Amy O'Neal knew she was pushing a boundary. Break dancing was born on the streets of the Bronx, and it still maintains an air of machismo today, even though it's moved into studios. But for her new work, Opposing Forces—which opens at the Time-Based Art Festival this week—the Seattle choreographer asked her male dancers to pop their hips and flick their wrists.
"Someone would get triggered and would say, 'I don't want to do that because that feels too feminine or awkward for me,'" O'Neal says. "Then we'd stop and talk about why. I've been in the community with them for a long time, so that created a really safe environment for this exploration."
O'Neal, 37, has been entrenched in ballet, modern and hip-hop dance since she was a teenager. She regularly choreographs shows with talent from Seattle's Massive Monkees and other recognized b-boys, like Carter "Fever One" McGlasson of Rock Steady Crew. Typically, O'Neal emphasizes breaking's aggressive movements—complex footwork, acrobatic stunts and hyper-isolated twitches—in her choreography. "This dance is very representative of a particular way of life," she says. "And that masculinity is very important."
That made this piece, which premiered in Seattle in October 2014, a challenge. O'Neal asked dancers to move in a "feminine" way—slowly raising an arm, adding a flick of the wrist or inwardly rotating their thighs for a less aggressive stance—to test what happens when girly moves and b-boys meet.
âThatâs something where itâs like, âReally? Why?ââ she says. âIt would start interesting conversations because, to me, itâs not a big deal. But to them it is.â
SEE IT: Opposing Forces is at the Works at the Redd, 831 SE Salmon St., pica.org. 8:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 17-19. $25.