Empowering youth and overcoming stigma through hip-hop dance
Eli Rameker, a junior at Madison West High School, enjoys hip-hop dance because it serves as an outlet for self-expression and movement. He also appreciates its strong cultural foundation and its mode of presentation that allows youth to use their art for something greater than themselves.
“I use hip-hop dance for self-expression, a funnel for my emotions, a way to share feelings about issues on my mind,” he explained. “But it has the capacity to be so much more. Hip hop is a medium for understanding, appreciation and change.”
Rameker is the founder and director of Madison Empowering Movement Opportunity (MEMO), a Madison-based organization that cultivates an environment that celebrates the Black and Brown legacy of hip hop while empowering kids of all ages through movement via creativity, storytelling and community.
Dance has been a part of Rameker’s life for more than a decade. As a child, he was always a mover, dancing to music and expressing himself through activity. His parents recognized this love for movement and signed him up for dance lessons at age 5.
Rameker began dance lessons in a studio setting. In middle school, he started dancing competitively, traveling around the US. In high school, he began to do more community-based, street and historical aspects of hip-hop dance.
While Rameker clearly loves hip hop, he also has a heart for social justice and racial equality. This combination sparked the idea for MEMO, which came to fruition last year.
“Hip-hop dance is a big part of my life,” he said. “I realized I could use it as a means to create change and new perspectives in Madison.”
Rameker initiated MEMO by reaching out to community centers and schools in Madison, asking to teach kids hip-hop dance. Pulling more ideas and people together, the organization slowly evolved. Today, the MEMO leadership team consists of eight youth from the Madison area.
During the pandemic, the group has not been able to do everything they want to do, but they are continuing to build their foundation and spread awareness in the community. Last summer, MEMO hosted a summer hip-hop camp at Vilas Park, offering games, conversation and dance. And this year, they partnered with One City Schools for their Academies program, where Rameker and team presented online tutorial hip-hop lessons, then visited the school to talk and dance with the kids.
According to the MEMO website, for years, the Madison area has maintained a broken relationship with hip-hop culture, much in part due to racial injustice and segregation. Despite their inaccuracy, claims that the hip-hop scene draws a violent and dangerous crowd have run rampant, further stigmatizing and alienating communities of color and thus reinforcing systemic racism and inequality.
“We seek to acknowledge that hip hop has a historical foundation in Black and Brown culture while creating a safe space for all youth to amplify their voices with this knowledge in mind,” said Rameker. “Hip hop is derived from primarily African American and Latinx spaces, with some Asian influences, and to honor and celebrate that legacy and its impact on our culture today is crucial.”
On Saturday, Feb. 27, MEMO shared their artistic endeavors at Overture’s virtual International Festival. Their video offers a historical context of hip-hop and its influence on culture, introduces basic movements and then moves into freestyle dance.
“International Festival celebrates the value that diversity brings to society and our community,” said Rameker. “We look forward to introducing hip-hop, sharing our message and connecting with the broader Madison community.”