‘Hustling’ at the Guggenheim Museum

Dance · Reviews

Seems like an odd fit, right? Yes, it’s a fabulous idea to honor “The Hustle” in its 50th anniversary. The fast-paced, stepping social dance has a name conducive to the city from which it emerged: New York, a place that is full of it, and by that we mean hustle.

But to throw a birthday blast for the popular disco dance at the Guggenheim Museum is another thing. It augured a culture clash. And yet, a full house had a copacetic time on Labor Day, September 5, when a toe-tapping, clapping, and woo-hoo’ing audience delighted in a swank and polished presentation, Do The Hustle.

The Hustle emerged from house parties in the Bronx as a blend of pre-existing Latin and African American dances. All these years later, a troupe of hustle-loving dancers (some never left the party, we learned) gave the dance a showcase. The meld of cultural history with wow-worthy dance talent was delivered by a nicely diverse rainbow coalition of girls, guys, and gender non-specifieds — across a range of ages. The show culminated a two-week Works & Process LaunchPAD residency at Chautauqua Institution.

As you can see in the video, a pattering foot in a steady state of rhythm (literally machine-driven by the synthesizers of disco music) underlies the dance. The foot lightly skims the floor, while a lifted upper body stays busy with decorative hand flourishes (famously, the “ta ta” outreach to the side). Or it stays engaged with linking to the partner in ways that always landed me in a pretzel. People of all colors did The Hustle, but the dance’s fancy footwork, stems more from the Latin family than the Black, as the pelvis (the source of funky dancing) is relatively still. The body must knit together (it knits even tighter in salsa dancing) and there’s no such thing as solo excursions, as in freestyle “interpretive” ’60s dancing.

There were several learning opportunities throughout the evening, including at the end of the show, an invitation to come on stage and start dancing. There was no dearth of shrinking violets to take up this offer. The dance is married to its percolating underpinning, disco music, and in the long-gone era when I lived in New York, those beat-driven tunes poured forth from boom boxes, whizzed by on car radios, and thumped the floors of dance studios. They were halcyon days — when both guys and dolls dreamed of John Travolta spinning them like a top under a disco ball. The Hustle’s great cultural claim to fame was the way it united queer and straight communities through touch and rhythm, all in pursuit of pleasure and aerobics that club dancing augured.

Created by Abdiel, Joana Matos, and Alessandra Marconi, the in-process performance used original music compositions by Emmy Award nominee Chari Glogovac-Smith. Commissioned by Works & Process, and supported by a consortium of partners including Jacob’s Pillow, The Meany Center, and residency partners Chautauqua Institution and The Church, Sag Harbor, Do The Hustle is an intersectional project that embodies inclusion, cultural and historical preservation, creativity, and innovation. All good stuff!

The dancers, Erick Alexander Rodas, Omar Felipe Beltran Carrion, Veronica Castilla, Ahtoy WonPat-Borja, and Abdiel, did the ‘burn-baby-burn disco-inferno’ thing furiously. Every variety of human height, weight, skin tone, age, hair length, heck, even shoe size, melded in a velvety confluence under the capable emceeing of Abdiel.

Do the Hustle, a precious capture of still-vital American social-dance history, at the Gugg had three parts—an interactive performance, dance class, and dance party in the Rotunda until 10pm with with DJ Nelson “Paradise” Roman. All under the watchful eye of program curator, Duke Dang.

This show isn’t just nostalgia. It is an invitation to dance. So, baby, do it. Do The Hustle!

Do The Hustle (In-Process), commissioned by Works & Process, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, September 5, 2022. Featuring Abdiel. Photo: Lafotographeuse

Dance critic Debra Levine is founder/editor/publisher of arts●meme.

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