Baltimore Club dance is a physical voice in an underserved city. The wild-legged dance style is endemic to Baltimore and works in tandem with Baltimore Club music, itself a synthesis of hip-hop and house music. The dance culture offers the city’s youth a rare platform for self-expression and an alternative to the gritty realities of life in the streets.
To investigate the cultural phenomenon of Baltimore Club dance, we got in touch with three of the scene’s most influential current characters. TT The Artist is a Baltimore club musician, rapper and filmmaker. Though she’s from Miami, TT came to Baltimore for art school and never left. She fell into the high energy scene and knows it front to back. Though he’s the CEO of King of Baltimore, Uneek rejects job titles. The King of the Baltimore is Uneek’s organization, true, but the actual king of Baltimore is the last dancer standing in a dance battle format. Uneek’s a centerpiece of Baltimore’s dance culture. He facilitates the competitions, brings the community together, gives structure to the scene and acts as a mentor to young dancers. TSU Terry, a young Baltimore Club dancer found recognition though the Bmore than Dance competitions and started his own movement with his TSU dance crew. Like many a high-schooler, Terry picked up the new pursuit to stay out of trouble and get chicks. Before long, he was digging through the scene’s history, and found unexpected connections: his mother and aunt went to the same school as legendary and sadly missed Baltimore Club star DJ K-Swift. Most importantly though, TSU Terry uses dance as a way to clean himself out, to vent his emotions in a burst of kinetic energy.
Below, check the choicest cuts from their interviews with CONVICTS.
I’m a voice and public figure for the Baltimore Club music and dance culture. This musical genre consists of 130 beats per minute. The music is a breakbeat genre form of hip-hop with house influence. It has a lot of energy, it’s raw, it’s gritty, it’s from the streets of Baltimore. The dance resembles the era of hip-hop when hip-hop first came to breakdancing. It’s really a community art form from the streets. The people who it impacts are all ages, from babies, toddlers to elders and adults. It’s such a rich and diverse scene here in Baltimore.
Baltimore Club dance is a very unique style that was literally made by the youth of Baltimore. Now, when I say the youth I don’t necessarily mean the kids at this point. The culture itself has been around since hip-hop. In the late 80s, a lot deejays were influenced by the House movement and adding things like the Miami beat patterns and a little bit from Chicago. Those elements kind of led to what we know to be the 130 BPM music that makes up Baltimore Club.
Baltimore music is like….the beat makes you want to dance, it makes you want to get up. It don’t matter if you don’t know how to dance, don’t matter if you do know how to dance, the beat itself makes you wanna dance, get up, party and groove. It’s definitely high energy, but it’s based in emotion. It’s emotion playing off emotion. You could have just had a bad day and then hear Baltimore club music and it makes you happy. Emotion plays off emotion, even if you are battling. I personally used what I was going through and translated it to the dance floor. I felt myself getting much better, getting much better feedback from dancers and outside people. Baltimore club music and dance basically goes off how you feel at the moment.
The Baltimore Club music scene and genre began to evolve between the 80s and 90s and there are a lot of different people that were pioneering the sound. You had people like Miss Tony, Rod Lee and DJ K-Swift. Unruly records was one of the first record labels locally that was releasing club music on the international scale. DJs like Scotty B were really holding it down for the scene and then you had new influences coming about, artists like Blaqstarr and Rye Rye who are able to really tour around the world and start to show this new genre of music to the world music stage. Today the music has evolved so much where you’re seeing the influence in Europe and outside of the borders of Baltimore City. As an artist I am one of those people that is trying to push that culture. You’re literally hearing a lot of the sounds that you hear in the streets. You might hear a gunshot and then you might hear a gunshot used in the actual music. It’s something that’s very much of street culture. Then you might see that sound mimicked or interpreted through dance. So the music and the dance they all go hand in hand with the Baltimore Club music and dance culture. It’s really a phenomena.
The dance world is a little bit like an underground high school. If you didn’t attend the school, you probably didn’t know too much about it. In the early years, everybody in the school was making the music, they were making the dance moves. So from the outside looking in, it just seemed like a little thing Baltimore people did. But the style and the music evolved and the dance itself began to get better. We often heard them saying “this isn’t your grandfather’s club”.
