Jookin – Feet in the Air

feet in the air, jookin

Lil Buck is a mover and a shaker, the self-titled “ambassador” of Jookin – an intricate footwork dance style. Jookin evolved from Gangsta Walking, popularized on the streets of Memphis TN, about 30 years ago.  Lil Buck learned to dance with his sister in his living room, moved onto classical ballet, and then onto street performing in LA. These days, his freestyle footwork impresses onlookers beyond the street.

On stage at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Lil Buck took four beautifully exaggerated steps in slow motion. He was improvising to a string quartet. The well-heeled audience had probably come for Yo-Yo Ma but they gasped when Lil Buck accomplished a signature move, gliding smoothly across the floor as if levitating. He moved so that the notes seemed to vibrate up his body, his sneakers squeaking as he pirouetted.

“I think he’s a genius,” Mr. Ma said after the show. A video of their duet to Camille Saint-Saëns’s “The Swan” went viral in 2011; they have since performed it around the world — “one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Mr. Ma said.;_ylt=AwrBT7Ur8DJUiGsA9QpXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEzanF0azdvBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMQRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkA1ZJUDMwNF8x

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Foot Thunder: Tap Dancing Without Shoes


The gleaming wood floor of St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, NYC is a perfect surface for tap dancing.  But, metal-tipped tap shoes are forbidden; they would scuff and nick the floor.  So…  Michelle Dorrance’s dancers slide around in their socks.

For the premiere performance of “SOUNDspace” at St. Mark’s all feet wore socks, or nothing, or shoes with leather soles, some affixed with taps of wood. No rules were broken; much music was made. The footwear choices gave the dancers freedom to roam. They explored the space through sound. At the beginning, and several times throughout the performance, the church was dark.  The audience tracked the dancers with their ears. A train of feet outlined the nave. Foot thunder shook the balconies and tumbled down the stairs.

For more on ‘artistry and articulate feet’, check out: “The softest shoe: tap in socks, even bare feet”.   By Brian Seibert, New York Times,January 23, 2013

Dancing Shoe Battery, Version One


“Since many ballerinas consider their shoes as almost extensions of their feet — vital pieces of equipment to help create the illusion that human beings were meant to dance on tiptoe — an entire unusual shoe culture crops up at dance companies.”

Michael Cooper of the New York Times describes how dancers at City Ballet, achieve an almost noiseless performance in their toe shoes. Before donning them, they pummel them.  He describes:

  • a nightly ritual of mercilessly whacking pink satin shoes against a cinder-block wall,
  • the incessant shoe battery… BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! that echoes throughout the backstage area,
  • the bending of shoes back and forth, and
  • crushing them in doors.

These rituals create ‘old’ soft shoes, which are then worn in comfort and moved in noiselessly.  At two pairs per performance and 10 or 12 pairs a week, the bill and the shoe-bullying can be a bit wearing.

Footballers at the Barre


Football and ballet? 

There are more similarities to the footwork than you would think.  Both activities use the same muscle groups and require similar skills.  They even share some of the same injuries.

 What can football players gain by practicing ballet?

  • Flexibility – to avoid tackles and make catches
  • Speed and Agility – to recover speed after changing direction or spinning to avoid a tackle
  • Strength – to increase muscle without bulk, especially important for kickers and other offensive players
  • Balance – to land on their feet after leaping for a catch and to stay on their feet during a tackle
  • Mental Focus – to follow complex plays, track the position of the ball in the air and make decisions on the fly.
  • Endurance – to strengthen their heart and circulatory systems enabling intense muscular work with less tiring.


For a testimony on a 320-pounder who straps on the slippers, check out:


Picture source:



Reaching the Pedal

 “Re-narrating Disability” through Musical Performance (by Stefan Sunandan Honisch)

Honisch is a concert pianist in British Columbia who has Spina Bifida.  His contributions to music go beyond being a musician with a disability. By example, he has paved the way to greater recognition and participation for physically impaired musicians.

 On this journey, Honisch experienced both positive and negative responses to his own performance.

He writes: “When I was in Salzburg to participate in the Internationale Sommerakademie of the Mozarteum, the director Alexander Muellenbach observed that I played as though there were no “disability” present. In particular he complimented my pedaling, perhaps the single greatest source of struggle for me from both a technical and artistic standpoint. He expressed interest in how I achieved a variety of effects with the pedal, but contextualized his remarks within a larger discussion of interpretation. In that space, and in that moment, I ceased to be “disabled” even though my physical condition was readily visible to the audience. It seems that a musically convincing performance can indeed allow audience perceptions of physical “otherness” to recede into the background in certain public performance situations.

 A rather extreme example of the reverse, that is, an inflexible hyper-awareness of my physical condition, comes from my childhood. After I had performed in a class recital featuring the students of my second piano teacher, a woman came up to me and asked me how I managed to operate the damper pedal without proper foot movement. Somewhat embarrassed by her blunt fixation on my pedaling technique, I explained that I had devised a way of pedaling by lifting my entire leg in order to allow my foot to operate the pedal. After several more questions about the specific nature of my condition (Spina Bifida) and about my restricted leg movement, she walked away. I do not recall her asking me about the music I had performed, or attempting to engage in a discussion of interpretation. Instead her anxiety about my ability to fulfill the task at hand (rendering a given work in a convincing manner) clouded her ability to evaluate whether or not I had, in fact, succeeded.

 The collision of these vastly different reactions to my playing not only with each other, but with my own views of the relationship between my physical impairment and my music-making illustrates the complexity involved in identity-construction.

 My single greatest concern when performing on an unfamiliar piano is the damper pedal. These pedals vary widely in size and shape, and also in their distance from the floor. Because my right leg does not fully extend outwards, I sometimes have to sit uncomfortably close to the keyboard, in a physically cramped manner, in order to reach the damper pedal. Of course, this impacts my overall playing technique, since muscular relaxation is essential to good tone production and fluent mechanics. It is unpleasant, and psychologically disabling to realize that my inability to use the damper pedal on a given piano can have a significant, even drastic impact on my technical fluency and could therefore impact the overall artistic quality of my playing.

 In an effort to deal effectively with this situation, I have had designed a number of external devices which can be attached to the damper pedal. The principal aim of these devices has been to serve as an extension to the pedal in order to accommodate my restricted right leg movement. However, these mechanisms, while initially promising, have ultimately proven ineffective since their design does not allow them to remain firmly attached to the pedal for a significant length of time. During practice sessions with these devices, I have had trouble maintaining contact with my foot, and have also noticed that these devices invariably slide either right or left after a few minutes. Also, these pedal extensions require an involved effort to attach them to the damper pedal, requiring movements such as bending down, and crouching, which are beyond my range of physical ability. Although I am happy to seek assistance when necessary, I would prefer to have a mechanical pedal extension which is designed in such a way that I can attach it to the pedals myself.

 The most significant break-through in my pedaling technique occurred after I stopped wearing my leg-braces during performances. Without the added bulk of these braces, I have been able to slide myself slightly further underneath the keyboard, and closer to the pedal. Furthermore, the absence of my leg-braces during performances has had the pleasing psychological effect of allowing me to feel physically ‘able-bodied.’”



Thursday, April 26, 2012 Rick Hansen Competition Results: 

Stefan Honisch has been awarded the prestigious Rick Hansen “Man in Motion” Fellowship in 2012/13.


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