Memphis dancer has all the right moves

(WMC-TV) - It's a YouTube video that went viral, captivating the world of classical ballet. It featured improvisational street dancing known as jookin', combined with the Dying Swan to create a unique new art form -- the Hip Hop Dying Swan.

And the dancer in the video, bridging the gap between freestyle and the hyper-choreographed, is 23-year old Memphian Charles Riley - also known as Lil Buck.

"I really want to put the style out there, because it's been underground for so long and I just feel like the world deserves to see this beautiful dance," Riley said.

Riley has been jookin' since he was 13, growing up in the Westwood community of South Memphis. It's a neighborhood he admits could have led him down a much different path.

"It was just a lot of bad gang activity, shooting sometimes in Westwood. It didn't get too crazy, but I had a lot of friends who got a little crazy," he said. "I used to be involved in a minute, with this little clique for a minute, before I started realizing what I really had and the gift I really had."

It was a gift Riley was able to develop, first at the now defunct Yo Memphis performing arts academy, and later at New Ballet Ensemble of Memphis.

"It was a big transition for me," he said. "I had to grow in to it."

New Ballet's founder, Katie Smythe, was blown away by Riley's raw talent.

"Charles is so gifted in almost his immediate recognition of the different rhythms that are happening in one piece," Smyth said. "So with the Hip Hop Dying Swan, he learned the music as we drove across the Memphis-Arkansas bridge, and by the time we had gotten to Crittenden County, he had only heard it once. He performed the first Dying Swan we ever did, jookin' and dancing to classical music in the next 45 minutes."

Riley performed the dying swan with famed cellist Yoyo Ma. Now, dance companies in New York, London, and Paris want him, though for now he's the resident dance artist in Veil, Colorado.

"It's been my passion," he said. "That's what I've been doing since I was 13, and I've been doing it every day for 10 years."

Riley makes his home in Los Angeles, but always makes time to come back to Memphis to New Ballet to dance with his old company. He says he's proof that if you have talent and determination, anything is possible."

To find out more about New Ballet, click here.

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