By Emma Hanson


Springing from Hip Hop Theatre company, Body Politic, THEM is a digital platform that promotes and enables safe disclosure for survivors of sexual violence.

This resource accompanies the production debuting at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, which spotlights the power of rage as a byproduct of misogyny and sexual violence against women. Described by black feminist activist and writer, Audre Lorde as a legitimate political emotion which, when focused with precision, can become a powerful vehicle for progress and change, rage is channeled in THEM as both vehicle and fuel for positive change.[1]

Although created by a Hip Hop Theatre company, THEM is a educational platform consisting of written, audio and visual content, shared with the aim of igniting necessary conversation to address the themes of consent and victim blaming when it comes to sexual violence.

According to the ONS, one in four women in the UK experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime – a number which equates to roughly 850,000 women a year, and also a number that is thought to be greatly underreported.[2] As discussed in Episode 2 of the Body Politic podcast series, hosted by Isaura Barbé-Brown, a lack of safe spaces is one of the greatest barriers to people – particularly young girls and women – disclosing their experienced traumas. Given that roughly only about 15% of sexual violence cases are reported, THEM provides a crucial, lifesaving safe space, where existing services appear to fall short.

 Male-dominated power structures, underfunding, victim blaming, adultification, and a lack of experienced autonomy have all been cited as barriers to disclosure for survivors of sexual violence against women.[3] Through working in partnership with organisations such as: Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC) and Oxfordshire MIND, Milk Honey Bees, and Our Naked Truths, THEM aims to grow as an survivor-focused support network, allowing free access, expression and assistance to those that need it.

Tying all of these together is the theatre production which will tour the UK from Spring 2022. Centred around the reclamation of identity, THEM tells the stories of three women navigating mental health, well-being, and loss of self through the creative cultural element of Hip Hop that is theatre.

Hip Hop Theatre, described by originator, Jonzi D, as using the artistic disciplines of Hip Hop to create theatrical devices,[4] is widely renowned as a freer form of expression than other non Hip Hop modes of creative production.


[1] The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism by Audre Lorde
[2] Office for National Statistics (2019) Domestic abuse in England and Wales overview: November 2019
[3] Body Politic Podcast Episode 2
[4] Interview: Breakin’ Convention With Jonzi D! by Valerie Ebuwa. April 2017.

So, what exactly is Hip Hop?

Hip Hop

Born in the 1970s, Hip Hop – a term coined by Lovebug Starski – originated in the Bronx neighbourhood of New York, through social, cultural, and political collaborations between soul music, reggae, disco, blues, and funk. From the concrete of apartheid and oppression, grew the rise of artistic expression of the street youth.

Hip Hop has been defined as:

‘The cognitive, creative and emotive expression of Western youth of African descent who attempt to find success and meaning within the social realities of their lives that are characterised by poverty, racism and urban decay’.[1]

  • Anthony Thomas, founder and CEO, Hip Hop Generation

 Jonzi D likens Hip Hop to a gas:

‘Whatever space or structure exists, Hip Hop can find a way of making sense within that’.[2]

  • Jonzi D, originator, Hip Hop Theatre.

However we choose to define it, Hip Hop has expanded over time beyond its five founding pillars[3], to include creative elements of the culture such as film, music production, fashion, and a significant group that relates to it purely as an identity.[4] Originally informed by pre-existing creative, cultural, and political elements, due to community being at the core of its identity, Hip Hop is now as much a shaper of society, as it was once shaped by it.


[1] The spirit and philosophy of Hip Hop by Anthony Thomas. The New Statesman. September 2007.
[2] Interview: Breakin’ Convention With Jonzi D! by Valerie Ebuwa. April 2017.
[3] The five pillars are: deejaying, or “turntabling”; rapping, also known as “MCing” or “rhyming”; graffiti painting, also known as “graf” or “writing”; and “B-boying,” A fifth element, “knowledge of self/consciousness,” is sometimes added [].
[4] The spirit and philosophy of Hip Hop by Anthony Thomas. The New Statesman. September 2007.

