Chicago Footworker Litebulb Awarded Prestigious Dance Grant

Watch him in action—and find out about his cameo in Al Pacino’s new movie.

Chicago footwork dancer Litebulb, who regularly danced with Teklife's DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn when footwork burst onto the global stage in 2011, has been awarded a prestigious grant by dance organization Chicago Dancemakers Forum. The $15,000 grant will enable the dancer, born Jamal Oliver, to build on the work he's started with his footwork crew, The Era, and help bring dance to the forefront of the culture.

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To see Litebulb's ecstatic, angular moves in action, check out the short video that he submitted to Chicago Dancemakers, above. It chronicles his dedication to the dance and his skill for inspiring others in footwork workshops, and contains a first look at footage from Chicago filmmaker Wills Glasspiegel's feature-length footwork documentary, including scenes shot in Japan on Litebulb's recent tour there with DJ Spinn and Hyperdub's Kode9. Below, Litebulb explains what the grant means to him, and how he got a cameo in Al Pacino's new movie.

How does it feel to be receiving this grant, and what are your plans for it?

Receiving this grant means a lot—not only for me, and my company The Era. It also means a great deal for our culture, for footwork culture. Representing a dance from Chicago in Chicago is important—almost overwhelming—but I'm going to handle it and thrive. The plan for us is to build a dance and multimedia performance that depicts Chicago from our perspective, from a footworker's perspective. Our music has spread throughout the world, but sometimes the dancers end up left behind. We want to open up a lot of doors in the art and dance communities. We want to show Chicago from our perspective instead of from the media's perspective.

The performance we're building will show the day-to-day stuff, the moments from the past, and it'll give people a sense of why we do what we do, how the music is produced, how our culture is built, and how the dance and music can work together. We want to bring out those deep assets that exist in footwork, aspects of the creativity that we could push farther, originating something from what's been passed down to us. Footwork has been around for decades, but I don't think people have pushed it in the ways we want to push it, especially when it comes to multimedia and storytelling.

You and another footworker, P-Top, got a cameo in the new Al Pacino movie, Manglehorn. How did that come about?

It was a complete shocker. Our friend Wills Glasspiegel randomly got us cast in a scene in the film. We flew to Texas and spent a few days on set with director David Gordan Green. Our scene is brief. Al Pacino is wandering through a park, and then is suddenly captivated by the sight of us foootworking. It was amazing. I haven't seen the film yet, but I think we nailed it. We had to do stunts. P-Top almost crushed me. We got to meet Pacino. He was a cool dude and we're cool dudes, so it was good to chat. P-Top talked to him about Devil's Advocate for a while.

What's so funny about all this, though, is that in my eyes, P-Top was a dancer from a rival crew in Chicago, so I didn't know what was going to happen between us on set. We ended up getting along really well. A few months later, we co-founded The Era footwork crew together, with a few other key collaborators on the South Side of Chicago. Another thing that's cool about the Manglehorn story is that they were able to license a song from DJ Manny and DJ Curtis, so we'll be dancing to our own music on screen. A lot of times when we do something like this, the director will put in some commercial music or hip-hop under our dancing. It's rare that we get to present both footwork music and dance together. This time it's different. Our dance and music and Al Pacino—that's a magic combination.

Catch Litebulb performing at Boiler Room in NYC this Friday and at Fathers of Footwork at Palisades in Brooklyn this Saturday.

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Chicago Footworker Litebulb Awarded Prestigious Dance Grant