Local dancer putting ‘jookin’ in the international spotlight

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Jookin is a dance style that evolved over decades of influences in Memphis. Now it's getting international attention through the efforts of Montrell Britton, a local jooker who participated in So You Think You Can Dance.

“It’s the bounce in our music. The music changes the whole feeling of the dance itself,” Britton said. “All the music from Memphis. Everything in jookin is Memphis.”

Britton said he found a home in jookin before he had one.

“When I was in the third grade I was sent to a foster home,” he said. “I grew up in Hyde Park as a kid off of Chelsea and Evergreen. North Memphis is where it started."

He showed WREG how jookin evolved, using the styles of Elvis, B.B. King and "gangsta walkers."

“Growing up in Memphis, seeing things in the neighborhood, picking up things you see at school,” he said. “It’s like acting how you feel into a song. Instead of lashing out with robbing, shooting or any gang violence, imagine putting 500 people together and we all share the same art.”

When Britton competed on So You Think You Can Dance, he met other dancers from around the world.

“So many people wanted to learn like, ‘Wow, I always wanted to learn jookin. How can I learn?’ That’s when the light bulb clicked,” he said.

He organized the first Memphis Versus Everybody in 2016; it brought dancers from all over the world for a massive dance battle. They also took jookin lessons and toured the city.

Britton held the second iteration of the event over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in January.

“We have 15 dancers from Memphis and 15 from Europe, Canada, all around the U.S. and all around the globe,” said Ryan Haskett, who DJed the event.

The Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street hosted the event with about 500 people.

Memphis Versus Everybody gives exposure to local jookers and gives visitors a chance to see a different side of Bluff City.

Britton said he paid more than $3,000 out of pocket to help host the event.

“They learn the history of Memphis, the landmarks, they learn about the music, they get two free jookin classes,” he said.

“The whole thing is just about a cultural exchange,” Haskett said.

“The best thing is I wanted to learn the dance. Seeing it with your eyes is just so overwhelming,” said one dancer who traveled from London and goes by "Karma."

Britton knows he’s teaching is more than a dance.

“They make you feel like family. They don’t treat us like out-of-towners. They just make you apart of their home,” said Keyana Watts of Buffalo, New York.

“There’s something about the heart of Memphis. You can feel it in the dancers. You can feel it in the history. You can feel it in the culture,” said Jarell Rochelle of Huntsville, Texas.

Britton hopes he's sharing his home with the world in the best way he knows how.

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