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How Memphis Jookin Dancer Lil Buck Made His Hometown Dance Scene Go Viral

PC Tim Salaz, courtesy Lil Buck

When Michael Jackson turned into a bunny in the "Speed Demon" video—that's what did it for me. My older sister and I spent hours watching his tapes, trying to learn the choreography. I was 10 years old, growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, and whenever the music came on, I was moving.

I remember the first time I saw Memphis jookin in its true form. It was at the Crystal Palace skating rink in Memphis, and I saw a dancer named Bobo—he was incredible.

PC Tim Salaz, courtesy Lil Buck


Jookin may be scarce in other places, but it's been in our culture in Memphis for more than 30 years—it's part of our music, our lifestyles. I trained myself well enough to be a backup dancer. I thought that was the most lucrative living you could make—dancing next to Lil Wayne or Busta Rhymes, smiling, looking all fly, knowing the artist personally. I knew I wanted to move to L.A. and I knew I had the skills. I knew I could be a game changer.

Then it started to happen. Janelle Monáe saw one of my videos on YouTube and asked us to perform in her "Tightrope" video, which was nominated for Best Choreography at the MTV Video Music Awards. Then I met Yo-Yo Ma, and our performance together, The Swan, went viral.

After that, I earned a spot on Madonna's tour, and fulfilled a longtime dream of dancing in an Apple commercial. With a friend, I even launched a film production company, Movement Art Is (MAI). We produce short films that touch on social issues through movement and dance.

My goal was to get Memphis jookin to a place where everyone knew about it and could learn it. And it's happening. People are asking for it on audition notices, and they reference me!

PC Tim Salaz, courtesy Lil Buck

When I dance, I feel invigorated. It's like a sense of freedom. I still feel like that young kid just introduced to dancing—I still have that same passion, and that's what keeps me going. When I'm dancing, I'm in the most blissful state of my life.

What I love most is the reaction. We all experience so many emotions, but through dance, I'm able to help people open up and unlock those feelings. My dream now is to use dance to connect to people on a deeper level than just entertainment. I believe dance has the power to change the world for the better.

And I'll be dancing forever. I may not always have the same skill level, but even if I'm not dancing physically, I'll always be dancing mentally.

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