It is a rare bunch of young ladies who can pull themselves together in eight weeks during their free time after school, before work, in between taking care of family members, and while juggling numerous other responsibilities, and give a dance performance that looks like they had rehearsed for eight hours each day for months on end with no budget constraints. But….as you guessed, this is not an ordinary group of ladies, these are the Ladies of Hip-Hop (LOHH).
Founded by Michele Byrd-McPhee, this New York City-based nonprofit organization provides powerful artistic opportunities for girls and women to train and perform in hip-hop culture. Through female-driven workshops, performances, public talks, and professional development training, LOHH is educating and cultivating hip-hop’s next generation of female leaders.
Hip-hop emerged just over 50 years ago. To celebrate this anniversary, Side of Culture had the pleasure of taking in a performance by LOHH which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2024. These extraordinary multigenerational dancers presented works that reflected local street and dance culture and demonstrated the strength, power and diversity of women in hip-hop.
Dance On! Ladies of Hip-Hop Celebrate 20th Anniversary!
According to NPR and the “history detectives,” On August 11, 1973 DJ Kool Herc, a building resident, was entertaining at his sister’s back-to-school party, and tried something new on the turntable: he extended an instrumental beat (breaking or scratching) to let people dance longer (break dancing) and began MC’ing (rapping) during the extended breakdancing. This, the contributor believes, marked the birth of hip-hop in the midst of an inner-city environment that helped lay the foundation for a cultural movement.
According to Britannica.com, there are four elements that are considered to be the pillars of hip-hop: deejaying, or “turntabling”; rapping, also known as “MCing” (emceeing) or “rhyming”; graffiti painting, also known as “graf” or “writing”; and break dancing, or “B-boying,” which encompasses hip-hop dance, style, and attitude. Others also add that “knowledge of self/consciousness” and street fashion and language are important components.
The LOHH STORY
Since 2004, Ladies of Hip-Hop has been a driving force in the empowerment of girls and women in hip-hop. Beginning as a training ground for female hip-hop dancers, LOHH quickly grew from one day dance workshops to a week-long international festival including female DJs, Mcees, graffiti and visual artists from around the world. From there, LOHH has been building an international tribe of girls and women supporting each other.
Under the direction of Founder and Executive Director, dancer and choreographer, Michele Byrd-Mcphee, Ladies of Hip-Hop Dance Collective (LDC) weaves the embodied experiences of women, creating a communal fabric that paints a picture of a global women experience.
Ever present in the work are the freestyle, cipher, and call-and-response origins of street and club dance culture, all the while exploring the space of proscenium performance. Ever present in the work are the freestyle, cipher, and call-and-response origins of street and club dance culture,
Through their work, LOHH is reclaiming and transforming spaces, not only in the realm of dance but also within the broader cultural landscape. LDC asks audiences to celebrate the strength, resilience, and creativity of women from all walks of life, while sparking important conversations about gender equality and representation. LDC creates works that celebrate and center feminist narratives examining the intersections of gender, race, and resistance.
Michele Byrd-McPhee, said, “We recognize Hip-hop’s culture as one of resiliency and history, that it is a culture worth preserving and archiving. LOHH serves as a living archive of Hip-hop. Also, as it centers only on women, LOHH ensures that women and girls have an active role in defining the future of hip-hop culture.”
Byrd-McPhee earned her BS from Temple University and an MS in Nonprofit Arts Management from Drexel University. She worked many years in TV and arts production, including stints at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and teaching Arts Marketing at Texas Tech University. She also serves as a Bessie Award Committee Member. Currently Byrd-McPhee is not only a performer but also a production manager for The Jazz Continuum, along with her ongoing commitment to LOHH Dance Collective.
Her outlook is powerful. She said, “Never let where you were supposed to be, limit where you go. As a child, I would spend hours lost in my own world, imagining all the places I would go and the things I would do. But as I got older, I began to realize that the world around me didn’t share my sense of possibility. Too often, I was told that my dreams were nothing more than pipe dreams; that I needed to be realistic and find a sensible career. Against all odds, I followed my passion and built a successful career doing what I love. If I had listened to the naysayers, I never would have accomplished anything.”
Not too long ago, in partnership with SNIPES USA, Byrd-McPhee opened New York’s only woman-led, woman-owned, and women-focused street dance and arts space. The LOHH X SNIPES Studio space is dedicated to street and club dance forms. It also is used for rehearsal space, and classes for communities that are normally forgotten and systematically excluded from traditional dance spaces.
To that point, Byrd-McPhee makes sure that the classes and education component of LOHH is vibrant. The Ladies in Training (LIT) offers a cultivated environment for people to learn and strengthen one’s knowledge of street and club dance forms and culture while being in community with fellow women in Ladies of Hip Hop. Being a part of LIT, dancers partake in a curriculum dedicated to teaching street and club dance culture. This training is offered by company and guest instructors in various modules that include dance classes, lectures, and community events. Members also have performance opportunities throughout the season, including the annual Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival.
Every year Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival presents an Award Appreciation & Contribution to Ladies in Hip Hop Culture during a video tribute and award presentation at the annual LOHH showcase at Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.
As gathered together by Victoria Larson, Side of Culture
Top Photo: Ladies of Hip-Hop by Danica Paulus.