Growing up in Baltimore City was definitely hard. My mother and my father they wasn’t there. My mother was in and out. My father was in and out as well. My grandmother and aunt actually raised me. I was getting in a lot of trouble in school and my grandma was at the school almost every day. You can’t vent to everybody because they like to turn your venting into ammunition. I felt like I had to keep all of that inside. It felt like I couldn’t release it. The music helped me release everything silently. By dancing, I didn’t have to talk. I let my dancing do it. When people saw me on the dance floor I got the nickname Blazer, because every time I touch the floor I gave 110 percent. I gave my all, no matter what. That was all from the emotion and anger that I was feeling. That helped.
For young people coming up in this city there’s a lack of recreation. Young people out here are looking for things to do. They’re looking for jobs. They’re looking for activities to engage with. If there’s no social engagement, there’s no recreation. All too often young people in Baltimore end up turning to the streets.
I got into dancing back in my ninth grade. I was heavy into basketball back then. My 11th grade year I knew I had some technical difficulties with the team and I was looking for something to keep me out of trouble. This guy came to my school and he started doing this movement with his legs. I was like, “what is that?” But the girls was on him, so I’m like man I gotta learn that. I want the girls on me. Once he started to show me the actual crazy legs I adapted it and got it and made it my own little way. My own swag. As I started to look more into the culture, my history, I actually found out that my mother and aunt went to school with K-Swift (the legendary, deceased Baltimore Club DJ). Once I found that out, I dug deeper into it and realized that when I was a little bit younger I was listening to Baltimore Club and didn’t know what it was. I was already listening to it boppin’ my head.
If we want to solve the issue about violence and getting young people out of the streets then we need to go to the source. That is creating recreation and programming that will help these young people have things that they can look forward to and creative outlets to express themselves. One of the things that this city really needs is spaces. Creative spaces. You have all types of buildings coming up. Gentrification is a real thing. It’s unfortunate that half of the buildings coming up are not available to the actual communities. The community and culture is getting pushed out. The new buildings are coming in. So I think it’s important that in the midst of evolution that we keep the culture and don’t lose it because that’s what really gives the city its charm. We need recreation for our young people. We need dance centers, we need spaces where they can put on and curate their own shows and events. I think those are all very important things for any creative community.
There’s too much politics. “Oh let’s throw up a billion dollar casino and the money is going to go to education!” Meanwhile schools are still being shut down, classes are overcrowded, teachers are underpaid and we have programs like “No Child Left Behind”. How is it supposed to succeed if you’re not challenging the kids, not giving people the resources needed? Through political nonsense you blur the lines and ultimately you’re not giving them the money that they’re supposed to be getting. Meanwhile look around and new roads are being paved, elections are being won. No offense, but I feel like everybody else in Baltimore, we don’t care about an election. Why should we? Nothing changes. It doesn’t matter who we put in the governor’s seat, who we put in the mayor’s seat, who the delegates are. Our neighborhoods still look like this. So who are you fooling? Stop lying to us. Come on take the money. Just let us know. It’s Baltimore, you know the way we are. We can deal with crooks and thieves. That we’re used to. We could deal with you just coming out and saying we don’t care about you.
They have a nice system to fund themselves putting kids in jails and making more money off tax dollars. The truth will set you free. Let me pack up and move. But while you’re telling us the lies to our face that you’re going to casually do whatever it takes to make Baltimore a better place. When is that? Under Armour finished buying out every property and now nobody from Baltimore can afford it anymore? When John Hopkins finished buying up half the city and they decide they only want to provide space for their doctors? When you decide that you’re going to open up the section 8 housing in the furthest area away because you don’t want the people in Baltimore City anymore? It’s a system and they’ve been milking this system for years. You don’t have money to funnel into the schools right? But there’s a very attractive multimillion dollar juvenile detention center that’s built in the heart of the city while every recreation center is chained and locked up.
What are the kids supposed to do? They don’t learn what they need to learn in school to become what you would like to see — hardworking, dedicated citizens. So their environment pushes them to find alternative ways to survive. As a teenager I sold it all. It wasn’t because I had so many opportunities. It was literally because every corner I turned there were none. Now I had my run-ins and I got my life together. So what can we do? We’re fighting against not even a well-built machine. We are fighting against the best built machine. And we have scraps to fight with. We’re bringing knives to a gunfight. Butter knives. Not even a sharp one, something we found in the kitchen with a point. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a very beautiful and artistic part of Baltimore. But if you’re not willing to get in the trenches you’re not going to find it because the imagery itself tells the story.