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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

Why Directing ’When The Beat Drops’ Was A Game-Changer For Jamal Sims

Updated: May 1, 2020

Jamal Sims is having one heck of a 2018. In addition to choreographing for Disney’s live-action film, Aladdin, and Disney Channel’s Descendants 3, his passion project recently made its debut at the Miami Film Festival. When the Beat Drops takes a look at the underground dance scene of bucking, which is a subculture rooted in majorette routines. In 1971, it was Shirley Middleton, a Jackson State University majorette, who put bucking on the map. The Southern LGBTQ community adapted it, where they have made an incredible impact on the dance genre. More: How NappyTabs Created A Magical Opening Number For Disney “Bucking is thrusting the hips forward and it has an almost African-type of background,” Sims explained to Dance Dish. “It’s primal, it’s almost risqué. Over the years, it’s become a little bit bigger, stronger and more in your face.” Dance Dish: Why hasn’t bucking reached the mainstream more when so many people are doing it? Jamal Sims: It's a Southern type of thing because we don't have HBCUs — Historically Black Colleges and Universities — who have the girls [majorettes] who do it. Then the guys who do it, they just haven't had the platform to put it out there. DD: Now that you've given them the platform with this documentary, why has this been such an incredible passion project for you? Jamal: I felt like I had seen it all — I thought that I had been exposed to all sorts of dance styles since I had been in the club scene before. But bucking was something that I hadn't seen. So I felt like I wanted to help give them a platform. These guys are just like me. I trained off the TV. Whatever Michael Jackson was doing, I was doing — that was my training. So although they may not technically be correct all the time, I kind of connect to them. There’s something about exploring all types and styles of dance and maybe not having the right training, but making it work. More: 'Strike a Pose' Picks Up Where Madonna's 'Truth or Dare' Left Off DD: It’s very clear in the documentary that some of these men, who are leaders in their communities, are concerned that their love for dance and bucking will be revealed. Why is this an important part of the film? Jamal: We're in 2018 and just when you think that we've made so much progress, we realize we haven’t. I think that it still exists — the prejudice [against the LGBTQ community] and people just aren't there yet. We must tell the stories so people can understand that bucking doesn't make them bad people. DD: How did working on When the Beat Drops change you? Jamal: When I first was exposed to it in 1995, I was dealing with my sexuality. Two years later, I was in the relationship that I'm in now. My husband and I had never really publicly said that we were boyfriends when we were dating. After meeting with these guys and hearing some of their stories and how brave they were, it was life-changing. It made me feel that for other young kids to have that the same amount of bravery, I told my husband we have to show and expose ourselves. So we ended up getting married in the middle of filming the documentary. We ended up getting married on the Grammys. We shouldn’t have to hide who we love.

More: How Kurt Froman Took Jennifer Lawrence Through Ballet Boot Camp For ‘Red Sparrow’ DD: How has the movement of bucking influenced your work as a choreographer? Jamal: Before the film, I always felt like men had to be move like men. I was into this masculine thing — guys have to dance like guys. With dance and movement, why do we always have to be concerned with masculinity and femininity? There really shouldn’t be any boundaries. I think that working with these guys helped me calm down with that. Let’s just create movement. DD: So You Think You Can Dance has explored different dance genres in the last few years. Could you see the show taking a chance on bucking? Jamal: I would love to see it. I've tried it, it’s not easy. It takes some training. These guys are athletic, so I think it would be amazing if we could do it on So You Think You Can Dance.


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