Lil Buck and Jon Boogz, Dancing to Improve the World


The dancers Lil Buck and Jon Boogz — Buck and Boogz for short — share a mission: nothing less than to improve the world through dance. Both emerged from the street-dance scenes in their hometowns, Memphis (Buck) and Miami (Boogz). They met at an open jam session at the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio in Los Angeles almost 10 years ago. As they put it, they recognized each other’s skills but also connected on a higher plane, as two idealists who believe that dance can bring people closer and perhaps even change the way they think.

Buck does Memphis jookin’ and Boogz’s background is in popping. But despite their different styles, they started performing together along the tourist-filled 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Their shows aimed to touch people rather than just entertain them. “People would cry watching our performances,” Buck said about those open-air events. “It was a whole different experience for them.”

They both have busy careers, but alongside touring with big-name rock stars like Madonna (Buck) and Gloria Estefan (Boogz), taking part in the Vail Dance Festival (Buck), and collaborating on a recent Rag & Bone fashion campaign that featured Mikhail Baryshnikov, the two started to plot ways to reach new audiences with dances that addressed larger societal issues like racism, police violence, immigration and the destruction of the environment.

Together, they founded MAI (Movement Art Is), a nonprofit that produces dance videos, and now live performances, for which they share choreographic credit. Their film “Color of Reality,” made in conjunction with the painter Alexa Meade, was inspired by their dismay at police shootings of black men, and has been seen online more than 300,000 times. They are also featured in Terrence Malick’s short virtual reality film, “Together,” which will have its New York debut at the Tribeca Film Festival later this month. (There will also be a 2D version.)

This year, too, Buck and Boogz made their first evening-length show, “Love Heals All Wounds,” which has been touring the country since January and comes to the Skirball Center at New York University on Saturday. It is structured as a series of dance scenes punctuated by poetry, composed and performed by Robin Sanders. Each section deals with a contemporary social ill. “A lot of the things we’re talking about,” Boogz said, “from police brutality to mass incarceration to gender equality and racial equality, we grew up with that. There’s a certain struggle that is passed down.”

Photo

Cast members rehearsing Buck and Boogz’s stage show “Love Heals All Wounds” in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Credit
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

I caught up with Buck, 29, and Boogz, 30, on Skype after a recent performance of “Love Heals All Wounds” in West Palm Beach, Fla. What follows are edited excerpts from that conversation.

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