Thursday, July 23, 2015

Easy Rider

Photo Courtesy Of Toni Basil 

Toni Basil is in London. She’s the choreographer of Bette Midler’s “Divine Intervention” tour, a show that evolves with every performance. On a day in between her otherwise hectic schedule, we play phone tag. “Our relationship is double-edged. Dinner, shopping then we turn around and it’s work focused,” says Basil about her longtime friend, Bette, and ads, “Her work ethic is wonderful, intensive and different.” And Basil is accustomed to virtuosity having worked with the best of them. She describes David Bowie as another genius, “You have to do homework to face him the next day.”

In the 80’s Toni was a recording artist herself, enjoying a vocation lasting two albums and three Hot 100 charting singles, though the cover of Racey’s “Kitty” retitled “Mickey” is arguably, actually, factually, the most infectious and well-known song of her catalogue. Accordingly is the tricolour Americana cheerleading uniform Basil wore in the video.

Born to a theatrical and musical family in Philadelphia, September 22, 1943, Basil travelled often and occasionally resided in Chicago along with Las Vegas where she saw everything. “Everything” including Frank Sinatra - who she eventually ended up an opening act for with The Lockers, a dance group she formed with Don Campbell in 1971 - take the stage.

Before the 70's, inflections of Basil’s different careers had already started to come together. Also an actress, Toni featured in the film “Easy Rider” (1969) directed by Dennis Hopper who co-wrote the script and starred in the movie with Peter Fonda. “Easy Rider” is an odyssey, and ode to Harley-Davidson, that documents the social landscape of the U.S. in the 1960’s “such as the rise and fall of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle.” Basil’s appearance as a New Orlean’s based prostitute is brief but noteworthy, so is Jackie Boy Nicholson’s as a less than sober small time lawyer. “East Rider” was a critical and box office success leading Basil and Hopper to work together again in “The Last Movie” (1971). Still, despite Basil’s fortunate as an artist of the cinema, Dance remained her consistent courtesan.

Basil, a classically trained dancer, is credited for bringing “the street” to TV although what a segment of the audience saw for the first time on “Soul Train” had been ongoing in the hood or el barrio, for years. Created by Campbell, locking is a style of dance which mainly means freezing from a rapid movement and "locking" in a certain position. Not to be confused with break dancing where the dancer combat and face each other, Cambellocking as it was originally called, is about communicating with the spectator and telling a story. A story, then, predominantly testosterone fueled and racially segregated. “I had no problem being a girl or white. It was always about the quality of my dancing. It’s the sport, show off and battle element which makes it more male. You don’t see women out there fighting with ISIS,” said Basil, before we’re interrupted, and later added “I'll call you in a couple of days or when I get back to L.A.”

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