Photo Gallery | D.R.E.A.M. RING dance team master class
PITTSFIELD — Not all dancers wear ballet shoes or pirouette across polished studio floors.
On Friday afternoon, more than 50 dancers came together to stomp, strut, bend and sway their ways across the Berkshire Museum's Crane Room. In sneakers and jeans, tank tops and tattoos, hair colors of all hues — from black to blonde to electric blue — dancers of all ages and body types worked together in a master class on flexing, presented by the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based dance company The D.R.E.A.M. (Dance Rules Everything Around Me) Ring, and sponsored by Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.
Also known as flex, flexin' and flex dance, the afternoon master class was part of a free, one-day-only series of events that introduced participants to and let them explore flex as a sub-genre of hip-hop, Jamaican dancehall and street styles. The community program also served as a preview for "FLEXN," created by flex pioneer Reggie "Regg Roc" Gray and visionary theatre and opera director Peter Sellars, set to run Aug. 17-20 at the Ted Shawn Theatre of Jacob's Pillow.
"It's an embodiment of who you are, who you'd like to be, what you have in you, and what you'd like to portray," Gray told The Eagle prior to the start of the master class.
Some signature movements of the genre include rhythmic stepping and gliding; "bone breaking," contorting movements that look like they sounds; and choreography that involves synchronized partner and group dance movements.
The two-hour program was followed by two evening events: a talk about the genre and its evolution and history, and a grand D.R.E.A.M. Ring dance competition, featuring dancers from Pittsfield to Amherst, Springfield to Hartford, Conn.
Gray co-owns the dance company with Jason "ErthQuake" Cust, and manages an approximately 20-member dance team with D.R.E.A.M. Ring producer Abena Floyd. He said he's been thrilled to tour their work around the world, from England to France to Australia,
Floyd said she hopes to see the company offer more community programs like the one in Pittsfield.
"Flexing has a foundation in styles like Bruk Up and dancehall, but unlike other [dance forms] this has no rules. It's easy for people to connect with and involves a lot of improv and working with your own form of expression," said Floyd. "It's like giving people their own super powers."
For Jamal Ahamad of Cheshire, Friday's experience offered him the chance to live a dream.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Ahamad grew up watching Gray and other company members featured flexing on "Flex N Brooklyn" a popular dance variety show on cable's Brooklyn Public Access Channel (BCAT).
"I'm, like, geeking out right now because this group is legendary," said Ahamad, a case worker for BerkshireWorks who also teaches at Berkshire Dance Theatre in Adams and Benningon, Vt. "They're the founders of a genre."
He said that the program offered people a chance to feel part of a community. "Here in the Berkshires, a big part of our community is all about art and we need to make sure we take care of that community."
While Friday's class introduced the basic movements of the dance form, flexing, as will be seen in next month's Jacob's Pillow show, can also be used as a way to use dance to express personal narratives and address issues of social justice and change.
It's why Olivia Moran, owner-instructor of Freedom Dance in North Adams, brought her 8- and 9-year-old dance group to the program. The young students have studied classical, ballet, modern, tap, jazz, hip-hop as well as West African drumming, and the group frequents the family classes and performances of Jacob's Pillow.
"It's a great opportunity for them to be exposed to different cultures," said Moran. "Dance has changed so much over the years. Well-rounded dancers need to know all kinds of dance."
Thasia Giles, manager of community engagement for Jacob's Pillow, introduced Friday's class as, "a chance for us to learn to show our creativity and to get to know each other."
D.R.E.A.M Ring's co-owner Jason Cust said the company's workshop mission "is usually just about inspiring the individual by bringing new emotion and a mindset with flexing ... a lot of it's about connecting and giving them a boost of confidence."
The group of nearly 60 participants in Friday's class had to figure out how to follow the moves of a flex routine among their space in the room and the people around them; the experienced 20-something dancer had to be mindful of the 8-year-old beginner next to them as they ventured into hip-hop music and moves for the first time. But it all worked out. No one got trampled, there were no tears and while some stumbled over their own feet at times, no one seemed to be afraid to at least try.
"This is the best use of this space ever," said Pittsfield resident Grace Breckenridge while observing the dancers in the Crane Room. A former elementary school educator from Harlem, she said the "most important skill for a child or anyone to learn is self-appreciation and communication."
"Programs like this are essential," said Breckenridge. "This is what our country needs right now."
Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239.