The hip hop of social roots and soul at Miami’s 6th Street Dance Studio

Arts / Article

By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie

With Brigid Baker, one gets the feeling that she has lived several lives.

There’s the Brigid from New York City, her hometown, who was part of the late 70s-early 80s creative explosion that saw art and music and all-around coolness collide into a supernova of excitement.

Then there’s the Brigid who fled all that when the scene got boring, or expensive, or stale, or all of the above, and relocated to South Florida. She came in the 90s and helped start the Performing Arts Network, left, and then returned after the Twin Towers fell. And this time, she stayed.

Today’s Brigid Baker – whose conversation topics bounce from contemporary dance to quantum physics and on to her own mind-body strengthening movement, Lightbody – is a two-time Knight Arts Challenge Miami winner who took over the helm of the 6th Street Dance Studio in Little Havana over a decade ago and made this city her casa. She believes in community. In the forces of nature. In her students. And in dance, especially hip-hop.

Not the hip-hop of bling and flash, but of social roots and soul, the one with transformative powers. Of those powers and more, Brigid Baker, choreographer, dance instructor, community activist, chatted in a Q & A with Knight Foundation.

Brigid Baker

Brigid Baker

How have the Knight Arts Challenge grants helped your projects? First, the TruSchool Hip-Hop program for youth, which incorporates dance, writing and culture for kids in the community.

BB: We have a different way of walking over here at 6th Street. We kind of work on a sacred economy. We have no debt, we have no credit cards, we are green. So most of my programs are need-reliant, and we craft from there. My community is really a big deal to me. Members of the Universal Zulu Nation [the group founded and led by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa], the original hip-hop people, came to me and asked me if I was interested in having a program on the “fundamentals of hip-hop” here for the neighborhood, and I was like ‘Yeah, absolutely.’

The origination of hip-hop sprang as this extraordinary art form that stopped gang violence. The tenets of hip-hop are peace, love, unity and right living. These curious geometries that were brought into play actually have this incredibly healing quotient. I have a really big urban program anyway, so we worked on those fundamentals. And then it grew from there. So after we knew it was a program that had legs, we wrote to the Knight Foundation in order to help support it. It’s community-based and there’s a lot of need here. We wanted to make sure that we could stay in the area. The Knight Foundation’s support is really important. And more than the money, or that it’s not really about prestige, I want to be really clear with that, what it is, is that, when someone recognizes something, it’s like Dr. King said, “Noticing something is an insurrectionary act.”

And HomeGrown, the residency program for young professional dancers, musicians and filmmakers?

BB: The HomeGrown program has been running for about a year. It’s a residency program for all kinds of young professional dancers and musicians built to encourage the organic growth of a cohesive artistic identity for Miami. It is fostered by intentional proximity, diversity, consistency of study and diversity in forms. By providing space and an instructor, artists come together on a weekly basis. Beginning with one evening per week, the schedule includes a Lightbody class, followed by a jam session, followed by a second class of a different form. The purpose of the two classes is to provide a structure of training that is outside the area of expertise of all participants. The middle jam session is to provide a time of joint and collaborative working exploration and development as the young artists share information with one another in forms outside of their individual fields of expertise. As peer sharing occurs, collaborations emerge, creating an artistic language and voice that is uniquely of the participants and uniquely Miami.

HomeGrown also offers improvisational jams with dancers and musicians and performance opportunities to show new work.

Who founded  6th Street Dance Studio?

BB: This studio was founded by Esaias Johnson, and she opened it and I took over the directorship in the early 2000’s. She had it for a year or so. We knew each other from dancing in New York. We went to [SUNY] Purchase together. She was a contemporary dancer, but really big on hip-hop. She was the first person to put together hip-hop and contemporary dance, and she referred to it as “Pomofunk.” I knew all of the [Graffiti] writers in New York. We had a band called Living and created a music video, but I just didn’t have an interest in the direction [hip-hop] was going. The big surprise was what was hidden in Miami. And then I felt a very strong need to support it and developed all these classes.

The Knight Arts Challenge is open for applications through Feb. 24. Apply now. 6th Street Dance Studio/WholeProject, 1155 SW 6th Street Miami. Tel.: 305-560-1150; [email protected] Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie is a Miami-based freelance writer