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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Dance Mission Presents WOMEN IN HIP HOP 2023 March 19, 2023, Dance Mission Theater, SF

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

Dance Mission Theater is thumping with the tunes of DJ Nina Sol. Audience entry for Women in Hip Hop 2023 (WIHH), a one-night-only showcase, is electric. Folks are jumping up from their seats to hug a friend or wave down a seat mate.

The showcase is the centerpiece of a weekend of workshops curated by Samara Atkins and Fredrika Keefer. It features a wealth of Bay Area talent, dancers, emcees, and DJ’s. For those of you, who like me, aren’t too familiar with hip hop culture, an emcee is a vocalist who rhymes over sampling, scratching or mixing supplied by a DJ.

Samara Atkins is our guide for the evening’s proceedings. We are in good hands. Atkins is a YBCA100 2023 Honeree, the co-founder and co-artistic director of the female dance collective Mix’d Ingrdnts, a Grammy-winning singer (Alphabet Rockers, Best Children’s Album 2023), a teacher, choreographer and social justice warrior. She is loud and proud, warming up the crowd, sharing her infectious enthusiasm for each act as she provides their bios as form of introduction.

First up, @Katana_Pop Uchiha performing her distinctive Egyptian Bang Style with @CeclilaEgidi and @wakitlikeitalkit. There is a joyfulness as this crew hits their angular Egyptian-inspired hand and arm poses to the beats of the music. Their body waves closely nested within each other’s is an indication of many rehearsal hours well spent. Their precise popping, tensing, and releasing of muscles creates an amazing visible vibration inside their arms.

@Katana_Pop Uchiha, @CeciliaEgidi and @wakitlikeitalkit wave to their fans WIHH23 Photo: J. Norris

Keffer and Atkins have curated a program that shares the rich diversity of styles in the Bay Area hip hop scene. Alante Hall, dance name Tae-Ninja, an East Bay dance battle champ, throws double and triple jazz turns, a foot pasted to the side of the knee of her supporting leg. With her high kicks, fast spins and winning smile I was rooting for her, the way I was for film-character Alex during her Flashdance audition scene.

Tony nominated theater education leader Sarah Crowell, whose thirty years of girl leadership development at Destiny Arts makes her a hometown hero, introduces Mix’d Ingrdnts. Mix’d is a multi-ethnic, multi-genre dance collective composed of female-identified artists, including our hype-master for the evening, Samara Atkins. This sextet of brujas is conjuring and cultivating some fierce fun in a duo of dances. In the first, their stylized moves support the lyrics of the tune, wiping palm over palm when paying out funds, a rocking high fist on the top of a steering wheel, and a sassy tummy rub for eating. The second number includes a standout freestyle improv for each, as well as some strutting, hip rotating, high-energy unison work.

Warrior women Bianca Mendoza and Fredrika Keefer perform a contemporary duet in leafy shadows as the voice of Mother Nature reminds us that “when I falter, you falter.” Images of birds in flight are conjured by flowing arms as drumming supplants the vocals and the dancers shape themselves around one another. Spinning with arms outstretched, faces and chests toward the sky, the final silhouette is one of hope.

Lest we think Atkins’s only talents lay in dancing, choreography and hosting, she takes the stage as “Miss Communication,” rapping an original song about the magic of women. She is accompanied by dancer Marina Stankov-Hodge aka "Nurse Boogy’s" popping and hitting. Boogy’s micro-isolations, in which her small muscles twitch in sequence, and her horizontal slides, generated seemingly without effort, redefine the possible.

Emcee Samara Atkins and "Nurse Boogy" performing at WIHH23; Photo: J. Norris

Sultry Kamryn Chadwick representing 1 UP crew brings the heat with her booty bouncing, crotch grabbing, hair tossing dancing, strutting and grooving, in full control of her sneering, smirking, smiling sexiness. This is what your dance teacher means when she says “give me some face.”

GRRRL Brigade, founded in 2004, is an intensive dance/leadership development program for San Francisco girls ages 9 to 18. From the confidence and skill these young people display onstage, it is clear that the goals of providing “high quality dance training, performance opportunities, and a sense of self-empowerment” are all being met. Each young woman brings her own unique energy to the mix as they groove. Flowing in and out of choreographer Bianca Mendoza’s formations with confidence, celebrating each other’s solo moments, I was reassured the future is in good hands.

Other amazing artists on the bill include Ridhi Viriti and Maddie Larkins of @pressurebayarea, who brought great chemistry, fast feet, and finely articulated body waves to their performance, and up-and-coming R&B, hip hop lyricist @humblehart.

Delivering her frank and empowering messages through her songs, Emcee Aima The Dreamer reminds us that “our rage is love,” and “our rage is power.” Rapping over some great beats they invite those so inclined to join them on the dance floor. A perfect communal ending to an inspiring, evening of hip hop culture through a feminist lens.

Review by Jen Norris, published March 19, 2023

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