In ‘Creative Minds,’ local hip-hop dancers show the Kennedy Center how to beat-ya-feet


In “Creative Minds,” Dante Hancock, right, uses a story about zombies and vampires to frame a dance performance. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

If Miley Cyrus taught the world to twerk, Dante Hancock would like to do the same with beat-ya-feet, D.C.’s locally grown hip-hop dance.

On Friday, Hancock will demonstrate the style on Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage as part of the “One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide” festival. He co-choreographed a multimedia piece called “Creative Minds” with John Pearson, who heads a D.C. dance crew known as Da Originalz.

“Beat-ya-feet is the dance equivalent of go-go,” Pearson says. While go-go’s popularity peaked in the ’80s, beat-ya-feet came into vogue in the ’90s. It nearly went mainstream when Hancock and four friends competed on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” in 2009.

After being eliminated in the fourth episode, the Beat Ya Feet Kings returned to D.C. These days, they mostly perform at churches — where many local hip-hop dancers originally found inspiration, Hancock says.

“You know how you stomp your feet and shout in church? It’s like that, but we tangle our feet up and twist up our ankles in creative ways,” he says.

Beat-ya-feet features frenetic footwork, but it’s looser than you’d see in Los Angeles-style krumping. Upper-body-wise, most people stick with quick, marionette-like movements, but some incorporate fluid motions like you might see in a pop music video, Hancock says.

“If you’re good at isolations, you do isolations. If you are good at pop-and-locking, you do that,” he says.

The style’s free-form ethos is great for dance battles, but the Kennedy Center stage demands a little more structure, Pearson says. So he and Hancock wrote a story to frame the action: Two children find a book on the street marked “Do Not Read,” and read it, which unleashes armies of zombies and vampires.

As you might expect, the supernatural creatures work out their differences via dance. In this case, the vampires prefer straight-up “beat-ya-feet” moves, while the zombies incorporate more modern hip-hop flow, Pearson says. All involved will groove to go-go tunes spliced with dubstep.

If this sounds like an updated “Thriller,” Pearson doesn’t mind. “I guarantee you haven’t seen anything like it before,” he says.

How to Beat-Ya-Feet

The Chop: Wiggle your legs and move your hands fluidly, “like a sensei about to break a brick with his hands,” choreographer John Pearson says.

The This ’n’ That: Slide your left foot across your right foot, and then vice versa, and make a wave motion with your arms.

The Bop Bobiddy: Face forward and point your feet to the right. Balance on your left toe and right heel, then pivot your feet to the left and balance on your right toe and left heel. Repeat while flapping your arms, Funky Chicken-style.

The Shakalaka: Walk forward rhythmically, legs akimbo, while puffing out your chest.

Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; Fri., 6 p.m., free; 202-467-4600. (Foggy Bottom)

Sadie Dingfelder is a features writer for the Washington Post Express.
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