‘Wherever there is Hip Hop there is community. It influences everybody’

L’atisse Rhoden, choreographer, THEM

Born of the coming together of communities, Hip Hop itself has given birth to hundreds of diverse organisations around the world that now extend its function and reach well beyond music.

Zulu Nation, formed and formerly led by Hip Hop artist and DJing pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, was the first of these organisations to go international. Their main aim and success, beyond Hip Hop awareness, was to minimise gang presence on the streets of New York.

In the UK and elsewhere, organisations such as Body Politic and Zoonation – founded by Artistic Director, Kate Prince  – are now, through a variety of mediums, extending Zulu Nation’s aims and impact.

Body Politic

As social beings, the collective power that arises from being in communion with others – through Hip Hop organisations, for example – can be referred to as a community’s body politic.[1] Underpinning this concept is a universal understanding of a body being made up of individually functioning organs, working towards a common, lifegiving aim.

Founded in Oxford in 2012 by Artistic Director, Emma-Jane Greig, Body Politic is the Hip Hop Theatre company behind THEM. It is an independent, female-led, non-profit organisation working with artists from primarily diverse communities to create issue-based productions and outreach activities to actively address the imbalance in representation of artists of Black and Asian origin in Hip Hop Theatre as an art form.

Women in Hip Hop

Despite Hip Hop’s recognition as an artform to gain equality and freedom of oppressed communities, given the capitalist frameworks that uphold much of the commercial music industry, problems within Hip Hop reflect those of the wider world.

Since its inception, Hip Hop’s reach has extended beyond the experiences of geographically discrete communities on America’s coasts, to reflect western society’s wider hierarchy of visibility and inclusion, where women are often seen as and made to be socioeconomically disadvantaged. Akeia A. F. Benard, author of Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism: Feminist and Human Rights Perspectives, notes that ‘the dynamics underlying the fundamental gendered/raced/sexual relationships that were created under colonialism exist in the same form in global patriarchal capitalism and pop culture, including mainstream music’.[2]

In Hip Hop, women have often been regarded as a monolith, with sexual discrimination and  ‘best female rapper’ arguments often leaving little room to appreciate distinct identities. Having already discussed how central identity is to mental health and well-being, we see how an imposed loss of identity – be it in Hip Hop or in the world at large can be life-threatening not only to the identity and power of feminine individuals but also to the feminine body politic.

A response to this problem was the weaving of politics into Hip Hop and Hip Hop culture in Britain. With this came a wave of women – Ms. Dynamite, Stush, Shystie, Nolay, The Floacist Envy, C-Mone, Lady Paradox, and Pariz 1, to name but a few – who were all engaged in heavy conversation.

 With skillful rhythm and wordplay, these women used a dialogue-based approach to tell their stories, using one of the widest-reaching musical genres to battle widely imposed norms, and speak their minds and hearts in the process.

 In 2003, The Times described British Hip Hop’s broad-ranging approach:

‘UK rap is a broad sonic church, encompassing anything made in Britain by musicians informed or inspired by Hip Hop’s possibilities, whose music is a response to the same stimuli that gave birth to rap in New York in the mid-Seventies’.[3]

 A seat at the table, however – as cautioned by Nottingham-hailing Pariz 1 – has proven to not be enough for women in Hip Hop in the UK and elsewhere. Women often struggle to be heard in Hip Hop. Simply put by choreographer, L’atisse Rhoden: ‘We are tired of having these conversations’.


THEM aims to question and explore the impact societal-defined generalisations have on our mental wellbeing.[4] Societal-defined generalisations – also known as stereotypes – ‘not only impact how information is encoded and interpreted about members of a categorized (sic) group (such as women or people of color (sic)) but also how behavior (sic), both of the perceiver and stereotyped individual, is influenced’.[5]

Research shows that stereotypes based on race and gender affect people’s diagnosis, treatment, and therapeutic outcomes.[6] Despite the increased health risks faced by Black women and non-binary women in particular, with Black people seen as ‘poor candidates for therapy’, less assistance is generally sought out and/or provided.[7] As one of Hip Hop’s foundational pillars, Hip Hop dance is widely seen as a vessel for expression of feeling in the Hip Hop community, so where conventional therapy methods are lacking, Hip Hop could well provide.[8]

On display in THEM are the internal battles of three women, expressed intuitively and non-verbally, through dance. Certain movements, such as breakdancing and popping, communicate beautifully, through a multitude of shapes, the fraught stream of consciousness of our body politic.

