085. Kyle 'Just Sole' and Dinita 'Queen Di' Clark: Street Dance, culture, and community

Episode summary

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Some things go beyond a passion to become a way of life… For Kyle ‘Just Sole’ and Dinita ‘Queen Di’ Clark that way of life is street dance. They share their story; how they started dancing, their backgrounds, and their work as choreographers and professors. Just Sole and Queen Di describe their experiences with dance, from clubbing to teaching, and explain the culture and community of street dance. They discuss family, home and travel, and how dance weaves through everything in their lives.

Kyle ‘Just Sole’ and Dinita ‘Queen Dinita’ Clark are dancers, choreographers, educators, and parents. Currently college professors, they have competed, taught, traveled, and performed together around the world for the last decade. Just Sole and Queen Di founded the “Just Sole! Street Dance Theater” company, and educational program “Funky Sole Fundamentals” to preserve the culture and styles of hip hop, funk, and house dance.

Movement and music history [2:09]

Movement as an everyday practice; social, cultural — Naturally dancing around the house — Record collections, the music was there, and dancing happened — Just Sole’s grandmothers were pianists, so of course he learned — Singing in church choir, music was there; Movement followed — Gregory Hine inpspiration — Dinita’s Mom danced while pregnant with her — All kids like to move, so daily practice growing up — Late 80s, MTV, visual element, Soul Train, Thriller, Michael Jackson, Grease, Dirty Dancing.

Can everyone dance? [6:27]

Dance as a form of expression — Theoretically, yes, we all have the language — Still takes development, learning a new language — How much you want to dance, or why you dance is key to where you go with it

Kyle: Okay. Dance is a form of expression. As in gesture is a form of expression. As it talking is a form of expression of expression. So innately or theoretically everyone can dance. Okay. It's an innate thing. It's an ability to speak. All of us don't have a developed side of that speech. Does that make sense? But it doesn't mean that you can't develop it. Right. Right. It's kind of sort of like learning a new language. Right? Right. So in that aspect, yes. Theoretically everybody can dance. It's just how much you want to dance or what you're dancing for. Dust determines where you go in it or why you do it.
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Craig: And maybe how my other thought was. And maybe as you were discussing before with music who, if anyone’s sparked it in you. So I would to say, I always want to say princess died, but I think queen dies better. Queen dies the, the little, it was going to say like a note, but it’s like little image you gave me when you described cleaning. I can just picture it. Like I, cause I mean my Italian family didn’t do that, but I could just see how, how, yeah. Why, why wouldn’t you put something on the Victrola and rock out while you’re doing that. But that, you know, may not. That sounds like that was the thing that lit the fire. Maybe it wasn’t, but not everybody’s going to be in that kind of home before you got, you mentioned. Sorry. When I point nobody can hear that Karen make your own pointing queen.

Craig: You mentioned that you were watching things like soul train. And I brought up like American bandstand and stuff. And my thought was, have you guys ever considered how important the role is of the people who must have behind the scenes fought to get the music that they wanted on the show? Right? Like not just, the producers want us to play this crap that they’re, you know, the record label paid us to play, but there must’ve been somebody in those shows that was like, no, this is, we need to play this and that person must’ve offered that. I, my, my question is, have you ever thought about how much of a role you guys are playing? Like you’re playing that role in the dance community? It seems to me, do you think about that consciously or did I just mess the soup up?

Dinita: No, I think that’s an excellent question and observation, definitely. That is a part of why we do what we do. Restarted funky sole fundamentals, which is another one of our entities besides just little street dance theater, but funky soul fundamentals is dedicated to the preservation of hip hop house and punk dance styles. So we bring in the pioneers and as you educate as educators, as well as innovators of the street dance forms that have disseminated all of this information globally. So we thought it was, you know, imperative to bring them to Philadelphia. So the local community can have access to it because a lot of people, if they’re not in college, they don’t have access to what it is that we teach. So we consciously, you know, did that to provide people with the source. So they can then be inspired to take their movement and craft to the next level with history and culture guided behind it, the movement practice.

