Hip Hop Goes To Church In The Triangle [VIDEO]

Oct 5, 2014

True Settles (left), Joshua Weaver
Credit Carol Jackson

There's some innovative dancing taking place in North Carolina that's not on a stage; It's in a tiny basement-level space underneath the post office on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Two young men, Joshua Weaver and True Settles, are teaching area kids the latest dance moves.  But when the class is over, the two crank the music really loud, and battle their friends. The goal is to out-shine,  out-innovate and out-dance the opposition. Battles can last for hours.

The dancing doesn't stop there, though. Weaver and Settles are bringing their straight-from-the-street moves to a style of dance done at some churches. It's called "praise dance."  Traditionally, praise dancers are women, and their movements are languid and fluid. Weaver and Settles' moves? They're anything but peaceful.

WUNC's Carol Jackson spent some time with the young men for this story:

Isriael 'True' Settles, dancing on the football field.
Credit Isriael Settles

"I got into dancing when I was five," Settles recalls. "I had no rhythm and I couldn't dance worth a lick. But I liked doing it. I kept going and I kept going and I kept going. When a style of dance came out called 'krump,' I was like, 'I can do that!'"

Settles has no formal dance training. He used to be into football. When he broke his leg sophomore year of high school, everything changed.

"When we got to the hospital the doctor told me it was going to take nine months for me to get back up and do the things I was normally doing. ...Four months later, I was back up dancing."

Josh Weaver's signature move is the way he can make his body vibrate. It's a move that he created himself. He can shake his entire body - feet, legs, torso, arms, head. [Watch the video above for an example.]

Weaver remembers when he first figured out he could make his hand vibrate like a cell phone. "I was like, 'OK. If my body can do that, what else can it do?'"

The guys are starting to gain a local following. They're known as the Brothaz Unique.

Praise Him In The Sanctuary

Joshua Weaver practicing praise dancing at the Street Scene Teen Center, Chapel Hill.
Credit Carol Jackson

But it's not all dreams of fame and fortune for Joshua Weaver and True Settles. Perhaps the heart of their work is at church, and praise dancing.

Weaver's mom first had the idea. She knew that her son was passionate about dance, and she also knew that young people were dancing at church, interpreting gospel songs on stage.

"She was like Josh you need to do this! Bring something new to the church," Josh laughs, mimicking his mother's voice. But then he saw praise dancing for himself.

"This preacher, he came to the church, he did ballet-type moves and he said 'This is how you praise dance.'" Weaver remembers. "I was like, 'Mom, I'm not doing that!'"

Nevertheless, Weaver determined that he would stick with it, but find his own style. Some in the church don't like Weaver's style.  But some found - to their surprise - they do.

One Sunday morning, Weaver's friends were abuzz, knowing that he was about to dance in front of a guest preacher who didn't like the form. Weaver didn't let the controversy shake him.

True Settles (left) and Joshua Weaver
Credit Carol Jackson

"At the end of the service, [the preacher] went to me, he shook my hand. He said, 'You know what? I believe in you now. I never seen that kind of praise dancing before, ever. And I would love to see that again.'"

Now, Joshua Weaver and True Settles perform regularly at area churches. They practice at the Street Scene Teen Center, and on the streets of Durham and Chapel Hill, where they walk around with a giant boom box blasting music. Settles says he knows that people on the street don't know what to make of them.

"As soon as you say, 'I am from Durham, N.C.' --  that, yeah, I grew up in the rough parts of Durham, [people] say, 'Oh, you're just a thug.' [But] I found when I actually started to venture out and start dancing, it was like ... people would say, 'Wait … really? hmmm.'"

Dance can change stereotypes, Settles says.

"So it's like, don't look at me from where I come from. Look at me as in who I actually am. And dancing helped me express that very well."

True Settles
Credit Carol Jackson

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