“When The Beat Drops”


Amos Lassen

When choreographer Jamal Sims learned of the underground dance movement known as ‘bucking’, he decided that it would be the subject of his first documentary as a director. That film is about a group of dancers,  and one special dancer, Big Anthony. Sims learned and explains to us that ‘bucking’ came out of female cheerleading troupes in the South and was taken over by groups of black gay men, who created this dance.  Big Anthony not only spearheaded the movement in the 1990’s in Atlanta, but he was also responsible for creating a network of competitions where the dancers could demonstrate what they do.

‘Bucking’ is flamboyant, outrageous and very showy much the way that vogueing was when it first overtook the black queer crowd in Harlem.  This kind of dancing stayed mainly underground because of the social stigma in the South of men wanting to dance like this.

Big Anthony’s own story is fascinating and touching. He suffered a setback after having been mugged in a grocery store parking lot.  Another dancer is a schoolteacher who lives in fear of being exposed as a bucking dancer and fired from his job.  Flash, another dancer, speaks openly about his struggles with his mother and her crack addition that has caused her to be incarcerated several times. We see the real and painful reality of the dancers once they leave the dance floor. It reminds us of the tough reality of all their lives away from the dance floor.

Sims takes us to the first Big Buck competition.   The standards are very high. Openly gay Sims shares his own passion for dance throughout the whole film and makes this an intriguing and important aspect of contemporary LGBT culture. The documentary uncovers an underground dance movement, bucking, which is predominant in the LGBTQ community, and which centers on a group of dancers in Atlanta, Ga., and one of the pioneers of bucking, identified as Big Anthony. “Just as vogueing was pioneered by members of the ballroom scene, bucking is thriving among displaced troupes of black gay men across the South.” Sims finds a story in the characters of his documentary, which makes this more a narrative feature than a than documentary. What we see is reality.

But this is real life, kids; not fiction. There are other edge of seat moments like when you’re placed in the midst of the first Big Buck competition, where Phi Phi battles it out with a crew from Detroit. Guess who you are rooting for until the very end.

“Beat” also turns into a historical look of the roots of bucking, even though this hyper active film never slows down to the tell the story. Bucking is a style that is fluid, sensual, and thought of as female dance. It was adopted by young, black, gay men in the South and the documentary shows the stigma that the men have internalized for wanting to perform the dance, and because of the social stereotype of the men who participate.

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