A group of young tap dancers in Seattle caught the eye of East Coast filmmakers. Their passionate choreography is now front and center in “Hell You Talmbout,” a new YoungArts film.
For the past eight months, students at Seattle’s Northwest Tap Connection have performed their protest dance “Hell You Talmbout” on stages and sidewalks all over the city. Their goal: Heighten awareness about the black men and women who have been killed by police, an objective in line with the 10-year-old dance studio’s strong social-justice mission.
Now, the students are the stars of a new, short film, also titled “Hell You Talmbout,” which was commissioned and screened by the National YoungArts Foundation in Miami, Fla. The foundation’s “Transformations” initiative marks its 35th anniversary of providing mentorship and professional development to emerging artists, many of whom have gone on to become best-selling authors, Academy Award winners and household names like Viola Davis, Kerry Washington and Josh Groban.
See the film
“Hell You Talmbout,” the National YoungArts Foundation film, can be found online at https://www.youngarts.org/transformations-film-project.
The Seattle Times videos about the Northwest Tap Connection can be found at
This new film was co-directed by Sundance Ignite fellow Tyler Rabinowitz, dancer and choreographer Joseph Webb and mixed-media artist Denzel Boyd, all YoungArts alumni. They first saw the students in a shaky Facebook video of a performance at a summer festival on Beacon Hill. Intrigued, they did some internet searching to find out who the young dancers were.
“I actually came across The Seattle Times article,” Rabinowitz said, referring to a story about gentrification in Seattle’s black community that featured the Northwest Tap Connection. He forwarded the video stories — including a recording of the very first performance of “Hell You Talmbout” in March — to Boyd and Webb.
“After watching the videos, that definitely triggered us to act; it started from that.”
Using most of their budget, the filmmakers flew to Seattle from the East Coast and made the eight-minute film, which they’ve entered into several film festivals.
In the film, the students dance in the gym at Seattle’s South Shore K-8, in front of a spare backdrop. Hanging from the rafters, a banner created by Boyd lists the names of black victims of police violence in 2015 and 2016. It is so long that the bottom half lies pooled on the floor.
“Unfortunately, things kept happening, and they kept adding to it,” said Shakiah Danielson, the Northwest Tap Connection instructor who choreographed the piece. “Keeping it current, unfortunately.”
The music is Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout,” in which the recording artists chant the names of black men and women killed by police: Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Aiyana Jones and many more.
The film also features spoken word poetry by Webb, incorporating the voice of 9-year-old Zianna Oliphant, whose tearful testimony at a Charlotte, N.C. city council meeting went viral online in September after the death of Keith Lamont Scott in that city.
Danielson says she’s grateful for the filmmakers’ careful study of The Times’ short documentaries before filming. While she has received invitations from other artists to collaborate on projects, she turns most requests down.
“Not everybody’s going to love this, and the kids’ faces are out there,” Danielson said. “While you have some very beautiful responses, you also have some that are extremely bigoted. The piece is bigger than me, so I have to be a steward over it.”
Rabinowitz described one particularly hateful comment on the YoungArts Facebook page, where a white man called the young dancers “The Black KKK.”
“Somebody told me to just let other people handle it, and that other people would write things to him,” Rabinowitz said. “But in my mind, me remaining silent is the exact antithesis of this project. A person who has white privilege remaining silent, hoping that other people will step in and comment on it — that’s one of the contributors to the way the world works right now, in my opinion.”
Rabinowitz invited the commenter to watch the film again and “realize we have work to do.”
Though Rabinowitz described his role as limited to “figuring out where the camera needs to be” — allowing youth from the Northwest Tap Connection to have a prominent voice — he said he’s learned a lot, and plans to make more films with an eye on social justice.
“I started to realize that maybe the films we need aren’t the ones where we imagine new worlds,” he said, “but the ones that give us a new perspective and help us imagine our real world in a new way.”