Movement Artist Jon Boogz Dances to the Rhythm of Morocco and Beyond
“A lot of people can dance, but can you use that movement to create a powerful story and a powerful narrative?” Boogz asks from his home in Las Vegas.
His evocative works, such as the impassioned short films “Am I a Man?” and “Color of Reality,” use various forms of movement — from street dance to martial arts to ballet — to address issues of racial and social justice. It’s that purpose that distinguishes Boogz and those of his ilk.
“We’re trying to bring back that Gregory Hines, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly era where the dancer was a superstar, was a household name, was at the forefront of their artistry,” he says.
Boogz is already on that path.
The 30-year-old performer has gone from dancing on the streets of Venice Beach, California, to choreographing segments in Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson ONE” on the Las Vegas strip and co-directing and costarring in the internationally touring stage production “Love Heals All Wounds” with frequent collaborator Lil’ Buck.
Through his success, he’s captivated crowds worldwide, be it in a dance circle in London, on a stage in France or in a village in Uganda.
Recently, Boogz traveled with Marriott to Morocco as part of the StoryBooked documentary series, where he stayed at the Fes Marriott Hotel Jnan Place. He had no idea what the golden country had to offer but was eager to experience the human connection.
“There’s something about when you travel, you feel most alive. Your senses are heightened. Your spirit is heightened,” Boogz says. “Any time I travel I get heavily inspired. I’m always interested in looking at the different human interactions in these different countries and comparing them to my personal experiences.”
“Everywhere you go, certain things are the same: poverty, struggle, music, dance, the hustle, the grind. Yeah, there’s language barriers. Yeah, there’s different foods, but there are some universal things that no matter where you go in the world, it’s the same.”
In Morocco, Boogz visited the lively Medina and observed traditional dance in Fez, played pool with locals in the blue city of Chefchaouen, and roamed the famed city of Casablanca. Quickly he began drawing connections to his experiences back home.
Having grown up in the inner cities of Philadelphia and Miami, he’s no stranger to “the hustle.” Inside the Medina of Fez was a marketplace where merchants sold their handmade wares. It reminded Boogz of urban squares back home where people would sell CDs on the sidewalk.
The harsh leather tannery revealed the grit of Morocco. In a process that hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages, men would stomp and stretch the hides of cows, sheep and goats in vats of various dyes; dry them; and then pile them on the backs of donkeys.
It's the shared adversities that we go through as human beings that I relate to.
That intense labor was a world apart from anything Boogz had witnessed before. Still, he found a connection.
“I would never do that for 20 cents an hour. To them, that’s just what it is. Just like for some people growing up in certain ‘hoods here in the U.S., street violence is normal to them. But it’s the shared adversities that we go through as human beings that I relate to,” Boogz says.
When Boogz returned home to Las Vegas, that human connection lingered with him.
Inspired, he set out to create a new piece, one galvanized by the buzz of Morocco’s bazaars and the hustle and bustle of its streets.
“The city has a rhythm. The way they would hand make pottery, when they’re banging on the copper to shape it, it has a beat to it,” he says.
Feel the beat
A creation of movement is born
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Boogz worked on a piece of choreography inside of his in-home dance studio. The space — painted red with a wall of mirrors — is where the gravity-defying magic happens. “When I dance and maneuver, my brain starts turning,” he says.
Witnessing him work, you can physically see ideas unfurl. His arms slowly stretch as thoughts expand. His body jolts with each beat of inspiration. It’s a teaser for what’s sure to become another one of Boogz’s poignant performance pieces — one that language barriers can’t block.
Wandering Boogz’s home, it’s easy to see where his purpose comes from. Paintings of Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee adorn the walls.
“I want them to be inspired,” Boogz says of anyone who sees his work, be it a stranger or one of his new Moroccan friends.
“For me, it’s all about showing people that street dance is fine art, that it has the power to push strong narratives that are bigger than just dance.”
His coffee table is stacked with books that are more than just display, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” and Steven Watson’s “The Harlem Renaissance.”
Even his adorable mini schnauzer, Stokely, is named after civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael.
For Boogz, art and activism are one.
“Most of the artists I grew up idolizing — James Brown, Michael Jackson, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye — they all used their platforms to touch on the social climate of that time. It’s the same thing for me,” Boogz says.
“People digest things differently through art. I can tell you my opinion, but it’s different if I show you through music, movement and expression.”