Hip Hop and Traditional Dance

As our culture continues to diversify, so do the definitions of traditional dance, hip hop and Scottishness, especially in times of uncertainty, displacement and migration. It was at Pomegranates 2022 – the inaugural international trad dance festival initiated and curated by Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland – that we embarked on the mission of exploring the under-represented connection between traditional dance and hip hop culture, of sharing the deep historical and social dance roots of hip hop in traditional African American culture, having emerged amongst the Black American communities, including those of Congolese descent, living in 1970s New York.

While curating the second annual edition of our springtime festival Pomegranates 28-30 April 2023, we caught up with Kemono L.Riot (pictured) – a choreographer and dancer born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised in Glasgow, where he has trained in all dance forms. Speaking of his background, he said:

My expertise lies in innovative freestyle hip hop and Krump. This has provided me with the opportunity to teach masterclasses and workshops all across Scotland and Europe. I had the privilege to perform at the London Olympics 2012 and since then to established a company THREE60 with three of my partners collaborating and touring with top recording artists such as Jax Jones. I have performed for Breakin Convention Theatre Tour and loads of live performances. I am also part of Goblynz – one of Scotland’s best hip hop crews. Some of our numerous awards include UDO, HHI, PYB and Got to Dance Semi-Finalists.

Rewinding back to Pomegranates 2022 when the seeds of exploring the intrinsic connection between traditional dance and hip hop culture in contemporary Scotland were planted, Kemono said:

It was April 29th 2022 when I was invited to the first ever Pomegranates festival. I was just one the 30 cultural migrants from 10 countries, all based in Scotland, who patricipated. My humble role was to deliver one of the 10 professional development workshops each 30 minutes long with live traditional music accompaniment.

It was at this workshop that I had the opportunity to trace the origins of hip hop as an informal streetdance and Afro-diasporic dance form, to seriously engage with over 50 fellow dance artists participating in the festival, whose practice was rooted in folk, traditional and social dancing. This was the first time I was accompanied live by the Young Drummer of the Year 2022 Finalist Nemo Ganguli. These seeds of hip hop as a traditional dance style, not unlike pomegranate seeds, were sown in Scotland at Pomegranates 2022.

Having nurtured these steetdance seeds in the ground, at this year’s festival we will continue to explore the relationship between hip hop and traditional dance. We have invited Kemono to come back as our hip hop dance artist-in-residence with the aim to choreograph, MC and DJ the hip hop-themed festival finale on Day 3, 30 April 2023 – a live promenade performance showcasing the diverse dance styles and steps taught during Day 1. A festival finale fusing fun folk dance with funky hip hop rhythms and rhymes.

Talking of rhymes and rapping, we are delighted that in his MCing of the Promenade live show Kemono would incorporate the poems newly commissioned by the festival resident artist Ian McMillan, Scottish performance poet and presenter of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb.

The Promenade 2023 will be accompanied on Afro drums by Nemo Ganguli and an afterparty DJed by Kemono with a specially selected playlist.

In addition, our festival finale will feature the launch of The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Dance Studies (Oxford University Press, 2022) co-edited by Dr Mary Fogarty – an alumna of Edinburgh College of Art and currently an Associate Professor of Dance, School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design at Toronto’s York University.

Featuring contributions from internationally recognized hip hop dancers, advocates, and scholars of various streetdance practices, The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Dance Studies is the first collection devoted exclusively to hip hop dance. Each of its five sections explores different key themes relevant to streetdance: legacies and traditions, hip hop methodologies, the politics of identity, institutionalization, hip hop (dance) theatre, and issues of health, injury, and rehabilitation. It adds new resources to research in dance and hip hop studies, contributing to ongoing debates within hip hop dance communities globally.

Can’t wait to the festival finale to hear more about the book?

Join us in person in advance to discuss this collection on 22 February 2023 at Dance Base, Scotland’s National Centre for Dance and hear Dr Mary Fogarty in conversation with the Pomegranates Festival Co-curator and Convenor of Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland Dr Wendy Timmons, also Programme Director of MSc Dance Science and Education, Moray House School of Education and Sport, the University of Edinburgh. Book your free space here.

Expect to hear about Dr Fogarty’s performance and writing practice as a long-time member of the KeepRockinYou arts collective that organizes the Toronto B-Girl Movement, as well as about her service as a judge at various international Breaking competitions, including the first Olympic qualifier, held in South Korea in 2022, that will help determine who competes when Breaking debuts at the Paris Summer Olympics in 2024.


Portrait of Kemono L.Riot. Image courtesy the artist