In THEM, choreography and improvisation work in tandem to give sight and shape to women’s adaptive movements within a society described by singer Beyoncé via Brittney Cooper, author of  Eloquent Rage as being ‘ran by the men, but the women keep the tempo’.[9] In her book, Cooper highlights that the very need for rage-led catharsis comes from the frustration of social movements and patterns that ‘often play out through the bodies of women, individually and collectively’.[10] And by definition, the word THEM can refer to the individual or the collective; the person or the (body) politic.


1: a group of persons politically organized under a single governmental authority
2 archaic : CORPORATION
3: a people considered as a collective unit
[2] Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism: Feminist and Human Rights Perspectives by Akeia A. F. Benard
[4] THEM tour pack.
[5] Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel: Historical images of Black women and their implications for psychotherapy by Carolyn M. West.
[6] Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel: Historical images of Black women and their implications for psychotherapy by Carolyn M. West.
[7] Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel: Historical images of Black women and their implications for psychotherapy by Carolyn M. West.
[9]  Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper.
[10] Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper

Definition: Them

Through dance, THEM provides a vehicle for the cognitive, creative and emotive expression of the effects of the oppressive themes of misogyny, sexual violence, consent, and mental health. Held individually and collectively to binaries created and upheld to support patriarchy and capitalism, a number of body politics – speaking particularly here of the feminine – have constantly had to adapt in order to achieve self-expression i.e. to speak and be heard.

 Dance Movement Therapy: The power of self-expression

When speaking of reclaiming the subjectivity of the Black female body, concept-based performance artist, Lorraine O’Grady famously refers to self-expression as ‘a stage that [cannot] be bypassed. It is a discrete moment that must precede or occur simultaneously with the deconstructive act.’ [1] Arguably, self-expression is the deconstructive act; deconstructing the forms and identities imposed on many who experience sexual violence and abuse, revealing their valued identies beneath.

In Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s personal essay, I Choose Elena, she shares with us the definition of trauma as ‘a physical or mental hit that requires structural repair’.[2] Through the cathartic power of storytelling, we witness her use self-expression, beyond its power to affirm, as her vehicle for this repair.

Many around the world see Hip Hop dance as therapeutic and transformative. For example, dancer and Hip Hop writer, Valerie Ebuwa sees krumping now as ‘a very narrative-based, movement version of a stream of consciousness’. The energetically similar popping is another dance that has been used to propel stories. One UK-based organisation that focuses on transforming symptoms into superpowers and using movement to create a movement, is Popping for Parkinson’s, founded by Simone Sistarelli. This organisation focuses on the link between the rapid tensing and releasing of muscles in popping and the effects of this on physiological and mental health states.

As a form of therapy, the American Dance Therapy Association defines dance (movement therapy) as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual.[3] As a tool to break seemingly fixed patterns and representations, dance helps the body politic to expand and take form through self-awareness and expression.

If we look at dance as a form of feminist expression, particularly for Black women and non-binary women, taking up space is an act of resistance in a world designed to minimise our ability to do so.[4] By doing so through dance, women are empowered to ‘[get] rid of… identity figures, [create] new subjective diagrams’, as well as energetically allow the body ‘when dancing, [to experience] new contours, couplings, energy flows, and contagions’.[5]

As described by gender consultant, Jocelyn Yeboah-Newton on the Body Politic podcast,  existing contours, couplings, energy flows common to those who experience trauma often manifest through armouring, whereby the body deals with the inability to disclose trauma by suppressing it energetically, leading to mental and physical illness. It is the reversal of armouring – de-armouring – that Jocelyn specialises in through her studies of body psychotherapy and bodily expression as healing tools.

