When asked to describe the perfect jookin’ performance, Memphis legend DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia answered clearly: “Dude you know how they really kill it? That’s when they float. Some of these guys look like they’re floating in the air. They are on their tiptoes, but it is as if they are floating in the air. You have guys here who will do a crazy trick and a crazy float. I like bullshit like that because we all grew up watching Michael Jackson Moonwalk.
All this and more is exactly what the competitors brought to the Red Taurus Memphis “Dance Your Style” qualifier earlier this month (October 10). Hundreds of excited viewers gathered in the outdoor section of the local Railgarten spot to watch 16 rounds of one-on-one dance battles between performers from across the country. Hosted by New Orleans artist-entrepreneur-producer Pel and Memphis artist and dancer Myles Yachts, the event is pProceeds from ticket sales were donated to Hurricane Ida relief efforts organized by MaCCNO (The Music & Culture Coalition of New Orleans).
Hype by Pell and Yachts, a thick crowd surrounded the dance floor to choose the toughest dancer at each round. The Memphis Dancers had the home court advantage, which was evident in the crowd-voted results. But the skill, talent and jaw-dropping crowd moments were the ultimate sell. Complex jookin’ freestyle routines were hard to beat. The final two performers, 16-year-old DanceBeastElise and 18-year-old Jadyn Smooth, brought the local dance style of jookin’ to the fore, finishing second and first place respectively.
Jookin’ is a dance style born in the streets of Memphis. It focuses on footwork and should not be confused with Chicago’s style of footwork or Detroit’s style of jit movement. Jookin’ evolved from gangsta walking and incorporates the poise and poise of ballet, the arrogance of hip-hop, and the elegance of Michael Jackson’s finest moonwalk.
“It’s something that was created in our hometown, it’s something that was created and originated in our city. It’s protected by knowing the good story behind it,” Yachts said. The musician and dancer shared his well-known story of Memphis jookin’ with ATMOSPHERE before the competition.
“It was before my time. It was like the early 80s. I wasn’t even born yet…let’s start with the march of the gangstas. These guys made the way and showed the stages of the gangster walk and for it to be something today. Without the gangsta march, there would be no jookin’.
When looking to learn more about the distinct dance, most Memphis dancers and jookin’ fans would direct you to LaShonte Pop, dance teacher and performer. As a competitor in the Red Taurus Qualified “Dance Your Style” Memphis, she was eliminated in the first round, beaten by Jadyn Smooth, one of her students.
For LaShonté Pop, jookin’ isn’t just a celebration of Memphis culture; She uses dance to mentor young people. It’s also an extension of her creative prowess as she not only dances to records created by southern hip-hop groups, but is also fueled primarily by her own music. As a small child in the 90s, she used to go to Crystal Palace, a popular ice rink now closed with her mother who walked around like a gangsta.
“My goal and my objective is to provide opportunities for people who have come after me,” she shared after the contest ended. “I taught in the school system, I taught over 5,000 kids, and a lot of them were in the neighborhood…in the ghetto. That’s [dancing] just the way they naturally express themselves. It was my job to polish and refine them, and make sure they knew their purpose.
“The same goal and the same things that I want to make sure the world knows [Memphis]. I make sure my students have the same mindset. So when they go out into the world they teach the same and make sure people know the basics [of jookin’] come from Memphis, know that it’s a whole culture and it’s not a trending dance or TikTok. That’s definitely how I’ve treated students, taking them under my wing and guiding them as they grow.
DanceBeast runner-upElise and winner Jadyn Smooth both learned from Lashonte Pop and are involved in Memphis dance circles and communities. All shared pride and appreciation for their opponent and their hometown after the competition ended with Jookin’ reigning supreme.
“I don’t care if I lose because I lost my brother so it’s alright,” an excited DanceBeastElise shared. She revealed that a problem for her in the tournament was not knowing some of the music. DJ Mikey Offline created a mix of old and new records from all genres, leaving the Gen-Z performer to guess what each song would bring.
“I was really trying to get second (Laughs) so that I can learn the rhythm quickly. When I’m dancing to new music, I always try to find the background beats and stuff to make it feel like I’m catching things that people wouldn’t hear in the song.
Smooth added, “The fact that we do this with each other every day. I work with Elise every day during rehearsals… Lashonte has taught me since I was a kid. To be able to do that to him was amazing…a real teacher versus student moment.
As the winner, Jadyn Smooth left the room fully prepared for the upcoming battle in the Nation’s Capital, both confident and talented. After overcoming the array of challengers presented to him, the Memphis-born dancer had every reason to be satisfied.
“The top four go to Washington no matter what,” he reflected on his state of mind after taking first place. “I was like, as long as I get the top, boom…I’m straight. But in fact, I knew I was going to win.
The Red Bull “Dance Your Style” competition continued with the final regional qualifier in Miami on October 17. The Red Bull BC One US National Finals took place in Washington DC on October 22-23. Angyil McNeal won the trophy to move forward and represent the whole country at the Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ World Final in Johannesburg, South Africa from December 4-5.