Memphis Street Dancer Lil Buck Went Viral Dancing On Pointe, And Now He's The Star Of A Film

This is a whole different kind of black swan.

You've probably seen him before, but as with viral fame, it's easier for people to identify someone as "that guy who..." instead of by name. Well, Lil Buck is "that guy who" can do insane things on pointe, in sneakers. Lil Buck first went viral for his unique brand of combining the gangsta-walking style of Memphis Jookin with ballet. A video of him dancing to an arrangement by classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma went viral in 2011.

Born Charles Riley, Lil Buck is earning his "Black Swan" label with a biographic documentary, set to premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The 85-minute film will chronicle his life story from street dancing in Tennessee to performing on stages around the globe with stars like Madonna and Janelle Monae. As one of the few global stars in the Jookin community, he wants people to learn about the roots of the dance style. 

"What inspired myself, Victor, Louis, and Jai to make the film was the Memphis Jookin Community. Everyone wonders how such a beautiful art form like Jookin [can] come from the streets of Memphis. We have this diamond in the rough [that] most of the world didn’t know existed. Until now."

Lil Buck was introduced to freestyle-based street dance around the age of 14 years old, but he was always intrigued by the complicated and traditional world of ballet. Impressed by the dedication of ballet dancers, Buck practiced walking on his toes in his sneakers, day and night, until he bled and his toenails fell off. Eventually, he was offered a 2-year scholarship to study ballet with the New Ballet Ensemble (NBE) in Memphis when he was 17, according to Vogue.

Lil Buck was catapulted into fame after Spike Jonze shared a now-viral video of him performing to Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Swan alongside award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma. 

That was all it took to turn Buck from an amateur into a professional. Brands clamored to be associated with his artistry. You might have seen him in Apple's Airpod + iPhone 7 commercial fluidly gliding sideways (even upside down at times) on the sidewalk, around passersby, on cars and buildings to Marian Hill's Down. He even recently starred as the Mouse King in Disney’s feature film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.


"I hope [what] viewers get out of the film is how important culture and community is to Memphis Jookin and all indigenous street dances. I want them to take away a different perspective of what street dance is and that it’s a fine art. I also want people to see from watching this [and] how amazing a city Memphis is," Lil Buck told BET in an email.

LIL BUCK: REAL SWAN premieres at New York's Tribeca Film Festival on April 28. Watch an exclusive clip of the documentary below: 

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