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.  


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. 


Since the age of 15, I have been dedicated to educating the public about Hip-Hop dance and culture. Exploring ways in which to bring this form to the community, concert stage, and academia, I’ve been inspired to educate popular “culturalists” (mainstream thinkers and the “neo” Hip-Hop generation) not only about Hip-hop’s history and relevance today but also its humanitarian foundation and philosophy. Like many original American art forms, this is a discipline founded in the African Diaspora, and as much as we associate Hip-Hop with youth, its progenitors were primarily born between 1955 and 1965.  Most are mis-informed about its practitioners.    They (public) have a preconceived notion of what Hip-Hop dance and culture is. My philosophy as an educator is the direct result of being born before Hip-Hop became Hip-Hop as we know it today. Having watched its evolution and being immersed in its revolution, I have been afforded a very unique perspective, one that is often overlooked. 

There are three unspoken laws of Hip-Hop 
1.) individuality
2.) creativity
3.) and, last but not least, innovation. 

At every turn, a practitioner of Hip-Hop must be identified as an independent thinker who is creative and innovative in all he or she does. Freestyle and improvisation is “the” core method of progressiveness in our culture. We aren’t allowed to wear the same clothes twice, nor repeat the same dance movement or lyric. Simply put, improvisation embraces change rather than resisting it. These three laws ensure the natural progression of our experience as humans. Without them we become stagnant and complacent as a race of beings. Our very existence stems from our growth, mentally and spiritually. It’s imperative that we evolve, reaching beyond the limitations we unwisely set for ourselves. Embraced by the cipher, the improvisation of dance and lyric teaches its students humility, confidence, skill, collaboration, and discipline, which are nothing more than life tools. Governed by a “poly-rhythmic” time signature, this pedagogical approach uses the philosophical understanding of the Hip-hop “cipher” — 360 degrees of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding — to teach objectivity, balance, and progression. 

The way we receive information is cyclical in nature, not linear. “Structure” is worshiped as a “God”-line, when in fact it is only a guide-line. Cyclical thinking acknowledges structure as being flexible in nature. It’s ok if you deviate (improvisation) from the path. Maybe you will come back to the path or maybe not. It’s your choice, it’s your voice and individual right to change your time signature. Yes, this is Hip-Hop but, more importantly, this is being Human. Identifying self, loving self, and respecting self. Once we have achieved or come close to this understanding we are able to engage in what Kevin Donovan (aka Afrika Bambaata) calls “Peace, Love & Universal Truth.”


“It’s Paris. It’s 1913. It’s Stravinsky’s music to Nijinsky’s groundbreaking new choreography. It’s too much for the audience, and a riot breaks out. It’s Philadelphia. It’s 2011. It’s Stravinsky’s music mixed with Arvo Part’s and funneled through the millenial mentality of Darrin Ross and, to top it off, the always new choreographic genius of our own Nijinsky, Rennie Harris. Audiences have seen so much since 1913 that nothing starts a physical riot. Nevertheless, Harris’s genius sets off a riot in our minds and souls. As the choreographer continues to redefine hiphop with new movement invention and conceptual ideas, he also redefines what we call concert dance. We are invited into a world of myth where the tables are turned and the young virgin to be sacrificed is a beautiful b-boy. The power and agency of women doing this movement vocabulary opens up another level of truth and beauty and turns us around. We must see with the eyes at the back of our head.”

–Brenda Dixon Gottschild (2011)

In the beginning I didn’t think much about what I was doing. Unbeknownst to me, though, I had an agenda. When the smoke cleared, I understood that I was pushing street dance vocabulary, its aesthetic and texture if you will. I discovered many things along the way. For example, I discovered that most of the vocabulary of street dance isn’t designed to travel through space. Soon, I realized I wasn’t responding to the environment but rather becoming the environment by way of its vocabulary. This process gave me a very unique perspective, allowing me to define and explore the vocabulary of various street dance styles and aesthetics. Later, I began to use multi-media, poetry, script, and live Hip-hop musicians such as beat boxers, bucket players, and DJs. This really opened me up creatively. I used to think of Hip-hop culture as only pertaining to dance and not the other elements. Incorporating the other elements made me realize the sky was the limit, there are no boundaries with this. Although there are unspoken laws of Hip-hop and Street dance culture, there are no rules on how to approach it in the theater. I find it important to create from a place of innate inspiration while simultaneously employing method and technique. For me, the first phase of creating a work is to begin by creating movement vocabulary. After that, I move on to movement phrases. It’s my belief that the movement reveals the work, it determines the aesthetic of the work. Once the movement and vocabulary phrases have been created, I can then begin the process of blocking and spacing. Finally, I start the process of narrative, if need be. Sometimes I see a story within the movement vocabulary, and sometimes not.   Whether I employ a narrative, abstraction, or dance for dance’s sake, I begin cleaning and re-staging the work based on whether or not I decided on a clear narrative/theme. Researching and theorizing about a new work isn’t part of my methodology. I teach students to create from their core, on the spot. This promotes acknowledgement of choice, voice, and individuality, extending beyond Hip-Hop, as it addresses humanity in the simplest way. Live each moment, embrace each moment, and always be present in the moment as it is in these moments that we experience universal truth. The term Hip-hop means to “open your eyes” or “re-open” your eyes. Needless to say, without this insight I would not be in the position I am today. I see my work as acknowledging moments of clarity and forging through old structures and rules of engagement. Without acknowledging these “moments of clarity” I doubt I would have been able to create the one work that took the dance world by surprise, “Rome & Jewels,” a Hip-Hop adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Winning many awards, and specifically the William Shakespeare Award for classical theater, it was the longest running Hip-Hop theater production to date. This work confirmed the importance of Hip-Hop as a cogent and viable dance form. In closing, I didn’t set out to become a choreographer or director, but I have accepted my calling and I am loving every moment I’m able to enlighten someone with my work with my teaching and with my vision for Hip-hop & Street Dance.