For Dancers of R.O.O.T.S. The Movement, the Richmond Renaissance is Now

Editor’s Note: Step into the shoes of dancers from across the country who dare to imagine what it would look like if their city could dance with KQED’s If Cities Could Dance. Watch a new episode from season two of the video series every Tuesday through May 14, 2019.

Many often label the rich history of Richmond’s WWII-era days as the city’s long-ago “renaissance.” The population swelled with tens of thousands of shipyard workers—many of them African American—recruited from throughout the United States. Legendary blues clubs proliferated in North Richmond, and the downtown grew.

But for the members of the emerging hip-hop dance troupe R.O.O.T.S. (Rising Out of the System) The Movement, Richmond’s heyday isn’t resigned to the history books.

There’s beauty within present-day Richmond, R.O.O.T.S. The Movement dancer Deontae Watkins says—a beauty that inspires his movements. “People who came from the South in the 1940s, they came with so much spunk to make these ships for the war,” says fellow dancer Kabreshiona Tiyteea La'Shae Smith. “That just fuels my fire to continue to go hard for our city.”

R.O.O.T.S. The Movement members, all born and raised in Richmond, came up through the RYSE Youth Center and the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, known as “The Center.” For the dance troupe, who perform a mixture of styles influenced by krumping, hip-hop moves, African dance and modern ballet, their approach to collaborative choreography is crucial to their mission. “We like to see everyone shine and grow at the same time,” says Aziza Thomas.

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Now many of them are teaching classes at those same spaces. “I have the opportunity to teach how you can use art as a way to transform negative influences or emotions into a positive and beautiful thing,” says Watkins.

Watch Watkins, Smith and Thomas dance proudly in front of Point Richmond, along Macdonald Avenue and outside the RYSE Youth Center (where young artists created some of the music heard in this video). —text by Sarah Hotchkiss

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