Go Deeper

J-Setting at the Live Arts Brewery

Posted July 26th, 2011

This past week, I was more distracted than usual, thanks to the Major Laser songs being blasted in the LAB theater. On Wednesday, I snuck into the theater to see what all the noise was about, where I discovered around twenty professional dancers taking part in what I later learned was a weeklong J-Setting workshop organized by 2011 LAB Fellow Jumatatu Poe (founder of IdiosynCrazy Productions).

Tired of making coffee and baking pies for my boss, Mr. McIlvain, I figured watching the two-hour J-Setting workshop would give me some solace (or solstice, depending). Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell the idea; it wasn’t involved enough. Mr. McIlvain told me that if I wanted to get out of polishing his galoshes, I would have to actually participate in the workshop. Alas, I will do anything to get out of working for/interacting with Mr. McIlvain; and so, on Thursday morning, I found myself wearing dance clothes and sneakers, warming up next to professional J-Setters LaKendrick Davis and Donte Beacham.

What is J-Setting? I find out after after the jump!

I haven’t danced for five years; at first I didn’t think I would even make it through the warm-up. When we started the actual choreography I felt even more overwhelmed, mainly by the speed at which I had to think. We ran the counts over and over again, in groups, in slow motion, and finally with music. I was actually able to follow along, and the behind-the-scenes film segment, though embarrassing, isn’t acutely embarrassing. I felt great when the class ended—not because it was over, but because I had made it through.

Beyonce’s Single Ladies music video brought J-Setting into the mainstream. Though the video is largely based on Bob Fosse’s dance number, Mexican Breakfast, J-Setting informs the movement. The dance style incorporates a lead-and-follow structure and is based mainly on majorette movements, with hints of Vogue-ing and Stomp. It originated in Mississippi at Jackson State University, when DeMorris Adams became the first man to join a majorettes dance squad—”the J-Settes.” J-Setting soon became popular largely among black gay men, especially in the south.

After the Beyonce video came out, I couldn’t walk through the frozen foods section at Trader Joe’s without seeing someone wearing a black leotard and gyrating. The choreography in the video is captivating—throughout the number different aesthetic tensions arise: those between stillness and movement, chaos and control, compression and expansion. Around the world, people produced their own versions of Single Ladies (including Justin Timberlake and Joe Jonas).

Jumatatu is very much aware of the rising popularity of this dance form. In preparation for his dance project, The Flight Attendants Project, he organized a J-Setting workshop that he believes will help him explore in particular the juxtaposition between compression and expansion. After seeing Donte Beacham’s videos on Youtube, he hired him and fellow squad member LaKendrick Davis to teach the workshop.

I am no Beyonce. I am no Donte Beacham or LaKendrick Davis. In fact, I am most often compared with Rebecca Black. And yes it’s corny, but after surviving a J-Setting class, I felt a little like a star.

–Lulu Krause