Atlanta native Anthony Davis has always had a love for dance. From a young child, the passion was in him, prompting him to take dance classes.
Davis is the central focus of the new documentary “When the Beat Drops,” opening at Out On Film’s 31st annual film festival Sept. 27. The film charts the history of the underground dance form known as bucking and Davis’ involvement in it. It’s directed by noted choreographer Jamal Sims, who is about to move to the area himself, where his husband lives.
Although Davis doesn’t have an exact date when bucking began, it had origins at Jackson State University, where girls on cheerleading squads would dance a form of dance later called bucking. “It derives from a horse — the prancing, the thrusting, the marching, all with the grace of a horse,” he says. “They would mimic that. Guys who went to school with these girls wanted to do what the girls were doing but were not allowed on the teams. So they went to the clubs and began mimicking what they saw. It had been happening in the clubs for years but there were not teams. People came together and stated doing routines.” Competitions grew from there, most in the South.
At the time he was at Morris Brown College, in the school’s band, and became enamored of the dance form. “Having a love of dance and liking what they were doing took me to the level,” he says. “From there it stuck with me. At the time, though, people did not know what it was. Voguing had just got to the South and now you had this.”
The dancers who perform, however, have to be somewhat discreet. “A job can let you go because you are not a perfect fit,” Davis says. “You know how Georgia can be. It can be fickle and they don’t have to have a reason to let you go. They can say ‘We’ve seen some pictures’ and you have no leg to fight them on. That is fear in a lot of people of that in the South.”
Davis’ own dancing career got a jolt in June 2002 when he was shot at Kroger late one night by an assailant who tried to get Davis’ car keys. Davis drove himself to the hospital and surgeons couldn’t remove the bullet because it had broken into fragments. He credits his faith with getting him through a long rehab. He was very depressed and it took friends and family to get him through the ordeal. He can dance to a certain extent now but not at the same level.
He is content now to be a mentor and head up his own team full of young dancers. Yet he has firm rules for them. “I let them know you have to be working or in school or both,” he says. “This is extracurricular. Your livelihood comes first. How are you going to do this if you don’t have an education to fall back on? Those are things I try to instill in the kids on my team.”
There used to be one team per city, but several teams now exist the Atlanta area. Davis’ new team will make their debut at a competition over MLK Weekend 2019.
Five years ago, Davis heard that a director was interested in meeting with him to talk about doing a film. He had already been approached by other networks and felt that if this story was going to be told, the natural origins needed to be included and the film couldn’t make a mockery of it or make the dancers look foolish. “We met with Jamal and I originally though no,” Davis says. “Other people who wanted to do it, they wanted the drama but not the real life stories of who we are. We are not just guys in tights running around without a life in clubs every night. That is not who we are. We are well-educated people with ideas of who we are and who we wanted to be. Jamal mentioned he was a dancer and he was kind of like us. He might not want to tell everyone he was gay because he might not get a job. That was what a lot of us were going through. He got a rough draft of what he was trying to do and we got aboard.”
Having the film come home is special, especially because a majority of the film was shot in Atlanta. “It is a place I grew up,” says Davis. “A lot of people have made Atlanta home. It is a hub where bucking has become really popular. To have people see it here means so much.”