Revision Street: Leida Villegas, 35

July 26, 2010

We have to start with Chicago’s house dance community. I used to dance for a lot of the house-dance artists back when I was in high school: Kashmir who is better known as Green Velvet, Dashé, Tin City, Fast Eddie . . . a lot of the house-music artists. Footwork is a style that originated in Chicago out of the house-dance genre, and eventually the music started changing. They termed it ghetto house, then from ghetto house they called it juke…[laughs].

You’re familiar with house, right? Well OK, house—how do we describe house? House is dance music, it just has a [slaps hands] consistent thump that just makes you want to move [laughs]. House is such a free expression. We did of course have to choreograph certain things, anything from little pieces of vogue—you know vogueing—involved in house, lower body movement [snaps]. You know, footwork. We also did jazz movement, my partner and I—my former partner Larry Sims, who is now a celebrity hair stylist [laughs] who works and lives in LA. It’s such a free-spirited dance. You do what you feel —Afrocentric movement. I see a lot of breakers dancing to house. It’s probably, to me, the most free-spirited music. It doesn’t really put you in a box, whereas other genres of music have particular dances that you do to those particular types of music. But house is free.

Leida, also known as Lady Sol, laughs and dances on the edge of her chair. She’s beautiful and elegant, as you’d expect from an internationally accomplished choreographer and dancer.

She grew up in Humboldt Park, but has a strong connection to Uptown. In 1997, she and two close friends—“sisters”—founded an organization called Kuumba Lynx. “We wanted to share art and creativity and expression with young people, and that started in Uptown, at Truman College.” The organization moved around a bit, and is now an arts partner at Clarendon Park. “It’s primarily a hip-hop arts and education organization that works to empower communities, young people in particular, through social justice work, through hip-hop,” she describes.

A sojourn in the West Coast preceded her work in Chicago with young dancers developing new forms: footwork, a lower-body based movement style that’s become all the rage more recently. If you haven’t seen footworking, it’s pretty incredible. Check this competition video, and note King Charles’ appearance at the end:

 

Leida speaks languorously about her career and her life, except when she’s describing music.

When it moved into more ghetto house in terms of the sound along with the lyrics, there was a lot of booty-shaking and drop it/pop it. You know, Let me do this to your girl, Bounce bounce your, you know, bounce your booty. So that’s ghetto house. It’s just harder and a little more raunchy, a little more technoish, faster. A little more sped up than the average house-music record.

And then juke: ultra-techno, very fast. Very repetitive in the sound, repetitive in whatever. Small lyrics that producers put on there. They’re not like complete songs. It’s like [sings] “bounce and break your back, bounce and break your back, girl you bounce so hard you break your back.” That’s the whole song [sings and claps]: “bounce and break your back.” And then it speeds up and it can probably go up to 160 and 170 beats per minute. The dancers—either you’re booty shaking or you’re footworking, and I think there was confusion with what the footworkers were doing, and other people, because the sound was termed juke, thought, Oh they’re juking. But juking is really just the [claps] Pop, you know. Yeah, let’s get freaky [laughs]. Very raunchy.

The thing is, there were a lot of groups on the South Side and the West Side that were developing various street dances, and then somehow people just started doing more lower body-based movement. Then there were actually kids, both on the South and West Sides that really took to the lower-body movement and started developing more lower-body movement, and then songs would start coming out [sings] “Let me see your footwork footwork, let me see your footwork.” So from there on, it was like, Oh that’s footwork.

That’s footwork. It’s gone through a lot of development. At the time I was just watching it, because I’m from Chicago, so I was just watching it and appreciating it because I couldn’t do it [laughs]. I had a few basic moves, but it wasn’t something that I gravitated toward and said, Oh I’m gonna learn footwork, or, I’m gonna be a footworker. That was never the case.

I moved away to LA in ’99 and came back in 2003. I think by 2005, my dance teacher from high school—I went to Lincoln Park High School, and I was a dance major, she’s like my godmother—she sends me an article about these kids now that are doing this amazing, colorful, fast, flashy footwork in the Tribune. Jonathan Bricks was the writer. And they were talking about what they want to do with that, and people were thinking about doing a movie about it, like the equivalent of Rize. What Rize was to LA, with footwork. So I’m looking through all this and I’m asking myself, Who are these kids? And who are the people that are trying to move this dance style?

It just so happened that the group I co-founded, Kuumba Lynx, had a show in 2006 at the Museum of Contemporary Art with the New York hip-hop festival, and the main group that was being talked about in the newspaper article happened to be performing there. I saw the performance and I was like, Oh that’s those kids, it’s the kids in the article! [Laughs.] At the time they actually had management, Chitainment, and I hired them for a music video and to do some shows for Urban Gateways, and that’s how I started my relationship with Chitainment and Creation, which was founded by King Charles.

 

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