Memphis' high crime and poverty rate are often cited as the impetus for youth taking the wrong path.
But some local teens are turning away from gangs and guns. Instead, they're drawn to the "gangsta walk," a dance that, despite its name, may help keep kids off the streets, according to the promoter of a gangsta-walking tournament held at Minglewood Hall last week.
"I'm throwing these dance events to open doors for the younger generation. It provides youth with a positive outlet," said Charquentis Ford (better known as Jaquency) of Concrete Legacy, an organization that provides Memphis youth an outlet to learn more about dance. "My goal with these events is to create an atmosphere where people can actually come out and dance. It's a community event for the family where we can cut a lot of the violence out."
A unique style of dance that primarily involves a person sliding, waving, stomping, and twisting their body to a beat, gangsta walking originated in Memphis around 1989 during the early days of the city's "buck" music era, which was popularized by the likes of DJ Spanish Fly, Al Kapone, DJ Squeeky, and Three 6 Mafia.
Not to be confused with jookin', another popular style of Memphis street dancing, gangsta walking requires more skill, time, and effort, according to Jaquency.
"Jookin' is using the gangsta-walk footwork and basics," said Jaquency, who's been gangsta walking for 20 years. "You can pretty much see the gangsta walk in jookin', but [jookers] stand in one place a lot. They substituted a lot of the footwork for the waving and cutting."
Inside Minglewood Hall last Friday, nearly 100 people — primarily African-American teens from the ages of 13 to 18 years old — stood around a large dance floor. Before the tournament began, the names of six tag teams were placed in a hat. As team names were pulled, they drew their opponent's names out of the hat.
The battles lasted no longer than five minutes. Each team had its own style. Some incorporated slides and spins, while others used more hand movement and stepping.
Songs from Yo Gotti, Project Pat, Starlito, and others blasted through the speakers as the teams competed.
One group, clad in janitorial outfits and armed with brooms and spray-cleaner bottles, was composed of one African-American male and one Caucasian male. Initially, gangsta walking was performed solely by African-Americans, but over the years, the dance has begun to appeal to a more diverse mix of performers.
During the tournament's intermissions, sororities and fraternities and a performance by Memphis rap artist Young Kee entertained the crowd. Also, Memphis producer DJ Squeeky was honored for his role in providing the music that inspired the dance form.