TLU welcomes the sensational Hiplet Ballerinas and their fusion of classical pointe, hip-hop, and urban dance for a performance on Thursday, January 20, 2022, at 7 p.m. in Jackson Auditorium.
In 1968, compelled by the tragedy of Dr. King’s death, Arthur Mitchell decided to start the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). A year later, Mitchell took 10 dancers to Jacob’s Pillow for a lecture-demonstration and as they entered the theater, a young boy sweeping the stage found himself awestruck by the beautiful black dancers. Inspired, the stagehand signed-up for the evening’s class and by the end of the year was extended a scholarship to train at DTH where he later became a principal dancer and company member.
Today, that young boy is better known as Homer Bryant, founder of the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center (CMDC) and creator of the Hiplet™ technique. Bryant’s time with the Dance Theatre of Harlem was a catalyst for success in both his professional and personal life. In 1978, he married fellow DTH ballerina, Ronda Sampson, and three years later their daughter, Alexandra Victoria, was born with cerebral palsy.
Bryant’s career highlights include:
- Performing in The Wiz motion picture movie alongside Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, Broadway’s Timbuktu! starring Eartha Kitt, and Drury Lane Water Tower’s Evolution of the Blues
- Training and touring under prima ballerina Maria Tallchief (one of Balanchine's wives) at the Chicago City Ballet
- Working with Cirque Du Soleil on the creation of Mystere, Alegria, Quidam, and Saltimbanco
In 1990, he opened his own studio, Bryant Ballet, with a focus to offer all dancers, but especially low-income students and dancers of color, an entrée into classical ballet. By 1997, the mayor of Chicago renamed his school the “Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center” in honor of the studio’s work in the community. Over the years, Bryant has continued to incorporate hip-hop and ballet, eventually coining the term Hiplet™ in 2009. CMDC has trained many dancers who now perform with Cirque Du Soleil, Alvin Ailey, Broadway productions and more, but it was social media that propelled the program into another dimension.
In 2016, Brazil’s Só Bailarinos re-shared posts of Bryant’s Hiplet classes; his unique technique causing so much controversy the video amassed over 8 million views. Shortly BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post and Good Morning America were knocking on the door, elevating the view count to over 100 million. After GMA aired their performance, offers for commercial work and collaborations from the world’s most notable tastemakers, including Mercedes Benz and Vogue, started pouring in. Today, Hiplet™ has over 1 billion views and the phone has not stopped ringing since.
The Hiplet™ Artistic Mission
Hiplet’s viral celebrity created such an overwhelming demand that CMDC began turning down many requests. The world was calling but everyone was on hold because most of Bryant’s performers were still in school and steady revenue was needed to hire dancers to form a professional company. Despite their immense popularity, the majority of CMDC’s funding and student scholarships was still coming from parent investors.
To keep the business growing, CMDC knew they had to create a professional touring company and has partnered with ECE Touring to premiere its first production. Together, they hope to expand upon Hiplet’s success and bring this innovative art form to audiences around the world, while continuing to invest in the programs CMDC offers its students and community.
When Homer Bryant opened his studio in Chicago’s Dearborn Station, he envisioned a place where dance training was accessible to everyone. Emphasizing his dedication, Bryant shares, “My mom passed away in 2006; my wife passed away in 2008; my daughter passed away in 2010. I am married to my school and these kids.” Currently, he has 285 students training at his studio, almost all female and under the age of 18. Through touring, he and the staff at CMDC hope to raise enough money to offer more scholarship opportunities and increase enrollment to 500 students with a goal to recruit and train 50 male dancers off the streets of Chicago.
Bryant sees dance as a way to build character and discipline. Finding inspiration from his daughter’s challenges with cerebral palsy, he pursues perfection but understands fallibility. Unable to walk or talk, Bryant would bring Alexandra to his classes where she would sit in her wheelchair and respond to the music by moving her fingers. “You see that? There’s a dancer inside of her,” he would say. “You can take technique and put it on any child's body. The trick is to make kids feel good, to get them to open up that vision peripherally, to see others in class, not just themselves in the mirror, and to help them join a common purpose.”