The beautiful world of dance is often connected to the grace and technical artistry that are so elegantly displayed by one’s movements. Whether it’s onstage in front of a live audience, on the dance floor of a packed club or in the backyard of house party, dance is the sister of music that connects us all together.
Homer Hans Bryant has become a part of this world ever since he and a friend were drawn into dance class in his native home of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. For the past month, the founder and executive director of the esteemed Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center was thrust into the international spotlight when he uploaded a video of his students enjoying an evening of “Hiplet Sur Les Pointes.” The video has drawn close to 8.9 million views, catapulting the CMDC into a press and media frenzy.
He says posting videos of his students in dance class wasn’t out of the normal routine because he enjoyed showing off their talent and building an appreciation through social media — until a Brazilian dance company decided to make fun of his group of talent dancers.
“Every Friday night, we do the Hiplet class for an hour. Throughout the week, we have serious ballet — this is just an hour of fun. But every Friday I would post some Hiplet or the kids doing ballet in class. A Brazilian dance company, So Bailarinos, put my dance on their Facebook page with the emoji laughing faces and the tears,” he said. “In my mind they were dissing me. Buzzfeed picked it up, gave us a call and the next thing we know we went viral.”
The South Loop school started as the Homer Bryant Dance Company began building a very diverse student base. He felt transitioning into CMDC was beneficial for his mission to young students.
The vision of Bryant’s dance teacher Jane Miles’ belief in him landed him a scholarship to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Center in Becket, Massachusetts. She saw the necessity of including classical ballet training to broaden his training. Leaving the comforts of home, he traveled to Brooklyn, New York, where he had family.
He said, “They drove me to Massachusetts to the summer program.” Bryant says he immediately received a hard dose of reality.
“Every man in the program could out jump me and out turn me. I knew I should’ve listened to her and taken this ballet road. Then I started to get serious about it because these guys could out turn me and out jump me.”
One afternoon while sweeping the floors at the dance center, he had the opportunity to meet the legendary dancer and Artistic Director Arthur Mitchell. “At the time, he had 10 dancers because he was doing a lecture series to get the word out that he’s starting the company. We just connected — I asked him if I could take a class.” Soon after, he was invited to work and train at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. On a partial scholarship, Bryant found himself making $75 a week, cleaning the dance floors and working around the studios.
He was given a chance to audition along with three other male dancers when Mitchell’s lead dancer dropped out because of visa problems. During his lunch break, three female dancers helped prepare him for the lead audition.
“When everybody else went to lunch, I asked Virginia Johnson, Gail McKinney and Rhonda Samson, who later became my wife.”
He toured with the Dance Theatre of Harlem for a few years and eventually found his way to Chicago over two decades later. Forming his own dance company in 1990.
It’s lifelong mission to cultivate discipline, character and various life skills. Many of his students have been with the program since they were three years old.
The CMDC’s student rooster has included some very familiar names among Chicago’s power family clans— the First Family kids; Sasha and Malia Obama as well as Michael and Juanita Jordan’s daughter, Jasmine Jordan. Regardless, of social or economic status—he and his staff are committed to teaching students that have a passion for dance and offers various techniques.
From ballet, modern, contemporary, jazz, hip hop, African and tap — the variety of choices are broad. Beginning from three years old where they learn the functions of Creative movement, Point, Dance Terminology, learning to sit still, listen to the teacher, improvisation — later learning choreography, basic hip hop, tap, acrobatics, and more advanced classes going up to Ballet Five.
“If they start with us at three, they stay until they go off to college. It’s been happening every year. This year we’re losing seven girls and three guys to college. A former student, Naomi Wally—is the understudy for the Broadway production Josephine—is one of our babies.”
With the success of Hiplet going viral, Bryant and his dance students seen in the video ranging from 13 to 16 years old have traveled to New York, appearing on Good Morning America, and other media outlets. Their celebrity has taken the fashion world by storm, becoming a part of the Versace Fashion Week 16 Collection “Chicago Is My Beat” film by Bruce Weber in June.
The 67-year old, faced the loss of his wife; Rhonda Bryant in 2008 and his daughter; Alexandra, nearly six years ago but believes there’s a lesson to be learned in every challenge and struggle.
“My daughter had cerebral palsy, so she never walked, talked or crawled. So these kids are my kids. They told me my daughter would dead at five, she lived to be 28,” said Bryant. “I taught her to read. She understood things and would respond to the music because everything was in her head. There was a dancer inside of her.
He explains, “When the kids would say, ‘Mr. Bryant it hurts.’ I tell them, ‘It’s slightly ‘uncomfortable’ — get used to it — life is going to be slightly uncomfortable.’ We do not use the word ‘hurt’ at my school.”
VERSACE FW16 FILM – ‘Chicago Is My Beat’