Choreographer Jamal Sims, known for his work with pop stars like Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, will release his first-ever documentary, When The Beat Drops, at the Miami Film Festival this month. Produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato of World of Wonder Productions, this film will take an inside look at bucking, a dance subculture born out of majorette routines, and the QPOC dancers behind it.
We sat down with Sims to talk about bucking, passion, and, of course, Beyoncé.
OUT: What motivated you to document bucking? What important stories or details surrounding bucking will be told in When The Beat Drops that wouldn’t necessarily be seen otherwise?
Jamal Sims: What motivated me to do this documentary was my desire to let my subjects tell their story of their passion for dance and how they have dedicated their lives to an underground dance culture that has sustained for over 20 years.
A couple of the stories are: Never judge a book by its cover. These guys are automatically discounted as gay kids on the street who just twirl (dance) at the club. On the contrary, we find out that most of them are not only highly educated, but also have corporate jobs. We also explore the struggle of prejudice these guys encounter even within our own gay community.
Can you give a brief overview of how bucking emerged and how the LGBTQ+ community housed it? What are its influences? How has it influenced other genres of dance?
It has been noted that in 1971, Ms. Shirley Middleton, a Jackson State University majorette, put down her baton and started thrusting her hips on the football field and started dancing to popular music. That style became what is now known as bucking. All of the HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges) majorette teams adopted this style and over the years made it more edgy and hip. The young men of the LGBTQ+ community in the South who went to the schools wanted to do the dance, but knew they couldn’t because of social stereotypes. They took it to the underground gay clubs, created teams, and created a community around this particular style of dance.
Looking at this style of dance you see a base of African, jazz, and now hip hop.
It has been seen as of more recent in the hit video “Single Ladies” music video by the queen herself, Beyoncé. The whole style was a tribute to this genre. Now it is becoming more mainstream.
In your opinion, how has bucking been perceived by the general public? Do you want to change any part of that with the movie?
The general public definitely perceives this style as a female dance. Shows like Bring It and Dance Moms have the younger female generation taking it to another level. I want to show with this film that dance is non-gender specific. This dance movement comes from what you feel and has no limitations.
Knowing that many aspects of QPOC culture— dance in particular— are appropriated and repackaged, are there fears in bucking communities surrounding appropriation?
Well, appropriation was my fear and was my main reason for wanting to tell this story. I wanted it to be told by the guys who have taken this style and evolved it into what it is today. By doing this film, I hope to give credit to the pioneers.
What do you hope for viewers of the movie to get out of seeing it? What is your biggest goal for When The Beat Drops?
I hope the viewers get a better understanding that if you have a passion for something, you should do it. Don’t worry about what others think or say. We can’t be held back by social constraints. The biggest goal for this film would be for people to walk away with the message that we should never judge. I must admit, the courage these guys gave me while making this film allowed me to be more comfortable in my skin as a gay man.
What are you working on now?
I am currently wrapping up the choreography for the Disney live-action film Aladdin and starting another Disney film, Descendants 3.
Anything else you’d like to say about bucking or the documentary that I didn’t ask about?
I just want to note that my producer Jordan Finnegan and I started this journey 5 years ago, and there were times that we felt like giving up, but passion would not let it die. Passion is what drives this film and I urge everyone to always follow their passion!
When the Beat Drops is out on March 11. To find out more, go to miamifilmfestival.com.