The panel discussion titled “Rennie Harris and the State of Hip Hop and Street Dance took place during the Spring Cypher (May 5 -7th) which offered classes at Miami Dade Kendall Campus in a plethora of styles taught by local and national powerhouse dancers, practitioners, and scholars. Classes taught were B-boy Ynot (Rocking/Breaking); Cedric (Urban-Funk); J9 (Waving); Tawanna Hall (Hip Hop); Hot Rod (Hip Hop); Nubian Nѐnѐ (House Foundation/Waacking); Dr. Ayo Walker (Afro-Hip Hop/Dunham Technique); Pop Master Fabel (Popping/Boogaloo); Zedric (Urban Funk); Jip The Ruler (Wu-Tang/Jersey Club; Baltimore/Philly Club); Rennie Harris (House Basic Combo/Loft House Floor); and Hot Rod (Hip Hop Partnering/Hip Hop Philly Club).
Invited guests, RHU students, and all interested patrons arrived, and it was time to get it! Michelle Grant-Murray, Miami Dade College-Kendall Dance Program Director read a section Rennie Harris wrote from “There’s an Elephant in Da Room: The Mis-Education of Hip Hop Dance” In Beyond the Surface: An Inclusive American Dance History which she edited. Speaking to the 2023 cohorts, Grant-Murray offered these pearls of wisdom, stating that they are on the “Verge of change…shifting the narrative. [She added that] paradigm shifts are essential for the world to change…Hip Hop dance and Hip Hop culture is the culture of America, it is the fabric that binds us together that makes things happen inside of the world that everyone wants to succumb to and when they get there, they bring themselves with them, they bring everything that they left with them” (Grant-Murray 2023).
Brittany Williams gifted us with more wisdom discussing the continued denial and marginalization of Black dance and culture, specifically Hip Hop; she states “we’re not just talking about Rennie, we are talking about a group of people who are innovating and risk taking, people who are challenging each other in the streets—that history has to continue to pass on with integrity, with love, with deep deep self-knowledge” (Williams 2023). This beautiful charge to action segues into her discussion of RHU. Brittany’s passion for this work is evident, her intentions are clear offering the audience an eloquent definition of the mission—"The mission of RHU is to develop intergenerational Hip-Hop and Street Dance artists and to foster skills, work habits, and a comprehensive understanding of Hip-Hop cultural phenomena, preparing them for success in the discipline” (RHU 2023).
She goes on say that they are not going to sit and wait for someone to give them permission to validate the culture and celebrate the gifts and talents of the community—this institution is the manifestation of the desire and hard work to push forward the vision of elevating Hip Hop and Street Dance.
A wonderful documentary “Hip Hop Dance Legend Rennie Harris Shares Five Major Moments | If Cities Could Dance” was shown which captured “five major moments in his life” providing context and (his)tory about the man known as “the high priest of Hip Hop” who believed that he was “going to feel God and see God” through his artistry. Two of the Spring 2023 RHU cohorts were introduced, Farrah McAdam: Cohort 2023 (from the Bay Area) and Jennifer Rivera: Cohort 2023 (Miami, FL). They shared their journey, how they are engaging with the art form, and where they are going with it.
After the scripture reading and praise and worship, we were ready for the word! The panel discussion moderated by Teo Castellanos was interactive, raw, and engaging. Each panelist: Rennie Harris, Nubian Nѐnѐ, Dr. Ayo Walker, Michelle Grant-Murray, and Pop Master Fabel brought their truth to the cipher to share, expound, theorize, clarify, and perform an authentic political and theoretical discourse that was empowering. Tao’s questions were provocative generating a range of emotion, debate, and theories.
- Question 1: What does Hip Hop mean to you?
- Question 2: Challenges and possibilities?
- Question 3: How is it transforming and evolving?
Rennie Harris University (RHU) embodies Cipher/Deciphering. Cipher/Deciphering is an expression of the constant flow of riddim’—bodies performing stories—signifyin’ and bringing “da truth” to the space, classroom, floor, and/or street. For many of us that are involved in social justice work, we are Cipher/Deciphering, fighting, maneuvering, and performing our activism on multiple levels. Our strategies are cyclical, inclusive of the continuous rotation of involvement in coalitions and support groups. Our energy is exerted in unique ways, which includes teaching, creating curriculum, building coalitions and institutions, letter writing, organizing, and attending meetings, marching, creating artistic work, and performing that work etc.
Harris, Rennie. 2013. “There’s an Elephant in Da Room: The Mis-Education of Hip Hop Dance.” In Beyond the Surface: An Inclusive American Dance History, ed. Michelle Grant-Murray. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt.
Koed Arts. 2021. "Hip Hop Dance Legend Rennie Harris Shares Five major Moments/If CIties Could Dance." YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGSGTrn5INA.
Image 1: AKeitha Carey and Tiago Carey-Smith
Image 2: Tiago Carey-Smith, Michelle Grant-Murray, and Brittany Williams
Image 3: Brittany Williams
Image 4: Beth Boone
Image 5: Michelle Grant-Murray
Image 6: Teo Castellanos
Image 7: Panelists
Image 8: Pop Master Fabel
Image 9: Audience
Image 10: Brittany Williams and Pop Master Fabel
Image 11: AC and Rennie Harris
Image 12: Michelle Grant-Grant Murray and Rennie Harris
Image 13: Brittany Williams and Rennie Harris
Image 14: Teo Castellanos and Rennie Harris
Image 15: 2023 RHU cohorts Farrah McAdam and Jennifer Rivera