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Director Michael Beach Nichols talks documentary “Flex Is Kings,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

“Flexing” is a dance style forged in far east Brooklyn, at the dead-end of a handful of subway lines. Flex dancers channel the grittiness and crime of East New York into choreographed violence with gun movements, simulated bone-breaking, and the mimicked ripping of hearts from opponent’s chests. Through battles dancers gain respect, craft an artistic identity, and sometimes find a sanctuary from the poverty and violence that saturates their neighborhood. No other style of street-dance is this violent, scary, or beautifully theatrical. In this purely do-it-yourself scene, creativity and ambition bring a community together around frequent dance-battle showcases that have begun to attract an international audience and may catapult the best dancers into careers in theater or film. Following a group of dancers for over two years, Flex is Kings explores the hopes and realities of this under-acknowledged and totally unfunded group of urban artists.


Q: Where does your love of dance come from?

Michael Beach Nichols: I ‘ve always have been into dance. My sister danced as a kid, so I would go to her recitals and stuff and I’ve always been into Hip-Hop, so I just had sort of a peripheral interest in it just thinking it’s really cool. Then when I moved to New York in 2009 a mutual friend introduced me to Deidre Schoo who had been taking photos of thing called Battle Fest out  in East New York. So I went out and helped her with that and I saw like these crazy moves and I was just floored. It was unlike anything I had seen before. It was like a guy just opened his mouth and a bird just flew out. I was like what is this…this scene. It took us about a year until we just said let’s just make a film out of this.

Q: What was your introduction to Hip-Hop?
Michael Beach Nichols: Listening to A Tribe Called Quest as a Sixth Grader. That was just the music I listened to when I was a kid.
Q:What did you discover most about the dancers through the film?
Michael Beach Nichols: It’s so amazing that these guys did this on their own and this community nurtures this amazing street dancing scene. They throw their own dance competitions, they do music videos, they design their own clothes, they travel. There’s this sense of DIY in a whole community. Everyone rallies around battle fest.  There’s little kids dancing around. It made feel good about what people are capable of and how art can really bring people together