What can you expect to see when the first-ever Memphis Jookin Tour takes to stages across the nation? A fusion of fancy footwork, ditties from the Dirty South, and the type of entertainment that comes straight from the streets of Memphis, Memphis.
“This is our authentic dance style, you know? So in the similar vein of people supporting the Grizzlies, or Memphis music—if you really rock with Memphis, you’re gonna rock with what we do,” said Ryan Haskett, local dancer and choreographer.
Performing alongside Haskett, will be 12 cast members from Memphis—including world-renowned dancer Lil Buck whose performances have pushed people to “critically acclaim” an art form that was birthed from the beauty that the Bluff brings and the battles that are bore by its people.
“I didn’t come from the studio world,” Buck said. “I come from the streets. I come from a world of struggle where you have to find your happiness while living through all of that chaos—all that real stuff that these rappers talk about in their music. The music that this dance style is done to sums all of that up. It’s relatable. It feels like home.”
Memphis Jookin emerged alongside Gangsta Rap in the late 1980s, but remained underground until the early 2000s.
Whether they pulled up to parking lots or wore out the wooden floors inside Crystal Palace—a Whitehaven roller rink laid to rest—jookers of all ages and genders altered dance styles like Memphis Gangsta Walking, Buck Jumping from New Orleans, Popping from Oakland, California, and more to establish this freestyle flow that’s been adopted by the world.
“I found out who I was as a person through Memphis jookin,” said 17-year-old dancer Elise. “As a girl, you get comments like,’ Dang, she dance like a dude’ or ‘She’s cold, for a female,’ and that ain’t it. I eat, sleep, and breathe this—and I’ve built myself up so I can battle anybody. Gender doesn’t matter. I’m not cold cause I’m able to dance like dudes. I’m cold cause I do me.”
The beats made by Memphians motivate the movements, and the lyrics they rap bring forth the bounce that defines this display of street ballet.
And in between all the glides—the tuttin’, choppin’, and tickin’—you’ll be introduced to the personality of each performer in a way that’s so pronounced, you’ll walk away wondering if you’ve just carried on a conversation with them.
On top of that, this show serves as a history lesson and an homage to those who paved the way for something so uniquely Memphis to take up space.
‘It’s a rite of passage,” said Surf, Memphis Jookin crew member, who, through finding his biological father, met his brother—one of the top jookers in the city at the time.
“For the first year, I wasn’t even allowed to jook. I was the one that held the camera, because, when I was coming up—if you were slaw—you didn’t get out there wasting nobody’s time. I had to sit back and take it all in to slowly develop my style.”
Speaking of style, it doesn’t do the art form nearly enough justice if the drip doesn’t make a statement of its very own.
Memphis may not be the fashion capital of the world, but its cultural influences—namely brought to you by the Black community—have set the standard for the fits to be as fresh as the floorwork.
“Because we grew up the way we did, it felt good to finally be fresh. It built our confidence to be able walk out the house in a brand new pair of Air Force 1s just to go scuff them up outside. It doesn’t make any sense, but it doesn’t have to,” Surf said.
“If the right song comes on on the wrong day, you just gonna kill your set and your shoes,” said Gene, crew member and creator of the Money Dance.
A simple internet search will show you how Memphis Jookin has amassed major attention.
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Lil Buck has brought it to world stage via performance partnerships with international brands like Vogue and Louis Vuitton. The official Memphis Jookin Instagram has over 100K followers with spinoff accounts coming from Poland, India, Russia, etc. Plus, there are all the music videos and main-stage moments like the Red Bull “Dance Your Style” series of competitions.
Where some may see this as a hobby, these Memphians—and many before them—have made it their mastery. And I’m willing to bet money that this show will inspire others to do the same.
The Memphis Jookin Tour kicks off on February 11th and 12th at the Orpheum Theatre, and there’s a free community class being led by the legends themselves on Saturday, February 5th.
Sign up for the community class here.
Grab tickets for the Memphis show here.
**Click the unlock button in the top right corner on the Ticketmaster page to receive access to 50% off ticket sales when you enter the discount code JOOKIN’ **
See the rest of the tour stops here.