How one outsider street dancer became the bodily cipher for Brooklyn's troubles, and the world’s
Storyboard P is a maelstrom. To watch him move – whether that's with Jay-Z at a gallery performance, in a Flying Lotus video or by himself on the Brooklyn Bridge – is to watch a man expand the parameters of his artform. The New Yorker called him the "Basquiat of street dance", and when our favoruite Russian videographers took a trip to New York for their Visionaries slot, they did so to film Storyboard dance on the street.
A 24-year-old Brooklynite born and bred between Crown Heights and Brownsville, he is the most exciting and expressive street dancer in the world. From his early teens, he’s been active on the Flexing scene, a competitive New York dance form, originating in Jamaican Bruk Up that combines some moves of breakdancing with a narrative and emotional intensity closer to contemporary dance. Crowned King of the Streets at the biggest dance-offs aged 16, he's since turned away from the strictures of scene into an even more free, fluid and expressive form of his own. Since, the big-name collaborations and art-world applause has come. He now plans to release 100 mixtapes and work with Sony Pictures, he tells us.
“Flexing is bending time,” Storyboard P laughs over Skype. “It’s taking one part of time and smashing it together with another part of time and displaying it on your body, and when it happens there’s usually music attached.”
What do you call your way of dancing?
Storyboard P: My form is mutant. I’m a prophet of individualism. I started mixing everything that started to look like a collage or like a stop-motion animation, but just with balletic movements [Storyboard attended an elite New York school for ballet in his teens], and then I’d add characters and storytelling: I was doing comedy. So some of the poppers and lockers on the flex scene from yesterworld were like, “you look like a mutation when you do what you do”, so I started calling it Mutation.
One of the most striking things as an outsider watching your face while you dance is that it doesn’t look nice. It’s totally, insanely beautiful, but often, it barely even looks like dancing.
Storyboard P: It’s very grim and dark. It’s like clusters of energy – you know, like, if you fell away in the beginning of the day, it usually rolls into the other parts of the day unless you do something about it. Faces have a lot to do with it because it’s like communication: you show certain faces and people sort of get the gist of the world you’re in, and the emotion and stuff. But I’ll also say it has a lot to do with how you’re moving, what muscles are you using in your face. It’s muscle memory.
That’s interesting. Are you always aware of how you’re moving?
Storyboard P: Other people are like searchers. I’m not a searcher, I’m a navigator: I pretty much know what I want to convey. The parts you don’t know is how far you take it. I’ve been crafting since nine, eight, in that form, seeing it, growing up with it, breathing it, eating it, drinking it, sweeping into it, waking up, not getting sleep doing it. So I know it like the back of your hand. It’s like my own body.
Can you talk more about how your dancing relates to where you grew up?
Storyboard P: Abandonment is a big thing in the neighbourhood – when you’re different people step aside from you, people are scared to be with something that’s different, they don’t want to be outcasts. I got converted, I started changing my way of dancing and just expressing myself. The neighbourhood like I grew up allowed me to stand alone, because the style that we create is from war, it’s from warfare anyway. It’s from absorbing the neighbourhood, absorbing the energies – violence, greed, ambition, whatever –and bouncing it back.
A lot of the gang warfare in Brooklyn, they try to end it through the dance. That’s what it comes from. A lot of people don’t know the history so when they get into it and they see the aggression, they don’t understand it, because it wasn’t for everyone. It wasn’t a form; it was more of a movement. Movements, they’re not waves. You know, waves, people jump, bandwagon jump and they just start doing a fad. Movement is more militant, it’s more like, we believe in this, this what we do, this is our life and that’s it. It is really just communicating, like Earl “Snakehips” Tucker, who used the Snakehips plantation dances. Slaves would communicate in a certain way through dance to stay away from their masters.
Do you see what your movement as something that recalls these?
Storyboard P: Yeah, it’s the bottom line – meaning, the rule of my style is Tarot cards and parables. It’s like a modern day Tarot system. It’s called Marvel Universe, the black Marvel.
Are you working with ghosts when you dance?
Storyboard P: Well, it’s funny you mention ghosts, because that’s one of my teammates. His name is Ghost, and his thing is banshees, you know, he connects with the other side – and I think all humans can, but a lot of us have been dumbed down to think that we’re just physical, and that’s sad its like that. We live in an infinite dimensional existence. I’m gliding into a new paragraph so, yeah basically, the way I’m connected with my ancestors every day – whether I’m smoking or whether I’m praying, meditating, cleaning out my body, making amends with myself, being with family – I’m always getting light patterns. It’s like a computer interface, it’s very advanced, and this is how I create.
"A lot of us have been dumbed down to think that we’re just physical, and that’s sad ... " – Storyboard P
You’ve been explicitly compared to Basquiat in the past – could you explain how you see your dancing as corresponding to graffiti?
Storyboard P: I’m giving you like, you know, since you’re Dazed magazine, I’m going to show you how the world is dazed and how I’m showing people they’re dazed through my art. That’s the point of graffiti – it’s to show you ley lines, spiritual ley lines. They’re invisible though. The way that the graffiti is, the way that shapes are, they’re invisible, but when you communicate it and you direct it towards yourself, you see the truth in it, you see how to correlate with it, and then that’s how you see the shape describing something in your life.