Battling Gender Disparity Through Popping Dance, ‘What’s Poppin’ Ladiez?!’
Seattle, WA – “You know what people are the most afraid of? A pack of womxn,” said Angel Alviar-Langley. Angel, a.k.a. Moonyeka, is the founder and organizer of What’s Poppin Ladiez?!, an annual femme dance convention that has evolved into a movement in Seattle. After too many experiences with the symptoms of patriarchy in the street dancing community, Moonyeka decided to bridge the academic and creative by pursuing an ethnographic research project and creating for herself and her city what she wanted to see: the first-ever international dance battle for femme poppers held in May 2016.
“In local and international popping communities there is a large gender disparity. Female poppers have to exude a great amount of grit to assert themselves in a community that easily discredits them. Gender violence, stereotypes and notions of femininity, and internalized/learned female rivalry make it difficult for female poppers to exist in hip-hop and popping dance cultures,” said, Moonyeka. By addressing the realities experienced by female poppers, and providing them a platform with which they could challenge their invisibility, WPL?!’s first event was a tremendous success. Furthermore as a femme-centered effort with womxn DJs, MCs, videographers, competitors, instructors, and panelists, WPL?! embodied self-determination in this reclamation of space. Over 250 people participated in WPL?! showcases, battles- many coming from out-of-state and abroad(California, NY, ATL, Vancouver, etc).
“I met Angel at a battle called, ADAPT in Portland, and I was so inspired to meet this young female organizer who is willing to take the role of organizing all-female battle, specifically for popping.” Agatron, a Bay area popper and organizer of Dream Come True: All Female Dance Battle & Showcase said. She elaborated on the difficulty of even finding femme poppers: “Growing up in the male-dominated dance culture and finding other womxn was very difficult. I mean, it’s been almost ten years for this to happen at least in the west coast. (East coast has Ladies of Hip Hop for instance) ”
To add to the excitement, this whole journey and it’s phenomenal culmination was documented by first-time filmmaker Devon de Leña. The film Battle Grounds: the hard hits of female poppers was officially accepted into the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and won an Award of Merit for the Best Shorts Competition in both Women Filmmaker and Shorts Film categories. On January 16th, 2017, WPL?! hosted the public premiere of the film along with community workshops taught by the battlers featured at Moksha- a local fashion store and arts space. Devon, a youth-worker, community facilitator, and filmmaker, has spent her career investing in social justice and youth organizing from all corners of the Pacific Northwest. As a multiracial professional, Devon is intentional about cultivating an intersectional lens through her work. “I don’t really identify as a Hip Hop community member, but I learned so much throughout the process tracking Angel about female power, Hip Hop, the history of Hip Hop,” said Devon.
In addition to organizing WPL?!, Moonyeka also dedicates her time to community outreach and teaching youth of color. As a mentor and a member of AU Dance Collective, she is dedicated to creating spaces that embrace those on the periphery of the arts scene. “I think this is the time when we create a space to have a dialogue, or experiences that challenge stereotypical notions of femininity and how those notions define how a womxn might have to navigate the spaces in dance scene or even in life. In 2016 I knew I had reached this goal to some effect when a mother who attended the WPL?! showcase with her young mixed-race son posted a video of him dancing on her iPhone, while he also said, ‘look! I can dance like a girl.’ This impact alone challenges notions of femininity, specifically to female poppers, since many female poppers are described as dancing ‘like a boy’.” Moonyeka also challenged traditional notions in the validation of knowledge in academia at the UC Riverside’s annual Hip Hop Studies Conference: Show & Prove 2016. “Who has a PhD in hip-hop? Let’s talk about that. When I was writing this paper which was for my graduation project, I thought about how this paper can actually be beneficial to our community. None of the street dancers are going to read my paper anyways. The way I get influenced by something or someone is when I am in the space with other people and experience it myself. So, instead of presenting an academic presentation-form, I did a performance to explain my theory. Based on my conversation with 16 womxn in the community, I cited a poem moving my body at the same time. This is how I was inspired to really start WPL?!- to bridge together young womxn who aspire to dance or pop, female poppers, people of color, LGBTQ, street dance/popping scene, international street dance/popping scene, and the hip hop community. So it doesn’t just get left behind as a paper.”
Expanding on ideas of cultural accountability and the community roots of Hip Hop, Angyil of Kansas City added, “If someone wants to learn about Hip Hop, they will have to go to the source, but people don’t go into where it started because they think it’s so dangerous. You need to go and experience it in the place like the Bronx, where all the Hip Hop masters were born. Some years back, I participated in a production called Hip Hop Evolution(2016). It talks about how corporations are influencing the Hip Hop culture so much so it’s changing so much. Hip Hop is not just a dance or music. It’s a lifestyle, it’s how you go through the life. You can’t just use Hip Hop as a part of medium to show your smartness. You have to experience in it.”
The limitations of how Hip Hop shows up in academia is apparent to Moonyeka as well, “Hip Hop style dance classes or Hip Hop music classes are slowly starting in universities. But we have to always think, who is teaching them and why? Because no one is a master in street style. How is this gonna benefit the community and why are we doing it? Always coming back to this question..” Moonyeka’s vision to fully push the boundaries of creative resistance and community empowerment through her artistry shows up in all she does. This is evident in the growing momentum of WPL?!
The second annual WPL?! is being held July 28-30, 2017 at Washington Hall with support from 206 Zulu’s Ubunye Project. In addition to battles and performances, this year’s event will also include workshops and masterclasses to provide educational opportunity to the community. How can you help support WPL?! Donate to the event! Your support will help bring credible instructors as well as broaden accessibility for underserved populations. To support this project, you may venmo 'Moonyeka'.
(Above: Trailer by Devon de Leña)
FEATURING: Filmmaker Devon de Leña,
What's Poppin’ Ladiez!? Organizer Angel Langley
Dancer Angyil McNeal(Kansas,NY), Lady Scarecrow, Katie Janovec(Portland), Agatron, & more REMIX DANCE CREW: Cypher Party spun by LUNA GOD Social Network Links: WPL?! official fb page: https://www.facebook.com/whatspoppinladiez Filmmaker Devon de Leña: www.devondelena.com
Video and Article by
Soohye Jang & Julie Chang Schulman