Dinita: Because you know, like you said, like when I was growing up, we put on music and that helped me. At least it helped me get through my chores. So it was a fun way for me to enjoy my responsibility. So it was a two phone kind of thing. But as I was dancing, then I wasn’t thinking about movement as practice. It was just something innately. Like my mom knew that I would be happy if I have music that I like. So then I’m more inclined to do what she asked me to do. Right. But yeah, we were conscious about the decision to teach the way we teach and to also teach what it is we teach.

Kyle: Right. And what else? Pioneers leave. There’s a responsibility to, to upkeep that information. If you’re a practitioner of set form, like it’s like, how do I put this? Not everybody is meant to be an organizer or a leader. Let me say that first. But if you’re going to want to push a culture to the next level, there comes a responsibility of how you disseminate that information. Now, as far as music is concerned, it’s about bringing it picking is about bringing it, bringing something to the table. Right. Right. Who are you? What’s your background? What are you about? And bring that to the table. So whatever music was good to you, you bring that. If people feel that they feel that they don’t, they don’t, but then you also want to be careful of what music you select based upon how you want the culture to be

Craig: You’re magnifying. Right? It has a, like a behind it has a behind the scenes, not just a little push, but it’s also like subtle behind the scenes. You can influence your students while you’re going to inflate your student, but you could do it inadvertently and pushing away that magnified. And suddenly now I, I don’t know anything about hip hop. I mean, but it’s like they’re in between house. I actually know the tiniest bit about like what popping and locking is. Like, I’ve had a guest who was talking about this, man. I know a little bit about that, but I can’t separate the dance styles, but it seems to me like you could inadvertently lead someone to really be passionate about one and then they kind of go that way thinking that’s the only thing that there is. And I cleaned, I know you talked, I believe about ballet training when you were younger.

Craig: And for, for me, like as a podcast or there’s like this information pollution, fear that I have. So on one side, I don’t want to know anything about you because in the back of my mind, I’m watching a video and I’m like, Oh yeah, I see ballet. Do I really do? I think I see ballet, or maybe the fact that I know that there’s ballet there means that it’s easier for her to talk to me about like, it’s like methamphetamines. So what I’m wondering is you guys have different formal training backgrounds and like a little kid, not that I’m belittling little kids ballet, they work really hard with the, the adolescent education backgrounds are very different from formal dance training. And do you find that that comes up? Like I’m guessing at this point, after a decade of dancing together and 15 years of like choreographing to get choreographing together, do you find that you actually have little arguments about like, I mean, I know you have arguments I’m married to ballet, like does the ballet beast go up against the jazz beast or like it’s just two people.

Dinita: And that I mean, the funny thing is, no, it was great. I mean, we both started fairly late in our formal training and ballet and modern. So I didn’t get like bawling and modern was always around when I was younger, but I was actually looking for a formal training in hip hop and street dance styles. And it just wasn’t around

Shaping culture, dance, music [8:53]

Funky sole fundamentals, creating events to help bring the source (dancers, DJs) to Philadelphia and allow people access to learn — Conscious decision to teach what and how they teach, respecting the pioneers — Magnifying decisions as a leader influencing students and culture, responsibility that leaders have

Dance training and backgrounds [13:05]

Dinita started late in formal dance training — Wanted hip hop and street formal training, but began with ballet and modern (more accessible) — Training is invaluable, but it also takes your own exploration, drive — Wanting more than what she was learning — Just Sole had a Singular mentor/teacher — No arguments about classical dance, but hip hop is different — Different backgrounds, different approaches to music — Tap and how it translates into his style

Kyle: So we both definitely come from two different backgrounds, right? So I'm coming out of the tap background, she's coming out of African, right? So now our rhythm patterns and how we approach music is a little bit different. So I'm more of a, on the one kind of guy tap dance, right. And then there's the high hat, the high hat, the end. And she's in Caesar ad couch. So sometimes, yeah,

