“Dancers at The Lot” documents contemporary underground hip-hop dance culture
By Christina Campodonico
On Election Night 2016, photographer John Nyboer stumbled across an unexpected sight in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. In a parking lot on Ninth and Olive streets, hip-hop dancers of all shapes and sizes, shades and skill levels were grooving — moving to music on a night when most Americans were probably glued to their phones, computers or TV screens.
“I was just drawn to it,” Nyboer recalls of encountering the open-air dance class and weekly gathering, known as The Lot. “I think I would have been drawn to it anyway, on any other day, but this [one] in particular, I just kind of saw it as the future that I believed in.”
Nyboer quickly found instructor and founder Slim Boogie, an internationally known hip-hop competition dancer and master popper, and asked if he could photograph the class when it met on Tuesday nights. Slim agreed, allowing Nyboer access to a segment of L.A.’s dance community that usually goes unnoticed. He’s gathered his photos from The Lot into an exhibition opening Saturday at Bergamot Station’s Lois Lambert Gallery.
“You know the photos are one thing, right? They’re part documentary and part art,” says Nyboer of the show, “but they’re also part recognition of something that I think is going on right under people’s noses that I think they should be more aware of.”
While Nyboer notes that hip-hop and street dance tend to reach most people through television or music videos, “you don’t really see where all the work happens,” he says. “So I think it’s important to see where the work happens and for people to see it as an art form. When it comes to the contemporary, hip-hop based dance styles, you usually see it in a context that is very flashy and somehow not the same as going to the ballet, right? And yet if you’re a professional dancer these days, you need to know this is every bit as much part of the art form as ballet is.”
Slim Boogie founded The Lot to foster community amongst L.A’s hip-hop dancers, circumvent the high cost of renting studios for practice, offer an affordable opportunity for dancers to develop their skills ($5 per class) and create a space where dancers of all shapes, sizes and levels could express themselves without the usual pressures of auditions or dance competitions. He’s grateful to Nyboer for capturing this spirit through his photographs and hopes that they bring attention to this pool of dance talent, which draws dancers from all over L.A. and the world.
“I think what John is doing is really amazing, because it’s literally capturing the moment I don’t think anyone has really captured,” says Slim. “The picture is coming from this straight, like raw moment. … Sometimes, I look at the pictures and I’m like, ‘Dude, how did you get that picture?’ … There is beauty in all of it, but it just feels more authentic. … All the pictures come out super dope, too.”
“The Real Future: Dancers at The Lot” opens with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 11) and remains on display through Jan. 6 at Lois Lambert Gallery, Bergamot Station E-3, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Visit estnyboer.com for more information.