Versa-Style is more than just a company that teaches people hip-hop dance moves.
Started in 2005 by Jackie Lopez and Leigh Foaad in 2005, the dance company wants to bring people together from all backgrounds and teach them about the social and political significance of hip-hop music and dance.
The Frame’s James Kim spoke with co-founder and artistic director Jackie Lopez about the inspiration behind Versa-Style and how her own upbringing in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood inspired her to create a program to help children through dance.
On bringing people together through dance:
I have this saying anytime I teach or when I'm with my dancers: Hip-hop needs to be in politics, or social dance needs to be in politics because it's the one time I could step back, and when I'm teaching class, I'm able to see the most diverse demographic of people participating.
From age two to age 50 or 60. From black, white, Asian, you name it! But the thing that brings us together is this music and this heartbeat that makes us just nod our head all at the same time, and we're all one for an instance second.
On how going to UCLA helped her start Versa-Style:
So I'm a L.A. native. My parents are from El Salvador and I'm a first generation in every aspect that you could imagine. I was the first to go to college and go to UCLA.
UCLA gave me the avenue to research, guide myself as to why I'm doing it, and the connections between Latino and the African dance roots and its connections to hip-hop. I feel very connected to both.
I speak 100 percent [fluent Spanish] and obviously English as well, and I always felt that I was able to identify both with my parents’ culture but also being an L.A. native. So Versa-Style is definitely a symbolism of that now. If you see all of the dancers that are in it, they're all L.A. natives. They're actually all inner-city youth dancers that I met 10 years ago and are now professional young dancers touring and dancing with me.
On why she wants to help kids with hip-hop dance:
My life was saved at 16. I come from a very hard upbringing. I grew up in Echo Park and at the time Echo Park was horrible. It was drug infested, it was gang infested. It was like the worst nightmare for my mother at the time. I couldn't even walk through Echo Park without hiding behind cars because of my safety. I was only eight or nine knowing how to just take care of myself.
So growing up in that atmosphere and having a reason to go to school for me was dance. When I met my first teacher in junior high, he introduced dance theater in my life. I knew it was always in me but I had to work at a very young age, I had to support my family at a very young age. So my focus was never in school.
But because one person took the time to ask me, "What do you want to do when you graduate?" That was never asked. I was like, "Well, I don't know. I want to dance." That one conversation opened doors to then teach me about community college opportunities, teach me about these institutions and that there are possibilities.
He did that for me and looking back I've done that for hundreds now. That's what feels good. Now going 11 years into my career I'm seeing the students that I first met when they were in middle school. A lot of them have just graduated college at UCLA and now they're giving back.
That's the faith that I have. It's a chain reaction.