Review: ‘Lil’ Buck: Real Swan’ Brings Memphis Jookin with a Ballet Twist to the World Stage

Since he was a little boy copying his sister’s moves and improving on them, Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley knew he was born to dance.

By the time he was 14 he was an active skater at Memphis’s iconic Crystal Palace Emporium and it wasn’t long before he’d be invited to stay after the rollering finished and the dancing started. Louis Wallecan’s documentary Lil’Buck: Real Swan takes us on Buck’s journey from Memphis jooker to world-renowned hybrid dancer, teacher, and art activist.

Home of the street dance style known as jookin — a fluid method reliant on quick foot movements and flowing arms like dancing underwater — Memphis was a rough place to grow up, but the dance competitions and roller emporium helped keep Lil’Buck and his friends occupied and mostly safe from the harder aspects of their city. When Lil’Buck was coming up the dominant jookin style was shaped by the gangster walk, something that Al Kapone of the Three 6 Mafia called, “dancing for people who can’t dance good.” But they do dance good, though. Better than good. 

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