In 2014, husband/wife Jake and Bao Riley opened House of Dance Twin Cities, Minnesota’s first dance studio to specialize in Hip Hop and street styles.
The past seven years, the Riley’s have worked to make Hip Hop accessible to a diverse youth audience. They’re also trying to make their space community-oriented, a place, says Jake, “that creates a bridge between current practitioners and the younger generation.” A place, adds Bao, “That’s a family.”
Through House of Dance Twin Cities, the Riley’s are also challenging misconceptions and stereotypes around Hip Hop, elevating it as a legitimate art form and a year-round sport.
Since COVID, the Riley’s have approached the pandemic through this same activist lens. They’re particularly focused on promoting COVID vaccination.
Bao RileyWe’d been having conversations with local dancers and they were saying, ‘I’m young and I’m black and I’m waiting for someone to tell me that the vaccination is OK.'
Throughout the pandemic, “We’d been having conversations with local dancers and they were saying, ‘I’m young and I’m black and I’m waiting for someone to tell me that the vaccination is OK,’” says Bao.
These conversations were what spurred the Riley’s into action, making them realize the importance, when it comes to COVID vaccination, of improving accessibility, creating safe community-oriented spaces, and challenging misconceptions and stereotypes – the same tenets upon which they’ve built House of Dance Twin Cities.
“Maybe youth don’t have enough people in their community that are sharing the information with them, or the resources to reach out to a health care worker who can answer the questions they have,” Bao says.
“Having someone who looks like them, who says, ‘Hey, I got it and I’m good' is a big deal,” adds Jake. “Representation and trust are huge.”
This summer, the Riley’s applied for a Hennepin County community vaccination stipend. The stipends give local organizations up to $3,000 to promote COVID vaccination.
Through the stipend, and further partnership with City of Bloomington and Black Nurses Rock, they’re hosting a community vaccination event outside their Edina studio on Saturday, August 21 from noon to 5 p.m.
The free event will offer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (from 1-5 p.m.) for people 12 and older. It’s a great opportunity to get fully vaccinated before the school year, and people who get vaccinated will receive a $50 Visa gift from Hennepin County.
Participants can walk-in or register at hennepin.us/vaccineregistration.
“Anyone who has not gotten the vaccine at this point is likely hesitant or they don’t want it,” says Bao. For people who are hesitant, she notes that medical staff will be on hand to share information and answer questions.
Participants will also be able to watch live Hip Hop dancing, see the studio, meet instructors, eat from a food truck, and listen to a live DJ.
“I want it to be a fun time and a relaxed environment,” says Bao.
“Beyond this weekend, we’re still dedicated to getting the word out around vaccination,” says Jake. “Dance and music bring people together and create bonds and trust and friendship. I think that’s what we need in society now more than ever. This is not a one and done for us.”