For most of us, there was probably a time in our lives when we tried to pick up a new skill by watching YouTube videos, only to give up after a single night of binge-watching video tutorials. Unlike most of us, Jamal Meneide ’19 has taken his high school interest in hip-hop dance videos to an entirely new level. Over the last four years, Meneide’s passion for dance has only grown, and he is constantly creating unique moves and techniques.
While Meneide both dances and choreographs for Nothin’ But Cuties (NBC), the College’s hip-hop dance group, he performs most of his original work solo and posts it on Instagram and YouTube. For Meneide, posting his work online has a twofold purpose. “I use social media both to show other people my craft, and also to demonstrate to myself how much I’m evolving, and how much my craft is or isn’t improving,” he said. He usually sports an unexpected combination of bold geometric-patterned pants and a plaid flannel or knit sweater, captivating hundreds of viewers with each video.
Meneide is an avid proponent of new style hip-hop, which differentiates from classic hip-hop by incorporating newer influences from urban and street dance styles. Staples of a typical new-style hip-hop routine include familiar techniques like popping and locking, in which the dancer’s muscles quickly expand and contract as if they were mechanized in an animation style. Animation style is characterized by a tension between robotic movements such as popping and locking as well as more fluid motions such as waving, where part or all of the dancer’s body moves in a wave-like motion.
Subtly switching between mechanical and organic motions is one of Meneide’s greatest strengths as a dancer — one moment, his arm could be waving gracefully to the beat of the music, but in the blink of an eye he could twist his body into an completely new position with almost inhuman precision.
Also true to new-style hip-hop, a majority of Meneide’s dances are free-styled rather than choreographed. “Thinking about it, I think I have one or two pieces that are completely choreography,” he said. “Sometimes I’m inspired by the mood of the song — it’ll make me think of a specific movement and I’ll base the rest of my free-styling on that.”
Meneide’s moves are cleverly coordinated to the mix of rap, hip-hop, trap and even breakbeat music that he often listens to. “The music I dance to usually feels pretty compositionally complex, in the sense that there are a lot of things going on in the music, a lot of layers,” he said. “As a dancer, listening to an artist that put that much time and effort into their craft, it gives you equally a lot of opportunity to follow different kinds of sounds within the music.”
Both his clothing and dance styles pay tribute to Les Twins, the world-renowned French hip-hop duo whose moves are Meneide’s biggest inspirations. His references to Les Twins are clear in much of his work, particularly the way in which he is able to isolate certain parts of his body while dancing — for example, while his feet are gliding across the floor, his upper body remains static and vice versa.
As a prospective English and political science double major, Meneide’s academic and artistic passions rarely cross paths. However, he recently combined the two in a cathartic way in his most recent project, in which he created a dance in response to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting Defacement. Meneide studied the work in the Winter Study course “Basquiat’s Defacement: Ambivalence, Identity and Black Lives Matter” and filmed the dance in the Williams College Museum of Art’s reading room in front of the painting.
Defacement depicts the beating of Michael Stewart, a black man assaulted by police in 1983, who died soon afterward. Just as Defacement served as Basquiat’s visceral and immediate reaction to the horrors of police brutality, Meneide uses dance to convey his own emotional response to the work.
The most powerful part of the dance begins when a real-life embodiment of the painting’s “defaced” figure enters the frame and begins dancing in sync with Meneide in the same frame. While his face remains covered, the defaced figure’s moves are unmistakably Meneide’s, provoking questions about the dancer’s relationship to the black figure in the painting. “What I wanted to do was play with the idea of defacement as identity,” he said. “Is being defaced something simply we are viewed as, as black people, or is it something that we can embody, and therefore view ourselves as?”
The “Gaudreau” technique, self-dubbed by Meneide, places the same person twice simultaneously in the frame. The name roughly translates to “army of power” and conveys the multiplicity of his work. “While I’m only a single person, I’m holding myself to the standard of trying to achieve something powerful and multiple with my art,” he said.
Jamal Meneide ’19 posts dance videos online. June Han/Photo Editor.