On the beat
UNR Spring Dance Concert
The average adult in the United States spends between four and seven hours on social media each week. That’s according to the 2016 Nielsen Social Media Report. It can be easy to rack up the hours with visits to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and all of the other platforms we use to carefully curate and distill our lives into series of posts and snapshots and memes.
People sometimes talk about our online lives displacing our lives in the real world. But that seems a bit hyperbolic, doesn’t it, at least so long as there are still spaces most of us recognize as inappropriate for cell phone use?
The theater springs to mind. And if you go to the University of Nevada, Reno’s Spring Dance Concert, there’s a good chance you’ll be prompted to turn off your cell phone before the show begins. But don’t go thinking it’ll be a nice opportunity to “unplug” and stop thinking about social media. If anything, featured guest artist Teena Marie Custer wants us to think about it more—and more deeply.
The street dance artist and hip-hop B-girl is presenting a solo work called “My Good Side.” And it’s intended, in part, to provoke questions about how we engage with media and the effects it has on us.
“I think questions of personal identity with regard to race, class and gender will definitely be at the forefront of the audience experience,” Custer said during a recent email interview. “But I think the overall theme of the work is about the struggle to stay true to your most authentic self as we are bombarded with images in the media.”
It’s a theme Custer became interested in while she was still an up-and-comer in the hip-hop dance scene.
“In the underground street dance world, you are expected to battle and pay your dues,” she said. “Before there was YouTube, and forums and online chats were a thing, your battles would be posted online for everyone to see and comment on. I basically got ripped apart for my dancing and performance, and, after that, became very private with how I interacted with social media.”
Custer may have been burned, but it didn’t lead to her completely eschewing social media. You can find videos of her on YouTube, including a teaser for “My Good Side” and a performance with her all-female street dance crew, Venus Fly. And she’s on Facebook, though she doesn’t make a lot of public posts.
Much of what you’ll find about Custer online actually comes from the universities and people with whom she’s worked. A 2016 blog post from a former student discusses how Custer’s class changed her “outlook on hip-hop, and consequently the greater art form of dance.” Myriad press releases from university dance departments chart the places she’s performed and the works she’s created for students.
Custer has worked with dance departments at around 30 universities, to date. In March, she did a teaching residency at UNR—during which time she worked with 13 students who will perform one of her pieces, entitled “Quake,” during the spring dance concert. Custer described the piece as “a study in how various street dance styles can be used for connecting to spirituality and healing oneself” and “a feat of intricate rhythmic footwork and vocalization that you don’t want to miss!”