Ultimately, as the THEM choreographer explains, communicating the trials and tribulations experienced by women is a journey filled with echoes of emotional and physical exhaustion: ‘This subject alone [of violence against women] is something we don’t want to talk about… they are conversations we don’t want to be a part of, yet here we are trying to make changes’. [6] And as such, the promotion of a safe space to channel these echoes is vital, with the production having undergone in depth cycles of research and development in order to address the issues of misogyny, consent and sexual violence with the necessary nuance and intention.

Movement Language

Given that it is a huge tool for non-verbal communication, dance and certain movements within it can be described by the term movement language. As with spoken language, movement languages differ based on locality, which is especially the case with the movements that fall under the category of Hip Hop dance. Now described as a fusion genre, Hip Hop dance began with Breaking in the ‘80s. This dance form was born in the Bronx neighbourhood of New York, where dancers referred to themselves as ‘B-boys’. However, something not widely known is that the B in ‘B-boy’ stands for Bronx, which poses somewhat of a representational dilemma for ‘B-boys’ beyond Bronx borders geographically and identity borders at large.

However, as with Hip Hop in general, Hip Hop dance is no longer ruled in or out by locality. Its umbrella has now widened to include elements of popping, locking, breaking, jazz, ballet, and tap dancing, as well as krumping, which was originally popularised in South L.A.[7] It is clear to see that with new geographies and identities comes new movement languages that can help us move beyond old school definitions which fail to communicate the current landscape of Hip Hop dance.

Critical Choreography and Composing

Key players in this move towards redefinition are dancers themselves.

Conscientisation – the process of gaining individual and collective consciousness through doing – is seen as a building block of community cultural development where, by identifying contradictions in our experiences through dialogue, we become part of the process of changing the world.’ [8]

In THEM, the choreographer is both a key facilitator and participant in this process of conscientisation. Through dance, THEM sets the stage for women to engage in dialogue to change the discourse surrounding our existence.

In order to do this, the artists, together with artistic director Emma-Jane Greig, focus on maintaining safety within the studio, implementing systems such as safewords and breaks to empower and protect both dancers and facilitators. Keen to explore and communicate what trauma feels like for other people in a movement context, one particular choreography exercise the team engaged in was to embody each of the five stages of grief. The dancers’ exploration of feelings not just within themselves, but also in others, formed their consequent individual movement journeys to a new collective destination; one of compassion and acceptance.[9]

According to one of the dancers, given that there were some things they hadn’t themselves gone through, exploring the sense of the body being home provided a glimpse of the feelings the audience will also undoubtedly experience when faced with experiences that they may not be familiar with. The team’s careful and collective navigation of personal limitations such as these highlights the journeys we can all go on in the process of platforming stories that may not be our own in order to keep vital conversations going.

With the overarching aim of encouraging expression, the musical score for THEM, composed by Charlotte Bickley, purposefully strays from conventional music structures in order to avoid dictating any emotion or movement to the dancers.

To this aim, the main tool in her armory is broken beat – a format that lends itself well to adaptation and improvisation. In addition, one could say that it mirrors the staccato nature of many of the unpredictable circumstances surrounding the lived trauma of young girls and women, and the unpredictable beat of life itself.


With the production as a springboard, the platform THEM aims to open up space for stories untold, unseen or simply unheard of the lived experiences of women’s bodies and body politics. Given that convention has historically failed many survivors of sexual violence, the very existence of THEM as a multimodal platform and resource will go a long way to help meet the need for safe spaces for women to speak and be heard.



[1] Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity by Lorraine O’Grady.
[2] I Choose Elena by Lucia Osborne-Crowley. Allen & Unwin 2019.
[3] Chapter 5: Dance/Movement as a Holistic Treatment: Using Creative, Imaginal and Embodied Expression in Healing, Growth and Therapy by Ilene A. Serlin and J. Ryan Kennedy (2020).
[4] Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi.
[5] Experiments on dance and mental health by Liberato & Dimenstein (2009).
[6] THEM Research & Development video.
[7] Hop_dance
[8] Creative Communication by The Wayback Machine. New Village Press 2014.
[9] THEM Research & Development video.

THEM aims to open up space for stories untold, unseen or simply unheard of the lived experiences of women’s bodies and body politics.

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