30/10-5/11 2023 MALMÖ SWEDEN
Portrait #1 2024
A PORTRAIT OF SOPHIE MAY
I'm meeting Sophie May in the lobby at the Hotel. The 20 floor elevator keeps going up and down while people besides me work remotely on their laptops or waiting out the rain. It's a dusty and typically gray November day outside the big window. I'm ordering a coffee for myself while Sophie is pouring hot water into a tea cup. I start by asking her how she first came in contact with dance.
- From what I remember I always been in touch with dance, even as a little kid, through family gatherings and activity center that my parents put me in. But as a practice, i started out with aerobic. At some point I got bored of it. I had noticed that there was a hip hop class in the same building as the aerobics and I loved the way that they were so free when they danced. I started taking the hip hop class and I've kept going ever since. I was probably around 12 at that time. My sister also had an impact on me, she was already dancing both hip hop and dancehall. We´re from Martinique, which is next to Jamaica so we had a lot of influences from styles like dancehall. We also had BET before France, because we were closer to America, so we used to watch all the r&b and rap videos.
What was it with Hip Hop that struck a nerve with you? And not just any other dance style?
- I dance house and voguing as well and I love all those dances because they make me feel free in different ways but Hip Hop was special because i love rap. I really love the wordplay and I feel like it's so cool to see how hip hop never stops evolving. You can see it in the music, if you look at house or voguing for example, it's still growing but the difference compared to rap is that there are so
so many sub genres. The imagery that rap has is very powerful and I think that's why I'm very attached to it.
I find myself wondering why this particular genre is so different and I ask her about why she thinks Hip Hop constantly changing?
- Because it's touching the young people. There's a saying about jazz, and let's not forget that hip hop comes from jazz, even the wordplay and the freestyling that jazz already had with instruments. They said that “jazz will keep on living if we change it” and that's something I think hip hop understood, whether it was intentional or unintentional. Sadly we lost touch with the young people. Genres like Soul, Rock, Jazz are very important for the construction of hip hop and its sad that the younger generations sometimes don't have a connection towards that music.
I refer to J Cole's song “middle child” and asking if she feels that there is a gap between the "New" and the "Older" generation of hip hop?
- There's kind of a disconnect, if you take Lil Wayne for example. He was special because he was a bit like Slick Rick. Slick Rick was one of the first to have meaningful storytelling and a really different style. But when they tried to make somebody younger than Lil Wayne, like Young Thug with kind of an equal engagement there was a disconnect. First Young Thug was a fan of Lil Wayne but the fact that they put them against each other and that there are two different generations contributed to this gap. There are many examples like this of when they put people in hip hop against each other instead of with each other. But this culture is young and we are learning that we have to do better, in terms of connection. Both music and dance.
I ask if she has a purpose with her dance.
- First I danced because I wanted to be free. There were also a lot of things I couldn't express and I felt like I never belonged anywhere. Hip Hop became my journey towards finding out who I was and also where I belonged.
I was really shy and sensitive. I still am but hip hop helped me to be able to show my emotions. I feel like when I'm dancing I'm not the same person at all.
I interrupt Sophie to ask a follow-up question. - For me and many others, dance is perhaps the most vulnerable way to express yourself. So if you are shy, how does moving in front of others make you feel comfortable?
- At first I couldn't. Before I did freestyle I was doing choreography. It's safer because you just hold on to moves that you know. But freestyle is completely different like you really have to be able to get out of your comfort zone and talk but without words. I don't really know how it happened, i think that i'm still scared, not scared, or maybe kind of. Because in a battle there's a part of me I'm leaving on the floor. I understood that it was a way to challenge myself and even though I was shy for a very long time, I was extremely shy to share that with people. Now I am just focusing on me and how it makes me feel to to hold on to the music.
I wonder how she relates to others, for example in a battle.
- It depends on who I have in front of me. I also look on it like an exchange because if that person is giving me something, and I'm like ok I feel it I will answer. It should be an exchange. And it's very uplifting when it's almost like a conversation. But if i can't have that i'm trying to focus on just how i feel.
We continue to talk about inspiration and Sophie explains that she is inspired by continuing to learn. I wonder if it's fair to say that she uses her dance to ask questions?
- Yes, in everything I do! I like to make people face something, because i'm asking the same questions to myself and i need other to help me find out.
I wonder if she gets the answers?
- Sometimes yes, sometimes there is no answer and I think that's also okay.
During the interview we keep coming back back to music, maybe it's not really that strange when I'm sitting in front of a dancer, but I have a feeling that the interest extends beyond just liking music so I can't help myself from asking if she has any plans on making music herself.
- I used to sing, and I still do. Even if it's not as much anymore. I have some friends that are producers and raper and as a photographer and as a art director im working a lot with artists so i have this link to music. But I'm not fully in, I'm more watching from a window. But if I was going to make music, I would have to do it 100 procent for a period. I think it's something that I have to dedicate all my time to because right now I'm already dancing, doing photography and creative directing and it's taking up all my time. It wouldn't be right to go into music without doing it fully. But i love music, my parents love music, especially my dad because he was playing drums as well. He's a jazz lover and a Caribbean music lover
interlocutor & photo: mattis