HARRIS’S EARLIEST MEMORIES OF DANCE
I was born and raised in an African-American community in North Philadelphia. Since the age of 14, I have taught workshops and classes at universities nationally and internationally. I was first inspired by Don Campbell and The Campbell Lock Dancers on the Carol Burnette TV show. I remember seeing his group when I was in 3th and or 4th grade. I remember my Mom making me a pair of Knickerbockers because that’s what Don and his group wore. ( If you don’t know what knickersbockers are, they are shorts with pegged hems that were fitted around the bottom of the knee. Basically, the short that the old school “Newsies” wore.) Of course, in retrospect, back then I had no idea that Don influenced me. My earliest memory of Don’s influence on me was at a girl’s birthday party when I was dancing down a make-shift soul train line. At some point I heard someone say, “he’s a good dancer.” Immediately I started kicking my leg up in the air like the Campbell Lockers did on the Carol Burnett Show and followed that up with my best version of the popular social dance, the “breakdown.” It wasn’t until I was about 12-13 years old that I remember dancing again. This is not to say I hadn’t danced throughout the years; it’s just to say it’s the next most vivid memory of me dancing. I was with my brother and childhood friend nicknamed “Brainy.” We entered a dance contest at the church’s Saturday “Baazar” and won. This was the official beginning of it all.
Later, I formed a group called “Cobra III,” and performed in local bars and lounges. In high school, I became co-captain of a group called The Step Masters, then The Scanner Boys, and for a brief stint of time after high school I became a member of the Magnificent Force (NY) who toured and opened for rap groups such as Afrika Bambatta and The Soul Sonic Force, West Street Mob, Kool Mo Dee and the Treacherous Three, Super Nature (Salt and Peppa), Grand Master Flash and Furious Five, Doug E Fresh, Brandy, Madonna, Run DMC and Jam Master Jay, Newcleus, LL Kool J, Aaliyah, and Sugar Hill Gang, to name a few. After touring, I finished my commercial run as a choreographer and dancer with the legendary Cathy Sledge of the famed Sister Sledge. Returning home to Philadelphia in 1987-88, I choreographed and performed odd jobs until 1991. In 1992, I performed with my childhood group, The Scanner Boys, for the last time at “Dancing in the Streets” at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, before starting my company Rennie Harris Puremovement in 1992.
ABOUT RENNIE HARRIS
Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris is a leading ambassador for Hip-hop. Harris grew up entrenched in Hip-hop culture and was immersed in all its forms — music, dance, language. Throughout his career, he has embraced the culture and sought to honor its legacy. He believes Hip-hop and Street Dance is the purest form of movement in that it honors both its heritage from African and African American-Latino culture. His life has been devoted to bringing Hip-hop and Street dance to all people. Harris’s artistic philosophy reflects a deeper understanding of people that extends beyond racial, religious, and economic boundaries. He believes that Hip-hop, because of its cross-racial and transnational popularity, can help bridge these divisions. Harris’s work encompasses the diverse and rich traditions of the past, while simultaneously presenting the voice of a new generation through its ever-evolving interpretations of dance.
Harris is well versed in the vernacular of what he calls Hip-hop “proper” as well as the various techniques of B-boy (often mistakenly called “breakdancing”), house, GQ and other styles that have emerged spontaneously from the urban, inner cities of America like the North Philadelphia community in which he was raised. Noted for coining the term “Street Dance Theater,” Harris has brought “social” dances to the “concert” stage, creating a cohesive dance style that finds a cogent voice in the theater. He is a powerful spokesperson for the significance of “street” origins in any dance style. Intrigued by the universality of Hip-hop, he seeks inspiration from other forms and performance art. Harris has developed works that challenge his audiences’ expectations about Hip-hop and street dance. Much of Harris’s work has explored his personal experiences as an African- American male growing up in North Philadelphia. However, Harris returns here to the ideas of “Puremovement” and seeks to challenge those who see Hip-hop/Street Dance as a purely male form of expression.
Harris is also the founder of the annual street festival Illadelph Legends which he started in 1997/98. Every year since, guest artists and students have been coming from around the world to Philadelphia for a weekend of classes, lecture demonstrations, panel discussions, jam sessions, and performances. The guest artists and teachers are seminal performers in the field of Hip-hop and Street dance. The original teachers included the creator of Campbell Locking, Don “Campbell Lock” Campbell, the creator of Fresno Boogaloo & Popping, Boogaloo Sam, and his group the Electric Boogaloos, and B-boy pioneers Crazy Legs of the infamous Rock Steady Crew and Lil Lep of New York City Breakers, just to name a few.
To date Harris has been awarded 3 Bessie Awards, 4 Alvin Ailey Black Choreographers Award for Rome & Jewels, an Ethnic Dance Award, the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for choreography. He has also been nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award (UK) for Rome & Jewels and nominated again for best choreography in 2006 for Love Stories (Alvin Ailey Dance Theater). He’s received a Guggenheim Fellowship, PEW Fellowship, USA Artist of the Year Fellowship as well as the coveted “Philadelphia Rocky” Award, and Governor’s Artist of the year to name just a few. He was also voted a Creative Ambassador of Philadelphia. At the turn of the century, Harris – alongside Princess Grace Kelly and Dr. Julius Erving – was voted one of the most influential people in the last one hundred years of Philadelphia history and has been compared to twentieth-century legends such as Basquiat, Alvin Ailey, and Bob Fosse. Noted for coining the terms Street Dance Theater and Hip-hop Concert dance Harris has also received an honorary doctorate from Bates College (Lewiston, Maine) in 2010 and another from Columbia College (Chicago, IL) in 2012. The first choreographer (street dancer) to set a sixty-minute work on Alvin American Dance Theater Harris received a Dance Magazines Legend Award, Palm Desert Festivals LifeTime Achievement Award and is the recent recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award.