In addition to visual arts (painting, sculpture, etc.) artoberVA really embraced the performing arts. There were plays, music, and dance. One Richmond-based dance company really drew a crowd and embraced the spirit of artoberVA, and that was Richmond Urban Dance.
Richmond Urban Dance (RUD) was founded by RVA native Mandy Helmlinger. Mandy got her degree in dance and choreography from VCU and has spent the better part of 35 years feeding her dance muse. The mission at RUD reflects a great deal of her personal mission and beliefs. At RUD, “We don’t just teach movement, we ARE a movement.”
What Mandy and her crew do is take the invigorating music and moves of hip hop and bring it to the streets – literally.
“We have no home of our own (yet), so oftentimes the street is our studio for classes and rehearsals. While it does make things difficult for us, we have also found that it has molded us and made us who we are. Because we have limited resources, it forces us to be creative and flexible…two very important attributes of a successful artist.”
During October, RUD took their normal Saturday master classes and did “pop-up” street sessions all over the city.
But that’s not how she really started.
“I always knew I wanted to work with underprivileged kids, and I had always felt called to serve the inner-city community, but I had never stepped foot in the projects. God knew I needed to be exposed to the community and culture that I felt called to serve. So, from there, He sent me on a ten-year mission trip right here in our city– it’s crazy how God will put a desire in someone’s heart before they even have any knowledge or experience. Starting a company like this is very unconventional for someone like me.”
We don’t just mimic what we see and learn from the hip hop culture, which is often an expression of urban life and its struggles. We have our own philosophy. And that philosophy is that anything and everything can be used for good and turned into a positive. We like to focus on the solution to our struggles and glorify the good in everything, rather than the problems and the things that bring people to that low.”
Mandy’s crew at RUD is as diverse as they come, and the kids and students they serve reflect that as well. But RUD believes that when bonded together as a “crew” they’re all united, they’re all feeling that same spirit, and speaking the same “dialect.” As to the people RUD serves, she doesn’t see them as “charity” cases. “They deserve to have people invest in and believe in them, and push them to a higher standard.”
“Our city is engulfed in “programs” for city kids. Many of them are good, and many of them are just babysitting services. We don’t believe in pacifying kids for an hour at a time and then walking away feeling like we made a difference, and we don’t provide a catering service. They deserve the same opportunities I have. It takes time and hard work, but it’s worth it and we are privileged enough to see the fruit of it!”
Some feel that they simply can’t dance. They don’t have that genetic “beat” character. Those taking RUD classes come with every sort of skill set. They’re professionals, novices, and some who’ve never busted a move in their lives.
“It’s like one big party. No one cares what anyone else looks like, everyone just wants to let loose and express themselves in a safe environment where no one is judging. We push them and help them get better, but more than anything, in a way that builds their confidence. Here’s the thing, every one of us can be a dancer, whether we think we are good or not, it’s just a matter of whether or not we choose to do it.”
That was one of our messages with artoberVA – everyone is an artist. They just might not know it yet. And art is everywhere around us in Richmond and Central Virginia. It’s just waiting to bust out, and bust a groove.
Get a word out to Richmond Urban Dance. Meet Mandy and her crew. Take a class. And find out what moves you.