Friday, December 20, 2013

Jookin’ in its Prime: A Snapshot of Ron Myles

Ron "Prime Tyme" Myles
(photo courtesy of the artist)

Jookin’ in its Prime: A Snapshot of Ron Myles

by Alejandra Emilia Iannone

He told me I could call him “Ron,” but he’s probably better known as “Prime Tyme.” Dubbed Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles by a friend from his hometown neighborhood  of Orange Mound, in Memphis, Myles admits that he has always been one looking to “shine in front of a camera.” Now based in Los Angeles, he is a Bessie Award-winning dancer and choreographer, and an ambassador for the mesmerizing dance form called jookin’.

Smoother than buckin’ (a dance characterized by explosive, wide movements and spins) and similar to glitchin’ (where sporadic, sharp movements are interspersed within other slow movements), jookin’ developed on the streets of Memphis. With roots in the gangsta walk, a dance popularized in the late 20th century, jookin’ was initially done to gangsta rap exclusively. Nowadays, however, one might see jookin’ performed to all sorts of music--including R&B, pop, classical, and dubstep--and in a variety of contexts. As Myles sees it, it doesn’t matter what kind of music is playing when one is jookin’, as long as some music is playing.

“Gangsta Walk”
danced by Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles
Music: “Gangsta Walk” by Young Jai

Fundamentally, jookin’ consists of a step and a glide of the foot. These movements are punctuated and ornamented with remarkable feats like toe stands, toe glides, and torques onto the inside of the dancer’s ankle. As Myles explains, since there are so many directions and many ways to step, one could even write an alphabet using these movements. Myles tends to glide in patterns that reflect whatever is going through his mind as he dances, using his feet to write his thoughts out in cursive.

Much of his movement is improvised, but, he points out, jookin’ need not be pure improvisation or personal expression. So jookin’, like any dance form, requires flexibility, strength, focus, and practice. Also, the shoes matter. The dancer must wear shoes with a sturdy toe tip. For Myles, some of the best options out there are Air Jordans,  Nike Air Force Ones, and his favorite--Prada sneakers.

Myles became acquainted with jookin’ eight years ago while watching some friends from school dance. At the time, he thought they looked a little crazy, but he found himself wondering how his friends could move that way. Eventually, his curiosity deepened. Could he learn to move that way, too? Lucky for Myles, there was a dancer in the family.

Memphis-born street dance prodigy and world-famous jooker Charles "Lil Buck" Riley is Myles’ cousin. Bonded by family and their common love for dance, the two would practice together at home or in the streets of their neighborhood in Memphis.  Myles also trained with other teachers to learn hip hop and ballet. Yet, he identifies Riley--who taught him the fundamentals of jookin’, included him in performance opportunities, and collaborated with him--as a playing a key role in his own development as a dancer.

Together, Myles and Riley have already achieved great success, even receiving a 2013 Bessie Award for their performance at New York's Le Poisson Rouge--an evening fusing music and movement, and featuring composer Philip Glass, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, new wave string quartet Brooklyn Rider, Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato, and jazz trumpeter Marcus Printup.

Myles learned of their Bessie nomination while performing at the Vail International Dance Festival. Surprised and honored, he says he had a good feeling about their chances. But, he also remembers thinking that “the chance was 50/50 because the other nominees had produced great work.” When the award citation was read and Myles heard the phrase “intricate footwork,” however, he knew. 

At the award ceremony at the Apollo Theater, he was overwhelmed by the audience's supportive, energetic response.  Receiving the award affirmed that he and Riley "had put together a great piece that could go a long way," Myles said. Indeed, he aspires to "spread jookin’ all over the world, show what it is, where it came from, how it has evolved, and what one can do with it.”

And he is certainly making moves to achieve all of this. Myles has made his mark on stage, screen, and in studio--dancing in the 2011 film Footloose, starring in commercials for Pepsi and Adidas; headlining performances at the Vail International Dance Festival, and teaching hundreds of youth through Colorado’s Celebrate the Beat program.

When he isn’t dancing and choreographing, Myles spends his time acting and making music. Currently, he is developing a mixtape of original music, and just finished working on the film Frank and Cindy (coming to theaters in 2014) in which he plays the role of Dwight. Someday, he hopes to have a principal role in a major motion picture that incorporates jookin’.

Ron "Prime Tyme" Myles
(photo courtesy of the artist)

When in California, Myles regularly performs on the streets of Venice Beach and on Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade and gives indoor performances at Hollywood club Boulevard3. As he sees it, both environments have their perks--a captive audience at Boulevard3, expansive audience on the streets. He enjoys both.

In 2012, Myles and Riley collaborated with YAK to create a dance film set in New York City’s newly renovated Lincoln Center. Beautiful movement, striking imagery, and creative use of space aside, the last ten seconds of their film invite critical thought about the relationship between artists and arts institutions.

As the film shows, the filmmakers and dancers were asked to cease filming and leave the grounds since they had not received permission to use the space. Myles wasn’t inclined to comment on this experience but, when pressed, he thoughtfully replied, “I can understand. But we are making something beautiful here. We are making dance. So, why not let us do this--dance where art is?”

Frankly, I can't think of a satisfactory reason.

Lincoln Center is an oasis of artistic creation, education, and preservation. It seems counterintuitive to have to ask permission to make a work of art in a space that self-identifies as being dedicated to art.

One could argue that, regardless of its mission, Lincoln Center is private property and ought to be respected as such. But is an arts institution ever really a private organization? Is the space it provides ever exclusively its own?

Might arts institutions serve as official representations of the artistic community and illustrate the creativity and industry of the artists whose work inspired their creation? Might these institutions serve as a safe haven for makers, or at least a reminder that art still has a place of significance on this ever-changing planet?


Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, in a neighborhood called Orange Mound. Growing up the only dancer in the area, Myles described his friends and family as his greatest inspiration and motivation during this time. In 2009, Myles moved to Los Angeles with his cousin and close friend Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, and since then has become one of the premier interpreters of the style of dance known as Memphis jookin’, often in partnership with Riley.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for submitting your comment! We screen comments before posting them on our site but hope to have yours approved and posted within the next 24 hours.