Interview: Tania Diggory

Thursday 13 November 2014 by Carmel Smith

Elite Force crew at PHD Event November 2013

Tania Diggory is the woman behind PHD Events who are taking over three venues in Brixton this weekend with a programme of street dance activities featuring workshops with some of the leading pioneers of hip hop dance from the US – including members of Electric Boogaloos and Rock Steady crews, Mr Wiggles and Popin Pete. On Saturday a World Street Dance event will showcase traditional street dances from around the world…

Tania, tell us about PHD Festival 2014
PHD (Pioneers: A History of Dance) educates and celebrates original street dance forms from around the world as well as the various elements of hip hop culture. Our festival offers dancers and artists a rare opportunity to meet with and learn from world renowned, international pioneers of dance, who are originators of some of the most popular dances today. We offer exclusive dance workshops as well as panel discussions, art exhibitions, film screenings, performances and freestyle jams and this weekend will be our third edition, taking place across three venues in Brixton, London: the Ritzy Cinema, Black Cultural Archives heritage centre and Lambeth Town Hall. Full schedule here

You are PHD – Pioneers: A History of Dance (not street dance, or hip hop) – why that very wide title?
There is a real fascination surrounding dance these days, not just in UK but around the world and particularly with regards to street dances, which encapsulates the freedom of self expression through art. I think people largely connect with this and there are so many ‘street dances’ that originate from various cultures around the world that use dance and music as tools to express and communicate.
Dance is a universal language and with there being more people teaching and learning dance these days, I feel it is important to educate a wide variety of styles that also embody a rich history and can be passed on to generations.
As well as showcasing dances from countries such as Uganda, India and South America, we offer workshops that teach styles that originated from hip hop culture, being one of the most significant modern movements to have sparked interest all over the world.

You’ve been running these events for two years now – how did it come about?
I am fortunate to have been taught by a number of incredibly inspiring teachers who have been instrumental in the popularisation and development of original street dance forms today. About three years ago, having worked as a dance teacher for two years, I had an idea to create an opportunity for dance practitioners and artists in the UK to have access to these teachers who have inspired me, but in more of a festival setting that celebrates the evolution of dance and Hip-Hop culture and where they would be available to engage with over a weekend.
The amount of knowledge you gain from these people from one workshop is phenomenal, so offering a variety of workshops, seminars, panel discussions and performances featuring these international artists offers attendees a unique experience, a deeper understanding of hip hop culture and how we can build this legacy in the UK.
Hip hop has touched so many lives around the world and I feel it is significant for us to have this kind of opportunity that focuses on education and networking in the arts industry, with national and international pioneers of dance. I am very passionate about teaching authentic dance styles and so for me, I see this festival as a contribution to the arts scene here, to enhance the standard of street dance education in the UK.

Who are your events aimed at?
Our events are geared towards dance practitioners, artists and hip hop enthusiasts who wish to learn more about the history and culture. It is open to people of all ages, levels and backgrounds as it is a community driven project that brings people together to learn, network and most importantly, have fun.

Who have you got taking part/leading sessions this time?
We have two members of the world famous Electric Boogaloos and Rock Steady crews, Mr Wiggles and Popin Pete – during the weekend they will be teaching a unique duo workshop about East and West Coast Social Dance – and we are also inviting back Brooklyn Terry from Elite Force crew, who featured as one of our pioneers in our first edition last year. Each of these artists offer a wealth of knowledge and experience, not just about living through the emergence of hip hop culture but also how their involvement in the industry has significantly contributed to hip hop and funk styles being popularised in the mainstream today.

Do you have any UK artists involved in PHD?
Our events do feature a range of inspiring UK talent as well, as we feel it’s important to blend the perspectives of UK and international artists. Our DJ’s have years of experience working both nationally and internationally and our performance artists have featured the likes of Mechanikool, The Waacktitioners and UK Dancehall United.

This year we have created a new, exciting show taking place on Saturday, World Street Dance: The Roots, which is being supported by the Kevin Spacey Foundation. This performance showcases traditional street dances from around the world, a concept we aim to develop to offer our audiences an insightful experience into other cultures. This year we are showcasing dances from Uganda, India, USA and South America. It will be hosted by the talented Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenberg.

We are also passionate about supporting UK organisations who contribute to the development of dance and hip hop in the UK. One of the most exciting projects I am aware of is Project Breakalign, a company founded by Nefeli Tsiouti ( Bgirl sMash ) that teaches ways of reducing injuries in dance, particularly breaking. She’ll be delivering a presentation about Project Breakalign on Saturday afternoon.

What are you most looking forward to this weekend?
What I love to see is how dance and hip hop bring so many people together. Whether you’re a dancer, MC, DJ, artist, academic or a fan of hip hop, there is something for everyone to enjoy over the weekend with so many educational and entertaining activities taking place. We hope that our attendees thoroughly enjoy their experience and come away feeling educated, positive and inspired about their own journey and goals.

More details about this weekend’s events in Brixton:

Photo: Elite Force crew at PHD Event November 2013

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