The strength and grace of street style dancer Angel “Moonyeka” Alviar-Langley can be witnessed in both her movement and her philosophy. As the primary organizer for What’s Poppin’ Ladiez?!, a womxn-centered street dance convention in Seattle, Moonyeka is dedicated to celebrating and elevating the role of womxn in hip-hop dance.
Moonyeka lent her talents to our Drirelease® campaign this year and we recently had the chance to chat with her about gender and street style dance scenes, the thrill of the dance battle, and her advice for aspiring female poppers.
When did you start dancing?
This question is really funny to me because I grew up being around dance! It was always a social-cultural thing for me. So I’d argue since I was born.
I committed myself to the Street Styles scene in Seattle while I was a Running Start student at Highline Community College. I’d sort of “given up” on dance at the time because my understanding was that if you wanted to take dance classes, you had to front some money and take classes at a studio. I went through a lot of BS trying to pay for my own classes as a 14-16-year-old, and finally, I’d had it after I realized most studios were white-dominated and I faced a lot of ridicule being the only non-white g*rl up in that space.
There was a lot of cyphering (a sacred circle of dance greatness served to release, witness, and hold each other) happening at Highline Community College. Asha, one of my new found friends at the time, had encouraged me to hang out and not be such a wallflower, and she’d heard I could dance (which I always denied). I was definitely too shy at that point to get into the cypher, but she encouraged me to try it out.
One day I saw a huge cypher in the Student Union building, but everyone was really still. I found out moments later that the circle was to honor Asha as she had passed away that day in a terrible car accident. The battle did go on in memorial to Asha, and it was here that I experienced a real felt sense of togetherness and community. It was here that the duality of joy and grief and pain and release could all be held. It was here that I realized that all my prior attempts to learn dance were all actually attempts to find a place I could call home, a place where I could grieve and experience joy. A place where each person could hold each other.
As I move forward, I always honor Asha as a part of why I’m where I am today.
Who was your first dance teacher or the first teacher who had a profound impact on you as a dancer?
I consider the community as a whole as a teacher. I will say Miss Funk + Pandora Marie, and really any womxn who has participated in WPL?! have driven home being bold and in their power no matter what.
What was the first popping move you learned?
I think it was just basic ways to hit or “pop” different parts of my body. Which transformed into learning Fresno and animation basics to achieve robot, puppet, and manikin character aesthetics.
Do you have any signature moves?
Not necessarily—I know there are certain movement patterns that are muscle memory to me. I would say I really love Tutting!
What’s it like to be a woman performing a male-dominated dance style like popping?
You should peep dis:
Do you feel like there are reverse parallels such as being a male ballet dancer?
No. I think men in ballet are desired. They’re even pandered to. That doesn’t mean they don’t experience isolation, I just think its wildly different. I hear/see/experience just as much gender violence in the euro-centric movement worlds as I do in Popping.
What are some challenges that female dancers face that’s unique to the popping world?
I don’t really subscribe to the word “female” but I think womxn who Pop face a lot of isolation and loneliness that stems from gender violence. A lot of womxn answer this question in Devon de Lena’s film Battlegrounds that was shot at the first ever WPL?! (See trailer above.)
What’s it like to battle someone?
UMMM. REALLY NERVE-WRACKING. Honestly, being competitive is something really hard for me, but when I’m battling and I do feel good about it, it’s less about beatin’ someone down, but more about me feelin’ real comfortable in my power. As womxn, we’re fed so many messages that strip away our inner strength, so the times that I get over my nerves, demand to be seen, and then tap into my ancestors and myself to be in my power….it’s surreal.
Do you have any pre-battle rituals that get you ready to face off?
I like to pull a card from my Kapwa Tarot Deck (Filipinx made and inspired). This helps me get really connected with my ancestors. I also do a bunch of centering exercises with movement prompts to get me feeling into my body. Overall, the pre-battle jitters don’t really go away. So I’m trying to learn ways to harness all that energy.
Are there differences between battling a male dancer vs a female dancer?
I find that most male dancers start making the battle about gender, just by my very presence. I’ve had male dancers mime in their rounds against me: picking me up/assuming sexual intercourse, being stolen away from a man (when I was in a 2v2 and there was another male dancer with me), etc. I also see a lot of men caricaturing femininity in their rounds against me. I don’t mind men being feminine, I do mind them mocking it.
Do you feel like What’s Poppin’ Ladiez?! has helped change gender dynamics in your dance community?
I think change is slow. But that doesn’t mean I should discount the change that there has been. I do feel like womxn who have come to WPL?! have came away feeling in line with their power. I hope that all people of all genders within the dance community continue to practice the daily embodiment of respect—right now that looks like a lot of undoing internalized gender inferiority or superiority.
What advice do you have for other female poppers?
Hang out together, support each other. I see too many womxn tearing each other down for the sake of competition or because that’s what they learned from—guess who!—men! I remember going to battles and if there was ever any other womxn, no matter what style, my “brothers” in the scene would come up to me and the first thing they would say would be something along the lines of “that’s your main competition.” So I ask why? Because they’re another womxn? Why do men always project that my main competition is another womxn? Why not another man?
What dancers do you look up to?
Pretty much any womxn popper that has come to What’s Poppin’ Ladiez?! Angyil McNeal, Lady Skarecow, Lady Beast, Pandora Marie, Miss Funk, My Linh, Dassy, Sumi, Android, Keanna K. Flores, Nilo, Lily, Tawatha, Dora Pop…the list goes on and on!!
I love all womxn who pop, because 1. I’m unconditionally supportive of womxn who are being bold AF; 2. Because when I’m feeling low, I remind myself of these womxn and how strong we all are; 3. They all dance like themselves. They all have mad flava that is their own. Most non-womxn poppers start all looking the same to me. But every time I see a womxn popper I am so inspired to approach these masc-dominated styles with my own femme-ness, my own movement.
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You can support Moonyeka and What’s Poppin’ Ladiez?! in their goal to open the program up year-round to young girls of color through Patreon and get exclusive behind-the-scenes rehearsal pictures and videos, as well as monthly developmental updates.
Where do you find connection and release? We want to hear about it the comments below!