Female, Trans, Femme Dance Group Throws Back with PowerPuff Girls

POC Powerpuff Girls performing hip-hop to the tunes of Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna is the perfect end to a gruelling semester at Oberlin. AndWhat!?, Oberlin’s hip-hop dance group for female, trans and femme identifying students, will be performing their spring show “AndWhat!? Presents: Powerpuff Girls Remixed” on Friday, May 11 and Saturday, May 12 at 8 p.m.

For those unfamiliar with The Powerpuff Girls, the theme refers to the Cartoon Network show that premiered in 1992 and featured three female superhero sisters who protect their town from crime. Rather than showcasing masculine superwomen, the show was surprisingly progressive for its time, illustrating feminine characters who kick ass — a perfect match for AndWhat!?.

“AndWhat!? is a space for women and trans and femmes to do hip-hop dance,” AndWhat!? Co-chair and College senior Deja Alexander said. “It’s primarily for women of color and even more primarily for Black women. Our goal is to explore hip-hop, but also create conversations about issues that plague the Black community, which is the purpose of hip-hop.”

This spring’s theme was chosen as a nostalgic recognition of shared childhood role models because it shares the fun, sassy nature of AndWhat!?. Previous shows include “Love Letters To Our Former Selves” and “Throwbacks: AndWhat!? Spring Performance,” a celebration of the early 2000s.

“Our spring shows, they are always a little nostalgic,” Alexander said. “We kind of riffed on our childhood and our youthful relationships with hip-hop. … This show is a riff on [The] Powerpuff Girls, which is a show that most of us watched when we were little, but it’s Powerpuff Girls revamped, reinvented. So if they were Nicki, Rihanna, and Beyoncé. It’s kind of a way to mix the nostalgia of the cartoon that most of us watched and some of the idols that we all love.”

While the organization’s fall shows are more focused on hosting guest choreographers and performers, the spring shows are more student-centered. AndWhat!? members decide on music, themes, costumes, and choreography, including at least one all-group performance. Spring 2018 will feature 26 pieces, including solos, duets, and senior performances.

“The spring show is always, at least personally I think, more fun because it’s all about celebrating AndWhat?! and going back to our roots,” College sophomore and dancer Nina Harris said. “We always pick a … throwback topic. This semester it’s been really fun … we’re using a lot of music that’s come out in the past year, but also a lot of music that came out when we were in our younger years and it’s been really fun to like explore that and explore the importance of these three … powerful women artists through dance.”

While AndWhat?! isn’t officially a part of the Dance department at Oberlin, it holds an important place in the Oberlin dance community.

“[Not that I don’t] love the dance department, but [being separate] allows us to really have our own unique message and community,” Harris said.

It is particularly remarkable that this female, trans and femme dance crew specializes in hip-hop, not only for its promotion of Black culture, but also because it presents female, trans and femme hip-hop performers as more than sex symbols.

“Especially for female hip-hop dancers, [AndWhat!?] is kind of reclaiming the hip-hop and rap community,” said College sophomore and rising co-chair of AndWhat!? Ruby Marzovilla. “In recent years, so much of it has been focused on sexualizing women and that sort of element. So I think it’s kind of reclaiming it as part of Black culture and like saying we have a voice in this community, we’re not just an object in this form of art and music.”

The most important message AndWhat!? members emphasized is that though the group is welcoming of all femme-identifying performers, it still prioritizes the female, trans, and femme POC community.

“AndWhat?! is now open to any femme person that enjoys dance and wants to join our group, but the message of AndWhat?! is still very focused on … Black femininity in ties with hip-hop culture,” Marzovilla said. “Even though now it’s a more open space to a wider range of people from different cultural backgrounds and different ethnicities, the root of the group is still based on hip-hop culture, which is Black and will stay that way.”

The group plans on continuing to reinforce hip-hop culture and is considering entering a hip-hop competition in the Midwest next semester.

The show will run for 90 minutes. Tickets are $2, and are available in Warner on performance nights.