Jookin' Master Lil Buck Writes a Letter to His Teenage Self

November 4, 2020

There’s a chance you’ve never heard of jookin’, a Memphis-grown form of street dance. But if you have, chances are it’s because of Charles Riley, or Lil Buck. Buck began pursuing jookin’ seriously at age 13, when he realized his dream of becoming a backup dancer. Little did he know that one day, he would be the main event. Buck first went viral in 2011, with his video collaboration with Spike Jonze and Yo-Yo Ma, The Swan. Since then, he’s performed just about everywhere—on tour with Madonna, in commercials for high-profile companies like Apple and Lexus, onstage at the Vail Dance Festival, and alongside dancers at New York City Ballet. Buck is constantly pushing the limits of where street forms can go, so be sure to follow him on Instagram @lilbuckdalegend to see where he goes next. —Cadence Neenan

Buck at age 18 (courtesy Buck)

Dear Chuck,

I would ask how you’ve been, but I know that would be offensive to you. I know how you’ve been…you are a street dancer living in a place where there is no opportunity for dancers trying to make a career out of dance. It’s hard. But here’s how you can make the nearly impossible possible. I’m going to say some things that will be hard to read, but I want you to keep reading. Trust me: If you use this advice properly, you will have more than enough drive and determination to get you through a concrete wall.

Do you remember growing up, living in your auntie’s basement because your mom was poor?

I remember. You had no toys and got so bored you once drank gasoline because you thought it would make you run fast, like Speedy Gonzales. Do you remember having to see your mom struggle so hard, working two jobs while in an abusive relationship? Do you remember wanting to help her, but you were too young to do anything? Do you remember moving to Memphis, and that no one liked you because you were that different kid that came from Chicago?

How about the time your older sister started teaching you to dance, and how happy that made you—to have something you finally loved that could keep you happy?

Do you remember dancing so much in your mom’s kitchen that she’d make you go outside and play? How about when those kids at school that bullied you every day because you liked to dance, and they thought you weren’t gangsta enough for Memphis? Remember practicing your dance every night until your toes literally bled through your shoes? I remember. How you’d wake up dancing and take it everywhere you went: dancing as you washed your face, dancing while pushing your mom’s grocery cart—dancing everywhere, even in your sleep. You remember when you finally joined a hip-hop dance company and had to run miles to practice because you didn’t have a way there, and you still gave it 100 percent when you got there?

I know you remember those Moments.

NEVER forget them, OK?

If those hard Moments couldn’t keep you from dancing, nothing or no one can keep you from the success you envision. NEVER forget those Moments that made you smile, because you will need those memories to help get you through the tough moments ahead. Channel those emotions you felt in those Moments to power your dance, body, soul—and trust me, once the world sees you move, they won’t want to blink when they’re watching you. Trust me, man, it will all be worth it. I know this from experience.

This is where all the drive to reach your wildest dreams will be found. Every single day.