Craig: Dude, I saw Grace Kelly. I saw you dancing in tap. And I mean, I don’t know, I’m not a huge Grace Kelly fan, but I mean, sorry, grace, Kelly is the actress, sorry, Jean Kelly. That was a brain fart. That was not me thinking that you actually lived in grayscale. I saw moments in your…and you were doing street dance. The video that I was watching, there were moments in the street dance where I swear, I saw a tiny bit of Kelly in there and I was like, you do that on, this is the actual question. "Did you do that on purpose when you were dancing or does it just come out because it’s in your DNA.

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Kyle: Part of it comes out from that. I didn’t watch too much gene Kelly a lot to be honest. A lot of that comes from the predecessors before gene Kelly, like your Nicholas brothers and things of that have that kind of style. So that jazz style then morph to Lindy hop from Lindy hop, then morph to hip hop. So it’s kind of like a linear thing. So some of the original steps were encapsulated through the birth of different movements. They stayed the same because the struggle stayed the same. You see what I’m saying? So it kind of stayed the same. So it comes through genetically to some degree, innately is some degree than others. It’s from whatever situation, community, or space that you’re in learning. So if you’re in a space where you have seasoned people that have been at a dance for a long time, you’re going to begin to pick up those idioms or, or small little nuances that you’re like, Oh, that looks like J Kelly. Well, we had a G Kelly, get that from you. See I’m saying yeah, like that. So that’s kind of how that rock. My favorite part is

Dinita: No, I’m wrong. I love that part. That’s the part where I’m like, I mean, the Grace Kelly thing is just crazy and the stupid little person

Kyle: Brain does not, she was wildly celebrated, no, nothing wrong, nothing wrong with that. That’s going to come to mind like Grace Kelly, when you’re dancing, you know what I mean? There are some idiots because that soft shoe kind of style is, were translated into vernacular jazz. Right? So that’s where that kind of, that line gets blurred.

Dinita: We’ve been bopping around the different things. And one of the places I wanted to like, I, to me, it’s all like a giant soup and I like, I just pick random dots out. And so there’s, I don’t know if you guys were up at Dunbar core or art to do plus motor, if you’ve ever seen any of that stuff. So that’s where this project originally started was talking to people about par core. And one of the evergreen struggles in park is the public perception of the activity. So like, if, if like we were standing on this before, like I’m, I’m leaning on a concrete 36 inch Palestra. If we were standing on this before people look at you, like they’re old, man, you should know better. You’re going to fall and break your hip, you know? Right. And I’m guessing, this is why I want to know.

Dinita: I’m guessing that you don’t have to. So for us, that’s like, the struggle is real. I mean, people like I’ll be balancing on something. They’ll be like, get down. No, that’s dangerous. Well, it was, I mean, you distracting me makes it better. Like, what do you mean? But I’m guessing that even at your most edgy pushy pop-up street dance people don’t like tell you to knock it off. Does that, I mean, like, how does it work when you go into a space, do you feel like you’re generally free to just go in? Like if you guys just wanted to throw it down right here, I think people would like show up and want to know where the hat is for the money. Cause I’ve seen her dance, but I’m just thinking dance seems like it’s super accepted.

Kyle: No matter what it is. Am I? Well, no, it’s a, it’s a universal language folks debate. It’s not a language because it doesn’t have phonetics, like in regards to actual lettering that you can read and put and senses, but you actually can’t and that’s a conversation for another time, but still nonetheless. Yes, it is the people’s dads hip hop street dance is the people’s dance. So when you do it amongst the people it’s going to be received. Well, you know, of course people, some people are going to scoff. That’s what they do. Because if, if we allow people scoffing to affect us, that b-boys would have never did that thing. Be buoyant on cardboard. On our street corner. People got a, well, Bob, we’ve got to go work. We’ve got to get on a bus. And here they are with speakers and doing backspins right.

