Empowering with Hip-Hop

CMU welcomes renowned street dance artist Rennie Harris for guest residency

Colorado Mesa University dancers had the opportunity of a lifetime when leading ambassador for hip-hop Rennie Harris visited campus for a guest artist residency. Harris is the founder of the longest-running street dance company in American history — Rennie Harris Puremovement — which just celebrated its 30-year anniversary. Along with numerous awards and accolades, he has been the recipient of two honorary doctorates from Bates College and Columbia College, started the first hip-hop studies program at the University of Colorado Boulder and recently started Rennie Harris University, where students can pursue additional performance and teaching certifications.

The CMU Dance Program brings in at least one guest choreographer each year to teach classes and set a new work for students to perform. Rennie Harris is among the most well-known to grace the CMU campus, allowing students to work with and learn from an internationally recognized dance artist who has broken many stereotypes and expectations of street dance, ultimately changing the landscape of dance.

Harris was on campus for four days, teaching classes and rehearsing a new work, titled Five O for performance in the upcoming CMU Danceworks November 9-11 in Robinson Theatre. All dance majors and minors were required to audition and 14 were selected to rehearse with Harris. In four days, the cast learned a seven-minute work, presenting it in an informal showing for invited guests in the Moss Performing Arts Center dance studio. Students will continue to polish the piece and add costumes and lighting for the performance.

Harris discussed the work in the program notes for the concert where he explained,“Five O is a tribute, paying homage to the legendary pioneers who laid the foundation for hip-hop culture, such as Kool Herc, African Bambatta and Grand Master Flash. This not only commemorates the remarkable journey that hip-hop has embarked upon over the course of the past fifty years but also reverberates as a resounding reminder of the inherent power that lies within our own voices, the freedom of choice we possess and the boundless possibilities that await us.”

He continued, “Five O serves as a rallying cry, reminding us that we possess agency to shape our own narratives and make choices that align with our authentic selves.”

Dance Director Kathy Diehl was delighted and honored to host Rennie Harris at CMU and said he gave the students exactly the kind of experience they need to be prepared for the professional world of dance.

“While he helped the students understand what is expected of a professional dancer and demonstrated the rigor involved in street dance styles, he was incredibly warm, humble, generous and gracious,” said Diehl.

It is expected for dancers in today’s world to demonstrate skills in a wide variety of styles, including hip-hop, house and other street dance forms, so the work that Harris teaches is having a profound impact on academic dance curriculum and likely will for the foreseeable future.

Harris believes hip-hop and street dance are the purest forms of movement in their honoring of African and African American-Latino culture. His website biography states that his “artistic philosophy reflects a deeper understanding of people that extends beyond racial, religious and economic boundaries…hip-hop, because of its cross-racial and transnational popularity, can help bridge these divisions.”

Harris is also the founder of the Illadelph Legends street festival, founded in 1997-98, in which guest artists and students from around the world come to Philadelphia for classes, lecture demonstrations, discussions, performances and jam sessions.

To learn more about Rennie Harris, visit his website

See Five O in the CMU Danceworks concert November 9-11 by purchasing tickets at coloradomesa.edu/tickets.

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Written by Laura Bradley

This post was originally published on this site