“To honor and celebrate women in the culture by having women be the creators and producers of the work presented“ states Michele Byrd-McPhee, Founder/Executive Director with Ladies of Hip Hop Festival (LOHH).
Empowerment seems to be realest verb explaining why after 10 years of annual events, Michele Byrd-McPhee continues to inspire, motivate, and honor women in Hip Hop at the Ladies of Hip Hop Festival. Yes, ten years going on eleven for Byrd-McPhee celebrating women in all elements of Hip Hop culture with specific concentration on the dance.
A street dancer herself from Philadelphia, Michele found an important missing part in Hip Hop culture which needed specific attention: teaching and training women in all aspects of club/street dance. Eventually her own dance experience along with other friends and partners led to the creation of LOHH in 2004 as well in the future applying all elements of Hip Hop culture.
After 8 years of significant feedback and recognition within the community, LOHH made their mark in Europe by throwing a full ten days of events in Vienna, Austria. The event featured “three evenings of sold out shows, a jam packed panel discussion, and great workshops. It was a tremendous experience for the eight US instructors and performers, some traveling abroad for the first time ever,” says LOHH website.
“The festival is an event given by women, for women. Each year an elite group of female artists from around the world are selected to exhibit work, teach, and perform as part of the festival. The artists have extensive experience and understanding of the Hip-Hop culture and are qualified to pass on the traditions of Hip-Hop culture with accuracy and authenticity. Through education, performance and community exchanges this annual Hip-Hop festival puts the focuses on women and their relationship with Hip-Hop culture,” states LOHH website.
Our Interview with Executive Director, Michele Byrd-McPhee
Give us the background on LOHHF, how/when did it begin and what was the idea/message behind its inception.
Long story short, when I started dancing in the hip-hop community there just weren’t enough women doing it…dancing. In Philadelphia, with my partner, Crystal Frazier, I started a company for women interested in learning and performing hip-hop dance. So many of the dancers had no real club dance or street dance experience; which is where I got all my “training.”
I needed to give these women the real essence of the dance I started bringing female street dancers/hip-hop dancers from all over to train my company. Word got out in Philadelphia and other women in the community wanted to train with us and so in 2004 the 1st LOHH was born.
Who are the main players in making LOHHF an annual successful event?
LOHHF Is really a one woman show until a few months before the actual festival. Most of the planning is done by myself and then in March I’m joined by my LOHHF team:
Tweetboogie: Artistic Coordinator
Ulli Maier: New! Managing Director
Mai Lê Ho: Marketing Coordinator
And my on-site staff made up of friends and family. With our new managing director Ulli, i’m looking forward to sharing a lot of the business responsibilities to help grow the organization.
Since 2004, what types of growth have you seen with the festival? Talk about having an outlet event in Austria.
Since 2004 The festival has grown way beyond anything I ever expected. It’s specifically meant to train other women in dance yet I quickly learned that it was such a needed and supported event that I added other ways for women to share their love of this culture. Since then we have added performances, panel discussions and an all female dance battle.
Having LOHHF in Austria was a very special opportunity. I worked with two dancers from Austria: Mariella Gross and Katrin Blantar to bring the entire festival. We spent 10 days in Vienna performing, teaching, speaking and working with other dancers in the community. All the shows are sold out the event was hugely successful and probably one of the best experiences of my life.
As far as LOHHF, what events occur during the week of the festival?
Annually the festival includes a performance showcase, master workshops, a panel discussion and an all-female hip-hop dance battle.
Media has commercialized and portrayed Hip Hop culture in many negative fashions and as well as the sexualization of women, as far as LOHHF, how has the event and programs been able to honor and celebrate women through Hip Hop culture
I think the festival has been able to honor and celebrate women in the culture by having women be the creators and producers of the work presented as part of the event. Instead of being in the role of background dancer or a piece of eye-candy for an artist video, we are in the position of power, dictating what will be shown, how we want to be portrayed…we are telling our story and connection to this culture.
What medias have covered LOHHF and how have you been able to share the message of the festival?
At this point no media outlets have covered the festival. I actually think it’s very interesting that none of the major hip-hop dance photographers, magazines or videographers have come to document the event. I think, in general, people are invested in what they think can progress their career, not necessarily supporting the community.
Sometimes those paths do overlap when you get to provide media coverage on very famous dancers but in all honesty, I think that anyone working in this community should support all of the events equally. We all have to support e
ika Dez of Melika Dez Photography. She’s an amazing photographer and filmmaker from Canada. She and I are also working on a documentary together about women in hip-hop culture, “ConversationswithHer.”Also, Ashani Mfuko of Ashani Mfuko Dance has interviewed me for Inside NYC Dance TV. She has been an amazing supporter and champion for LOHHF.
ach other’s events in order to survive and progress as a community.
So I try to work with people who have a genuine love and support of the community and the events that exist within it. I’m working with Melika Dez of Melika Dez Photography. She’s an amazing photographer and filmmaker from Canada. She and I are also working on a documentary together about women in hip-hop culture, “ConversationswithHer.”
Also, Ashani Mfuko of Ashani Mfuko Dance has interviewed me for Inside NYC Dance TV. She has been an amazing supporter and champion for LOHHF.
I saw on Twitter you will be giving out monthly scholarships in dance starting 2015, tell us about the idea behind that.
This is really simple, I want to give back to the community and one of the hardest things for dancers to do is take class. Financially living in New York City and pursuing art full-time is very difficult and I want to help artist be able to do that, specifically women in dance.
What do you foresee for LOHHF in 2015 and beyond?
In the future I foresee the festival continuing to grow in what it offers to the community and continuing to be an outlet for women in hip-hop culture.I would love to work more with the B-girl community in particular, as well as continuing to form International partnerships to take the festival to other international communities.
Any favorite moments from previous events?
It’s hard to say, every year there’s something amazing about the event. If I have to choose one my favorite moment is going to be the dedication piece I created for Marjory Smarth, a pioneer for women in hip-hop dance. That piece was performed by women from all over the world, here in New York with Marjory in the audience, it was so electric, so emotional, it definitely was one of my most favorite moments of the past 10 years.
Who would you like to shout out and thank?
Special thanks and shout out to anyone and everyone who supports the event, my friends and family that have always been there for me: Tweetboogie, Crystal, Tamelia, Charlene, Ahmad, my mom,
my son Jordan, BK Terry, Buddha Stretch, Marjory, Jeff, Jill Newman and Keith McPhee. So many…you know who you are!
Thank you Tomar, Meghan and all the Peridance staff. Last but not least, all the women that donate their time every year to create work and put participate in the event. THANK YOU!