Kyle: So it’s one of those things where if it’s coming out of honesty, you’ll honestly get what you put it out. Does that make sense? People want to know, honestly, because they like, Oh, that you’re really dancing. I don’t see a head. I don’t see anything. I just, I want to be around that energy. It’s an auto, logical thing. You know, it’s a spiritual thing. It’s more than just a physical thing. When people feel it, they want it to come closer to it. Does that make sense? So yeah, it crosses fields. It gets into science.

Perceptions of street dance [19:00]

Dance as a universal language — Street dance is the people’s dance, people will respond — Honesty of energy speaks to people — Escape, feeling of dance taking over, total joy

Questions for each other [23:11]

Writing a book, ideas and direction — Grad school and getting back into writing — Queen Di’s role in dance and academia, what it means to her — It’s a specific role, responsibility as one of the only women — Finding her own voice, not being intimidated — Dynamics of being a female leader and teacher, having to prove herself more — Show and prove culture — Techniques and foundations are hugely important

Spaces, places, and movement [28:00]

Club spaces, anything with a dance-able floor makes you want to use it — Hearing music out in the world — Danced in Rittenhouse square, sometimes teach outdoor classes there — Music in the square, organic experience

Appropriation [30:57]

Responsibilities as educators in discussing with students — Making sure to give proper respect, acknowledgement or participation — Language doesn’t make you a citizen; need to become part of the community — Understanding the difference between appropriation and just having a good time — External validation, trying to gain something by using it — Instructor vs teacher vs educator — Imparting onto students — Respecting all facets of the culture, participating

Dinita: So to be from.... I understand the responsibility it is for me to serve as a woman that can inspire other women to accept what it is they have to say within their craft, and to push beyond what's around them and set standards and boundaries for themselves.

Craig: Continuing on this train of thought, do you get pushback from within the dance space? Like there’s issues, we can talk about gender issues in society as a whole, we can talk about gender issues in religious context, but I’m just thinking, in dance, do you get pushback when you’re doing dance rehearsals? Or do you get pushback maybe because you’re in a position of power/authority now, and then people, like the dudes lower down, rebel? I’m just wondering, what’s the power dynamic that you’ve experienced? What is the negative power dynamic that you wish would go away?

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Dinita: The funny thing about it is, people will test you, especially the men. If they’re learning from a woman, they’re like, “Oh, but what is it that she’s doing? Is she going to spin on her head? Because if he’s not doing that, I don’t particularly want to learn from her,” or, “I don’t feel that there’s anything that I can learn from her.” And regardless, I’m not doing that kind of dynamic, but my movement and my expression is dynamic. And once they see me do what I do, then they respect it and they’re like, “Oh, okay, okay.” Because to most men, everything is a competition. To most, within dance. But when you show that you can hold your own as a woman, I’ve been tested and then I’ve also held my own. So then I’ve gained a lot of respect from the local community at large. And at large as well, because hip hop and street dance culture is a show and prove culture.

Dinita: You have to be about what you’re speaking about. So even if I walk into a college and I’m saying, “Hey, do this,” it’s not about just learning the choreography. It’s about paying homage to those before you, knowing where the movement comes from, knowing why you do it personally, why other people did it, what you can do with it, where you want to push it, and learning technique and foundation as well. Which is very important, because when people think about hip hop and street dance, they think that there’s no technique and foundation. And I’m here to tell you that it is.

Craig: I saw a lot of technique and foundation.

Dinita: So after day one, they’re like, “Oh, okay. I love her.” And I’m like, “I love you too.”

Kyle: Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t matter the style under the street dance umbrella. She’ll give you a run for her money just on honesty alone, let alone her technical abilities.

Dinita: You’re so sweet.

Kyle: Respect.

