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‘Hiplet’ is a hip-hop take on ballet

It’s not hip-hop. It’s not ballet. It’s “Hiplet,” and it’s coming to the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center at Gonzaga on Tuesday. In 2016, the Hiplet Ballerinas went viral after posting a practice room video of their signature strut en pointe.

A stylistic marriage of ballet with African, Latin, hip-hop and urban dance styles, the new discipline has been praised as more welcoming to dancers of color than classical ballet.

Hiplet founder Homer Hans Bryant was still developing the style when it went viral. Bryant founded the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center, which Sasha and Malia Obama attended, in 1992 where he remains the artistic director to this day.

In addition to CMDC’s respected ballet program, the center offers modern, contemporary, lyrical, jazz, Latin, tap, African, belly dance, hip-hop and Hiplet courses.

“When people ask me about Hiplet, I always say, ‘Hiplet – evolution or revolution? You decide,’ ” Bryant told the Naperville Sun in January. “Hiplet is sassy, hypnotic and exciting. It is entertaining and educational. It is mind-blowing and fabulous.”

However, as in any nascent art form, some initial critiques were discouraging. After a morning show circuit tour, the group sparked controversy in the dance community.

Perceived risk of injury and departures from classical technique caused many to question the wisdom of encouraging young men and women to learn the style and the stylistic integrity of Hiplet overall.

To some, Hiplet just doesn’t take it far enough as the two styles, each venerable in their own right, seemed to clash within the attempted combination.

Citing attempts to fuse the styles that were met with “less vitriol” in a 2017 article for Dance Magazine, Theresa Ruth Howard, a former dancer and dance educator of color herself, said she and her colleagues believed the new discipline was “something of an embarrassment” to them because of the “crude” manner in which Hiplet goes about melding the two disciplines.

“(It makes) a mockery of our honest efforts to excel (in ballet) while not honoring the brilliance of (hip-hop),” she said.

Forceful detractors aside, dancers are still signing up for classes, and the group is going strong as they continue to chassé through their national tour. They are currently booked into 2022.

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