Dancers are artists with their body as their instrument. In that way, they’re just like athletes. With the proper mindset, training and performance context, could they truly be athletes? Anthony “AntBoogie” Rue the II thinks certainly thinks they can be.
Rue’s Urban Dance League (UDL) works under the copyrighted motto “Dancers are Athletes”. Essentially, Rue has built a context of formalized competition for dance. This reflects the spirit of hip hop dance battles, which Rue feels has changed with the growth of smart phone-powered internet use and social media. In UDL, dancers compete under a point system to evaluate their performance. Rue grew up playing basketball, before coming to dance. He always enjoyed the competitive aspect of sport, and wanted to bring that – in a more solidified way – to dance.
Through UDL, Rue sees an opportunity to “instill the life-long benefits of sport” in dancers. He shares that there are some great dancers out there who end up not staying with the group for long, or opt to not be involved in the first place, because it is hard for them “to face that they won’t always be the best.” The context of sport can help some dancers – those with the strength to stick around and work through it, at least – to learn to accept defeat and rejection with more grace and positivity. Given that rejection and creative difficulties are part of the dancing life, that is a key skill to build for up-and-coming dancers.
“One thing I love about dancing,” Rue says, “is that if you have skill, when the smoke clears, you’ll stand still.” Amidst the noise of social media and commercialized hype, true ability remains true ability. It can’t be faked.
Helping Rue along in this mission has been a close relationship with Broadway Dance Center, where Rue has taught since 1999. “They’ve been great,” Rue attests. “BDC was the first school to hire me when I was right out of school, and the first to really take UDL under its wing.”
Beginning in the early 2000s, Rue began to develop the concept of UDL, as well as get the word out there to gain sponsorship and a following. In 2014, Coca Cola jumped on as a sponsor for an eight-week performance series on the BET network. Winners received $3,000 in cash, merchandise and other perks. All involved got exposure, resume-building experience and had a great time. The opportunity with BET got UDL’s name out there and the ball rolling for even bigger and better things.
For instance, just this year, UDL has formed a partnership with board-certified orthopedic foot doctors at Stand Out Performance, a sports medicine cooperative with centers nationwide. UDL has worked with Dr. Patelli, who is based in the Florida center but also sees patients in the New Jersey location. Another partnership is with personal trainers. Rue shares how these resources for UDL’s dancers allow him to know that they’ll be taken care of in the event of injury, as well as for general health and fitness. It also lends legitimacy to the group as a true team, given that professional sports teams provide these resources for their athletes.
Rue is also excited about a web-series project to launch next year, but with filming already in process. Through the series, anyone can watch and follow their favorite dancers, just as they might favorite sports teams or individual athletes, Rue explains. Some of the dancers competing in this series will be from UDL’s nine-week programs at BDC, which take place every three to four months. Dancers rehearse on Tuesday and Thursday nights at BDC, learning about eight routines from different choreographers, as well as building their improvisational skills. With the latter, they have freestyle “battle” opportunities, Rue explains.
Speaking about the group more broadly, “it’s been a fun journey,” he says. He adds that he knew his concept would take many years to bring to full life. “I’m just trying to be a pioneer, and stay true to what we do,” Rue shares. Those are certainly commendable goals, which we could all do well to work toward in our own ways. UDL seems to be a model for thinking big and truly making something one’s own, even if it takes a long time to do so. Perseverance is its own kind of strength and skill!
The 2019 Winter Season of Urban Dance League begins January 7, 2019. For more information and details on how to register, visit www.broadwaydancecenter.com/workshop/urban-dance-league.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.