Craig: I think that’s respect hard and well earned. Maybe I’ll take a moment to talk a little bit just briefly. I don’t always do this, but let’s just talk a little bit about the space that we’re in. We are smack dab in the middle of Rittenhouse Square. The Park, which is in the middle of Rittenhouse Square, the neighborhood in Philadelphia. So some of the things you hear in the background are just people. And I said, “This reminds me of like a Paris neighborhood.” We’re a little further apart than people normally are, but there’s people all over. There’s people on the grass. Somebody popped a bottle of champagne over here before. I don’t know what was going on over there. People with dogs. And I’m wondering … I can turn anything into a question … what types of spaces make you have to move?

Kyle: What kind of spaces make you have to move less? Of course a club space, without question. You’re like, “I have to move here.” Anything that you see has a danceable floor makes you want to go in on it. At least for me personally. I see a dance studio, like, “Oh wow, it’s a floor.” Like I’m ready to go in, it doesn’t matter.

Dinita: Even walking in the market.

Kyle: Right.

Dinita: Like if they play a song that I like, I’m going to two step.

Kyle: Right.

Dinita: It naturally comes out.

Kyle: Yeah. Especially if it’s a funk track. Oh Lord.

Real commitment [35:39]

Dancing daily, clubbing 4 nights a week… dancing anytime music was on — 30 hours a week, at least, for over a decade — Street dance culture, expression, but need to earn your street cred — About feeling it, spiritual, release… very different from just learning steps — Still about training, but not formal — Growing until your language is good enough to communicate

Home and story [42:38]

Block parties, cultures and communities combining — Philly has a strong, ingrained art culture, especially dance — Consistently exposed to dancing and music in all neighborhoods and situations — Music and gatherings outside, cultural — Mixing pot of hip hop, dancing — Eclectic-ness to Philly, hugely diverse, different from where Just Sole grew up — Worldliness. Lee Jones and the Sunday Party, all-ages house dance event since 2002 — Partied there together — Met in college, but never shared classes — Gradually became friends throughout schools — Moncell Durden, hip hop teacher (first professor of hip hop at UArts) — Exposed them to club scene in the city, where their relationship bloomed — Began hanging out often, after getting out of long term relationships — Trust with choreography, moving trust to the next level — 12 years together, 7 years married

Family and dancing [53:06]

Not specifically teaching them — Mainly just dance when they want to, requesting to listen to music — Not trying to make dancing something they have to ‘live up to,’ though they understand their parents dance — Nothing more than that, just mom and dad — Kids can tell who can dance, who has it, so some things passed on — But providing options rather than expecting them to follow your footsteps — Encouraging anything she loves, same with their son — But both kids dance when music plays, naturally trying things they haven’t taught — Family history of dance, how their parents helped shape them

A letter to your future self [57:03]

Just Sole: Thank you for staying vigilant — Arriving at a place sought after, achieving what he wants — Queen Dinita: you finally have everything that you prayed for, and God saw you through — Thanking God and herself for following the vision — The work that God started in you, seeing it through to completion

Home, travel, and moving [1:00:17]

Deeply rooted in Philly, always special for them — Wouldn’t mind relocating, but not currently trying to — Different seasons, seeing who you are in different spaces — Traveling anywhere in the world — Brazil, Japan — Grandfather recommended Japan, technologically advanced, high respect for Black culture — Experiencing culture firsthand — Brazil, dance, music, food, people, it’s beautiful — Wanting to experience the culture — Brazil first, then Japan — Happy wife, happy life

Storytime [1:07:47]

Just Sole’s story: Clubbing in the summer, dancing to house — Suddenly everyone starts looking… Shaquille O’Neill was standing behind him— Second story: Oral history, stories that never really get told — Don Campbelach(?), met him twice (2007, 2014) — Kenny Clutch, Rennie Harris shout outs — Illadelp legends intensive where Don told a story about his time in Hollywood — teaching a young actor how to dance… John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever — Plenty of streetdance/hip hop hallmarks in the movie if you’re looking — Hip Hop’s oral history, you don’t know it unless you’re in the community — Queen Dinita: Dancing for Miss Jade, twice — Philly native rap artist — Was invited by a friend to dance for her at the Power99 festival — Almost 10 years later, choreographing for her again — Philly artists working together

One question for everyone [1:18:38]

How are you, are you okay; speculation, assumptions, vulnerability — Opening up honest, hard conversations — We don’t usually genuinely ask those questions, socially acceptable answers — Listening is caring, holding that information in your body — Feeling important and heard — Dancing to express the things you can’t say verbally, dancing out your pain — Hip Hop turning negative energy into positive — Surrendering negative feelings.

