REGGIE GLASS admits that as a teenager growing up in Petersburg, Va.,, "I might have done some stupid stuff that got me into trouble." But then dance found him and he found dance in ways that changed his life. Currently assistant director of youth programs at Dance Place, Glass mentors about two dozen boys ages 7 through 13 and he says, "I see myself in how they behave . . . I see a lot of good in them, but I also see that they need guidance, and programs like this can make a difference."
One did for Glass, who last year founded the seven-member Native Tongue Dance Collective, which brings its dynamic blend of hip-hop and contemporary dance to Dance Place Saturday and Sunday. "I don't think I really started to see things differently," he says, "until age 21 when I got exposed to dance." Growing up without a strong paternal figure, he found that dancing in a company helped him develop emotionally and intellectually: "It showed me that I could do more than the typical perceptions of what a black man could be. With dance I didn't just improve socially, but also academically." Thus Glass's commitment to mentoring young, underserved boys: "Dance will open up your mind to a different world. You'll see there's beauty and light in all kinds of different things and you'll see beauty in yourself as well."
Glass explains that the name Native Tongue alludes to the early-1990s consciousness movement in hip-hop culture. "Native tongue symbolized coming together to promote a positive message at a time when hip-hop was promoting a different, more violent message, one that was also demeaning to women."
While Glass doesn't try to duplicate authentic hip-hop in his choreography, he says elements of hip-hop permeate his work. "When I was growing up, [hip-hop] was all I listened to. I used to be out there hanging on the streets breaking with the guys." Glass explains that through the hip-hop consciousness movement he is among a number of artists around the country pushing for a return to the culture that allows for freeness of expression without violence or misogyny because mature hip-hop artists have observed the impact of negative attitudes on youngsters, like the ones Glass mentors.
"I like to fuse the hip-hop movement into modern dance and the work I do tries to have a message that relates another way of thinking that's not negative," he says. "I tell my kids, 'Don't just knock it, dance and art will open up your mind to all the differences . . . You'll see there's beauty and light in the world.' "
NATIVE TONGUE DANCE COLLECTIVE -- Saturday at 8, Sunday at 7, Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE, Washington. 202-269-1600.