Sounds of Cultura (SOC): Urban SOL

More from this show

Urban Sol is an unlikely union of the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and Phoenix’s urban artist culture of DJs, graffiti artists and dancers. Melissa Britt, clinical professor for the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and also the co-director of Urban Sol, talks about what this movement is all about.

José Cárdenas: Here to talk about this movement is Melissa Britt, clinical professor for the school of film, dance, theatre in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Melissa is also the Co-Director of Urban Sol. Melissa, welcome to "Horizonte."

Melissa Britt: Thank you.

José Cárdenas: We talked about movement. There's a lot of movement going on but the term itself has a different significance, explain that.

Melissa Britt: Well, in the past four years since we've had our urban courses roll out, it's been quite a movement within our program, also within the institution and for our community at large. It's allowed for a lot of bridges that weren't necessarily there before for people that wouldn't feel comfortable being on campus or feel like they could exchange national recognition and even international now that we're traveling and being able to share all of these different types of movement forms or the graffiti, the DJing in terms of musical emceeing, all the different aspects of the hip hop culture.

José Cárdenas: And when you say urban courses, what are you referring to?

Melissa Britt: So we have urban movement practice courses that are housed in the School of Dance underneath the School of Film, Dance and Theater. And those really have the weight and the popularity I would say but we also have classes in music history. We have hip hop online courses and also music production and those are housed in the School of Music with my other co-director.

José Cárdenas: And you made some reference to the attention this is getting nationally and internationally. This is fairly unique is it?

Melissa Britt: Yes, a lot of it is the connections and the way in which this community tends to work. A much more open and receptive and exchange oriented feeling than a separation, you know, the fight, the battle, it's not that those things don't exist but a lot of people in the arts like to come together and share what they're doing. So we have a lot of people that are professional dancers in L.A. let's say or in New York, they're artists in other capacities that have heard about Urban Sol and have heard about our residency programs that we've started to set up and will come and stay with us for weeks at a time and then help us kick off these Urban Sols. So, for an example, I had three of my judges that were here this year, close friends of mine over the last few years, but one is in the bay, another is from Philly, now in L.A. and they all came together to help me promote the event, do workshops beforehand Professor Lock was here for 8 weeks to deal with the students specifically in the courses and in the classrooms, and then outside workshops to get them ready for the Urban Sol event.

José Cárdenas: And Urban Sol, it's a play on words because people might think we're talking about soul, S-O-U-L but the word itself is S-O-L and you mean both, actually.

Melissa Britt: Absolutely. The idea of us living in the city of sun, it's very warm, everything is always outside in terms of our events, everything is always free. So it's this idea of the warmth, everybody gathering together, the idea of sharing your sol, sharing the sun, the warmth together, it's really beautiful project, a lot of fun.

José Cárdenas: And the video we saw was actually from a spring activity last week. Last week, you were doing something similar out on campus and we've got some pictures we'll put up on the screen. And I want to talk about what was going on then.

Melissa Britt: Yes, so this year --

José Cárdenas: There's one of them, is this a painting exhibition with the graffiti?

Melissa Britt: And that's -- those three panels together now sit in our lobby of our School of Dance area, which is a really great addition I would say. But I would like to talk about this last week, the Urban Sol event -- normally we throw one event and it's one day --

José Cárdenas: Good crowd from that picture.

Melissa Britt: Uh-huh. And that's actually from a past event, as well. That was when we did it down here downtown where we actually threw the battle on the light rail on the very East and West sides and each round we would stop.

José Cárdenas: When you talk about battle, what do you mean?

Melissa Britt: Dance battle. So it was an open styles battle. We carried our boom boxes with us and people would come and gather along the way and ask what we were doing and we all met down here, downtown.

José Cárdenas: And these are your D.J.s in action.

Melissa Britt: That's Panic. Panic comes into our class and has turn tables set up in the studio where we talks about the vibe and the experience of the sound and what it's means to understand your movement from multiple aspects. So he comes in a lot and is quite informative.

José Cárdenas: Why is this important to bring attention to these art forms? You've been doing this for four years is that right?

Melissa Britt: I've been doing the forms longer but in terms of having a space within the institution to teach them, they're a current practice. They get students excited. They also grapple with a lot of issues around race, sexuality, gender, class. Right now and also before when they were being born. So it allows them to understand the different patterns that happen throughout the history and that they are still happening and how do we express ourselves in them.

José Cárdenas: Speaking of history, you and I were talking off-camera about a new aspect and that's mambo and introducing some young people to a very old art form.

Melissa Britt: And how much that draws a bridge to so many of the things they would do for breaking or the funk and how they were moving when they were locking or the steps they were using, the form that still is alive. It's also about the social aspect of men and women dancing together and it not always being a battle or dancing by yourself but that connection is there. We have a grad student David Olarte that just started his last semester and he will be starting the mambo classes in the spring and something to say about that it's really interesting because we've had salsa for a while and it's been wonderful, it's always been popular but there's a way of fitting into the groove of the music that allows for a little more funkiness that comes out through the mambo, the conversation with the musicians and the community that's doing it.

José Cárdenas: We talked about a little bit about the movie, Mambo to Hip Hop.

Melissa Britt: This last week when we did events every single week leading up to the main Urban Sol event Wednesday we held an event specifically focusing on the screening of the video Mambo to Hip Hop, all the people that were living in the Bronx, the big bend era, people gathering together in spaces similar to what we're doing with Urban Sol, generationally look a little different, sound a little bit different, maybe a little bit more electronic.

José Cárdenas: So there's something for everybody.

Melissa Britt: Oh, yes, yeah. So when we did that screening and we did a partner in class, actually at the Urban Sol event that Friday, the dance company came out of the cipher and the cipher is the circle. That's where everyone goes in to shine and dance and exchange and we situated them where three couples were spinning and dancing, they're getting ready to go to the Latin World Cup in Miami. That was a highlight for me. I was sitting back as the producer of the event going this is so great.

José Cárdenas: Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it. That's our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte," I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good night.

Melissa Britt:Clinical Professor for the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and also the Co-Director of Urban Sol

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: