HOTTLANTA' spotlights Atlanta's dance culture

Upstart producer Mr. 2-17's first feature film chronicles local dancers and crews

Tuesday February 9, 2016 04:00 am EST

If Atlanta's still the epicenter of hip-hop, it's also the hotbed of the viral dance craze. It doesn't take Hillary Clinton Dabbin' on "Ellen" or videos of Ron Clark Academy students doing the Whip and Nae Nae to realize that moves being crafted in ATL are finding mainstream audiences.

The fact that videos from dance crews like We Are Toonz (the originators of the "Nae Nae") and Freco and Merlo (behind the "Drop" dance) are amassing the same views as your favorite rapper shouldn't be surprising, Mr. 2-17 says.

"Music and rapping, that's always been a gateway," says the 21-year-old music producer, writer, and director behind the film HOTTLANTA. "Dancing, more than ever, is now a gateway to do something positive and using your time wisely as a young kid to avoid being in trouble."

HOTTLANTA is Mr. 2-17's ode to the Atlanta dance culture, past and present. It follows Mr. 2-17 and his friends as they prep for a city-wide dance competition. The film features a slew of up-and-coming talent, including Yummy Pearl and Runway Richy, as well as some eye-popping choreography and dance sequences.

In a city where hip-hop is king, he felt the need to bring attention to the community that's rivaling the local music creators in influence. "With this movie, the main thing I wanted to do was just make sure that the culture stays alive," he says. "I wanted to make sure that it gets the credit it deserves and let everybody in Atlanta get their shine for what they did to contribute to the Atlanta dance movement whether it's old or new."

Part of the reason why viral dances seem more prevalent than ever has everything to do with social media, Mr. 2-17 says. The talent and culture for dance has always been in the city, but now making use of Snapchat and Instagram has turned doing a crank dance in the cul-de-sac into a viral dance sensation. "And you can translate that into money, and all other kinds of opportunities just by your social following," he says.

If HOTTLANTA is a visual snapshot of today's dance zeitgeist, the film's creator also hopes it can be a nod to dances past.

As a kid growing up in East Atlanta, Mr. 2-17 remembers his Westside friends introducing him to "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It" by Dem Franchize Boyz, and that being the first local dance that stuck out to him. That followed with "Do It, Do It (Pool Palace)," DJ Unk's "Walk It Out," and "Whoop Rico" from Show Stoppas (a collaboration with Soulja Boy). It was the latter, a fight dance inspired by a kid named Rico who was jumped by the dance crew Show Stoppers, that really clicked with Mr. 2-17 in 2008. He's been producing dance-friendly tracks for both rappers (Bankroll Fresh's "Walked In") and dancers (Freco and Merlo's "Drop") ever since. Oh, and when it comes to his dancing prowess, the kid's no slouch.

In the course of the seven months it took him to complete HOTTLANTA, Mr. 2-17 felt as though he was the de facto glue between the current generation of ATL's dance and music communities.

"Before, it was just the dancers and the rappers, but once I made 'Walked In' for Bankroll Fresh that's when they started realizing, 'Oh, we need these dancers. We need to have these dancers on call. We need to know who these dancers are,'" he says, adding that he didn't make those connections happen without the guidance of Bankroll Fresh and Atlanta music impresario Coach K.

After its premiere at the Plaza Theatre this month, the hope is that HOTTLANTA will make the rounds on the Internet and local fests before being distributed physically.

With more crews and dances popping up as often as new music artists, Mr. 2-17 sees the dance community only growing stronger. Like hip-hop, all roads of success will either start or pass through the Perimeter and it's something that can't be stopped because as he sees it, being at the center of the street dance universe is something ATLiens are born with.

"It's just in our roots," Mr. 2-17 says. "It's in the culture of Atlanta to make these dances. It's just what we do as far as Atlanta people, and it's going to keep on happening."

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