Jookin' History Pt. 1

Jookin' History (Part 1):


Oral History:

Memphis history is subjective and that has been passed down through oral tradition or storytelling. Many of the original pioneers started as teenagers and were forced to focus on adult livelihood outside of dance in their early adult years. Take into account that they are drawing from memories that may have been 30+ years ago. As griots and gatekeepers of the past two decades of Memphis dance, these storytellers have recounted their history from personal experiences in interviews, and the like.

Recorded History:

Prior to the late 1980s, there was not much documentation until the era of video cameras. Therefore, the lack of representation of Memphis culture in the entertainment industry in mainstream media was limited to local TV stations. Consequently, it is difficult to source recorded documentation of street dancers unless the dancers recorded them independently as home videos. At any rate, this became a trend with street dancers in the 90s, and it was customary to find street dancers with a collection of self-recorded Jookin videotapes to establish one’s notoriety in the dance style. In addition, many tapes that are coveted by some of the originators and innovators of the dance genre are still unreleased today. As a result, the history has to be passed down as if in a griot fashion to retain the integrity and knowledge base of Memphis Jookin. Nevertheless, until social media there was not much documentation to help expose dancers to Memphis Jookin and as a result has helped to put the dance genre on the map as a global movement. 


As you continue to learn these dance techniques, remember that it is important to operate within a cultural context for the movement. Understanding the culture that these dances come from will help create a personal connection with the movement and the feelings that the dance invokes.

For dance, music is arguably one of the most influential elements. Memphis music history is extremely rich but, we want to focus on the sounds that gave birth and have also been traditionally used for Memphis Jookin. Memphis music is a root for many American genres to include soul, gospel, rhythm and blues, blues, and rock n roll.

Some notable music museums that educate people on Memphis Music history are as follows:

  • Blues Hall of Fame
  • Rock and Soul Museum
  • Stax Museum of American Soul Music

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