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Celebrating Black History Makers: Homer Bryant Breaks Norms With 'Hiplet,' Bringing Together Hip Hop, Ballet

CHICAGO (CBS) -- All this month, we're highlighting history makers in Chicago – Black trailblazers who through their influence, innovation, and action are changing the course of history.

They are changing our communities and making lasting impact for generations to come.

On Thursday morning, CBS 2's Audrina Bigos introduced us to Homer Bryant and his branchild - the Hiplet ballerinas.

To make history, you have to do something that's never been done before - break the norms, shatter the ceilings, and even get in some "good trouble."

"The fact that we have been able to use pointe work in a way not previously engaged freaks a lot of people out," Bryant said. "But we have found a way to bring our kids into it."

And that is the heart of Homer Bryant – founder and artistic director of the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center and the creator of Hiplet.

"When other Black kids see us, they're like ... 'Wow, I want to learn how to do that, I want to learn to do that,' and you have a lot of Black kids now saying I want to be a Hiplet ballerina," Bryant said.

We'll touch more on that later. But first, here's a look at Hiplet's roots, dating back to the 1990s after Bryant left a concert.

"I walked away with an idea, like 'Wow, I need to put this rap to ballet,'" Bryant said. "I came back to Chicago and I told my dancers: 'Guess what! We're going to be doing a rap ballet!' They said, 'What's a rap ballet?'"

It's strutting and shimmying - Styling sur la pointe - or on the tip of the toe - a lot differently.

"That is our Black culture. We get down, we get African," Bryant said. "This part of the body is into the earth, Mother Earth. This part of the body is up into the Heavens."

He is challenging the traditional notions of ballet - in a way never done before.

"Rap had changed to hip hop, so ballet and hip hop became Hiplet," Bryant said, "and in 2009, I got a trademark on the word Hiplet, and it's been history and international ever since."

It has involved commercials for major brands, music videos, and main stages drawing audiences around the world. And maybe even more importantly, Hiplet is also drawing the attention of Black and Brown Chicago kids.

"You have to bring those kids in from the South Side, from the West Side, and bring them downtown, and they get a whole new experience," Bryant said. "So you're bringing something that their comfortable with, and then you introduce this classical art form."

Bryant's ballet school in the Dearborn Station building at 47 W. Polk St. in Printer's Row offers low-cost dance training and scholarships to help offset costs for students who have the talent, but not the money.

And with that, Bryant has helped open their eyes - possibly changing the trajectory of their lives, and helping write their story.

"Making a difference through the discipline of dance," Bryant said.

The Chicago Multicultural Dance Center is a not-for-profit organization. Children as young as 3 years old can take dance classes there.

Like most arts, they've taken a huge hit because of the pandemic - so they're looking for support for student scholarships more now than ever.


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