3 Words

We have an index of all of the guests’ answers to this question.

Craig: before you head over there and school him, which I totally want to see, I’ll just say, and of course the final question, three words to describe your practice.

Kyle: Oh, man. I got way more than three words.

Craig: Sometimes they say hyphens are free, but yes, you can discuss. You can talk around three different topics, Yours to do with as you please. Three words to describe your practice.

Kyle: Foundational. Spiritual. I want to say faithful. Three things that describe the practice. Foundational, meaning it comes from a place from the root of what it is that it comes from.

Kyle: Faithful is … The definition of faith is believing in something you can’t see. I never saw myself being this, so every step is a step in faith. Now one step is a step. My practice is definitely a step in faith.

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Kyle: Spiritual because it is led not by myself. Not on my own. I realized it’s a calling. It’s not something everybody’s to-do. To wake up everyday and get to do what I feel as though I was called to do, instead of doing what everybody tells me I should do is a blessing. It’s a spiritual thing for me. It allows me to leave the world in a better place than how I found it. Those are the three things I feel as though our practice represents.

Dinita: Well. No pressure.

Kyle: Drop the mic.

Dinita: Three things to explain my practice, or represents my practice. Wow. I would definitely say honesty, because I seek to be honest in everything that I do. I feel like that is a daily practice. To be honest with yourselves. If you’re honest with yourself, she can be honest with others.

Dinita: I would have to say spiritual as well. I believe I’ve been blessed with a gift from God, and I want to use that in the most powerful, effective way possible to transform people’s perspectives. I’ll leave that in general. Whether it’s about dance or about life or to just be this possibility. That’s it.

Dinita: My third one, I would have to say grounded-ness. Being grounded, both in my movement and how I go about my movement practice, as well as my spiritual practice seeking God first, and also being grounded to understand people where they are. That’s what I would say. Those are my three.

Craig: Drops mic.

Dinita: That’s what the soleism thing is about. You were talking about Just Sole. Why sole? Why that word? “Just” meaning “Simply. Fair.”. Just. It’s honest. It’s coming from an honest place. “Sole” being I. Me. It’s just me. I’m not representing anything else. This is it. It was a play on words for sole of the foot. You know, I dance. I don’t talk. A lot of people are like, “Oh, you should talk more. You should talk more.”. I’m like, “Yeah.”. At the battles, I didn’t talk to people. I showed up. I stood in the corner. I stretched.

Dinita: I would like you to talk for an hour and a half.

Kyle: Now the joints are starting to talk to me, too. But nonetheless, yeah, that’s what it’s about. It’s about honesty. It’s the sole of the foot being how you hear me speak.

Craig: Right.

Kyle: Anybody that’s connected to that is a soul.You know what I mean? Just Sole. That’s why we have the crew. That’s why we have the company. These are folks that really want to speak from the heart. You know what I mean? If you want to do that, that requires a level of honesty, and we all know … It’s an old saying your parents would say, right? “You can’t fake the funk”.

Dinita: Hey.

Kyle: You can’t fake it. When we feel it, we feel it. If we don’t, we don’t. That’s it. Everybody attributed. We felt something, and it’s a movement. It’s not just a name. Just wanting to put that out there. It’s one of those things … Anything you wanted to say? There it is.

Just Sole: Foundational, spiritual, faithful — Queen Dinita: Honesty, spiritual, grounded