Dance Informa chatted with Juilliard junior student Xavier Logan about how he’s made history by choreographing the very first authentic hip hop dance to be showcased on The Juilliard School’s mainstage. Hip hop influences have appeared in previous pieces, but until Logan’s Welcome to the J(U), presented at the Choreographic Honors showcase this past May, Juilliard had never hosted a hip hop piece in its Peter Jay Sharp Theatre.
“We have a hip hop class in the second semester of our freshman year,” explains Logan, “and it really emphasizes the history and academia behind how hip hop was created and where it came from. Every class was an explanation of a certain style and its place in history. Then we would go across the floor doing that style. What I realized is there were only rare times where we would learn a combo, and find our own individuality within that.”
Juilliard does its due diligence in exposing its students to some street styles, but more as an academic overview or a theoretical understanding in comparison to its in-depth contemporary and modern technique classes. Which is fair – the institution’s purpose has always been to train concert dancers, and provide an introductory understanding of other styles, like hip hop, as an addition. Logan says he felt encouraged and supported in the process of creating his piece, and it was chosen by faculty members to be featured in the choreographic honors showcase. Juilliard seems to be doing its duty by platforming the experiences and ideas of all its artists, and doesn’t expect them to stick to curriculum in their own creative processes.
“I entitled this piece Welcome to the J(U) because people have this idea that Juilliard is very strict and prestigious and specific in what they accept and allow. In my time there, I’ve seen that it can be prestigious and specific, it does require you to be at your best.” But within the codification, Logan says there’s room for exploration. “Our Artistic Director (Alicia Graf Mack) calls Juilliard ‘the J’. I call it the JU, but I also try to give tribute to her in the title of the piece. She makes it feel like a home, and continues to take our questions or concerns or suggestions; we can see them being worked on. I don’t think people know how diverse Juilliard is now.” In the past, the school had accepted 12 boys and 12 girls per graduating year, but now the class of ’26 has more women than men. “That just happened to be the pool at the time, and they didn’t want to keep this notion of having to pick 12 male identifying people and 12 female identifying people,” Logan says.
Logan’s own work breaks gender norms. And it isn’t only hip hop – there’s a majorette dance section performed entirely by male identifying dancers. Majorette is a Black dance style often performed by all-female dance teams at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), at rallies or sporting events. It evolved from the white southern American majorette style that features marching band baton twirlers. But don’t get them twisted; HBCU style majorette is in a league of its own, fusing hip hop, jazz, West African, bucking, step, tricks and more.
“In my high school, males couldn’t join the majorette team, and it’s the same in many colleges and universities. Within the Black community, a lot of people know that that’s a thing, but I don’t think it’s known in mass media. So I wanted to make sure that the males in my piece got to experience being so flamboyant, so provocative, and show a softer, less macho-man side. I think it’s important to blur or thin restrictive lines.”
Welcome to the J(U) includes another dance form – ballroom. And we’re not talking waltz or foxtrot. Ballroom is a primarily Black and Latino LGBTQ+ form, performed at pageant style competitions called ‘Balls’ where Houses walk (read: dance) different categories for trophies and prizes. A previous student, Robert Mason, brought ballroom to the Juilliard stage in a contemporary fusion piece. Logan continues that exploration, and hopes future students will take it even further.
“My cousin (Shannon Balenciaga) is the Overall Mother of the House of Balenciaga, and seeing her on Legendary,” a reality competition show that features Ball culture, “and getting to talk to her about her experience and seeing how mass media is taking on ballroom, got me thinking about experimenting with ballroom in my hip hop piece,” Logan explains. “For it to be showcased on such a big stage, she was really proud of and excited for me. It felt good to make her happy, but also to tap into a part of myself that I hadn’t experienced before.”
Logan developed the piece in September of last year during a workshop at Juilliard. But the initial concept was drafted in his junior year of high school in Atlanta. When he brought it to Juilliard, he realized hip hop on the mainstage was a first, but it didn’t hit him that he was making history until his teachers and industry mentors reiterated that “this is a big deal.” He was just doing his home style and experimenting with some of his artistic interests.
When asked if he would ever reprise the piece, Logan says yes. “I plan on doing a piece in September, a year later, called HBC J(U),” a play on the term HBCU, “to highlight the historic black experience that I didn’t get to have because I didn’t get to go to an HBCU. I want to bring more Black cultures together in this next piece.” He’s thinking more styles, a bigger cast and a longer runtime. “Sort of like a spinoff.”
By Holly LaRoche of Dance Informa.