The Washington Post

Dancefloor Royalty

The queen of bounce expands her kingdom

D.C. can be a little stiff when it comes to dancing. But Big Freedia is here to help.

“If you can’t use your body to dance and have fun and feel free,” she says, “then what?”

Since dropping her debut disc, 1999’s “An Ha, Oh Yeah,” Freedia has led a resurgence of interest in bounce, an uptempo, bass-heavy, call-and-response style of rap birthed in New Orleans about 20 years ago. Like the name suggests, bounce is meant to get bodies moving. And the titles of some of Freedia’s club hits — 2010’s “Azz Everywhere” and “Make Ya Booty Go” — offer clues that the party is going to have an R rating.

“A lot of bounce has to do with ass-shaking, of course, and you can take it as sexual,” Freedia says. “But it’s really more of a command …. Like, if I say, ‘Dribble your ass like a basketball,’ there’s a move behind it.”

Freedia turns that sweaty enthusiasm into a safe space, especially for female fans. She often corrals the ladies to the center of the room, while men stay to the edges.

At over six feet tall, Freedia has the commanding physical presence to back up her onstage orders. But she says her shows stay positive because everyone shows mutual respect.

“I definitely make it a safe haven to be yourself and have fun without anyone coming at you or touching you,” she says. “We gonna have fun and we gonna jam and jump up and holler and scream and have a good night.”

Part of this inclusive vibe comes from the music scene that Freedia, who is transgender, came up in. Though hip-hop in general hasn’t always been a gay-friendly genre, the New Orleans bounce scene has long been influenced by queer rappers, including Katey Red and Sissy Nobby. A few music journalists have floated “sissy bounce” as its own genre, but Freedia rejects the term. “It’s all bounce. In New Orleans, we don’t separate it.”

Expect to hear some new material when Freedia hits Baltimore Thursday: She’s working on a new record slated for release this year on her own label. “No More Dreams, It’s Reality” will feature cross-genre guest stars, including Baltimore/Philly’s Spank Rock, New Orleans funk band Galactic and possibly Brooklyn band Matt & Kim, who Freedia toured with in 2010.

Did Freedia school those indie-poppers on how to bounce?

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” she laughs. “They was cuttin’ up. All on top of the drums, they was cuttin’ up.”

 Continuing Education

Big Freedia and dancer Altercation have been known to offer pre-show classes on bounce moves (though one isn’t set for Thursday’s performance). Freedia has also led workshops at universities across the country on the history of bounce and its cultural significance, with a focus on “cultural reciprocation” rather than appropriation as the genre moves further into the musical mainstream.

Golden West Cafe, 1105 W. 36th St., Baltimore; Thu., 10 p.m., $10; 410- 889-8891.
Shauna Miller is managing editor at the Atlantic's CityLab. You can hit her up on Her.



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