comfortable or easy topics to talk about, but if we can use movement and dance as the medium, it could bring two different worldviews and perspectives together. Art doesn’t have a religion. Art doesn’t have rules. Art is for everybody. So when you use that medium to talk about things, I find it a lot easier to bring people together in discussion.
Is there ever a concern that your viewer has to already be on board with the medium for the message to make an impact? Can a Trump supporter-type be moved to consider police brutality through the medium of dance?
At the end of the day, I can’t control what people do or don’t like. I can only create an entry point. I base my art off how I feel and what I want to say. But because we do want to affect change for the positive, we try to present as safe an entry point as possible.
I’m aware there are some people who may say ‘I don’t like it,’ or ‘I don’t agree with that.’ I can’t control that. All you can do is put out art that’s genuine and let the chips fall where they may.
Clearly, there is a growing movement of acceptance and appreciation for dance in the public sphere with films like The Fits and La La Land catching tons of awards buzz. How do you hope to see the art progress in 2017?
Our goal is to just keep pushing the boundaries. Dance seems pretty low on the totem pole right now. We glorify singers, rapper, actors—while dancers remain at the bottom. Even other artists discriminate against dance at times.
Our goal is to help create bigger platforms for dance to be appreciated both artistically and educationally. Dance should be a part of education.
My partner, Lil Buck, was on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and they’ve gone around to different schools and used dance within the kids’ curriculum to teach a certain topic.
And people learn differently nowadays. Kids can memorize a Drake song but can’t memorize a math formula, and maybe it’s because we aren’t using all the tools we have at our disposal. Technology, music, everything, really, seems to be evolving, but sometimes it seems as if education is at a standstill.
Beyond that, I see bigger and better platforms for dance. And I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, but we want to put ourselves in the same category of a Picasso, of a Basquiat, of a Van Gogh. We want dancers to be revered that way in the future.
And there have been a few breakthroughs who have reached that stature: Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Fred Astaire.
People in the fine art world already appreciate dance, sure, but it’s something that was created all these millennia ago to be experienced by everybody and we’re gonna bring it back to that place of prominence.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.