Shamell Bell

Major and Classification

American Studies & Ethnicity

Faculty Mentors

  • Lanita Jacobs-Huey, Ph.D.
  • Robin Kelley, Ph.D.
  • Shana Redmond, Ph.D.


  • Anthropology, American Studies & Ethnicity, History

McNair Project

The Jerk ‘Movement’: Aesthetics and Identity in an Emergent Youth Dance Form

This project explores, Jerkin’, a street dance form that has grown from modest beginnings by inner city Black youth in Los Angeles, California, to an international cultural phenomenon. I will argue that inner-city youth use Jerkin’ as a tool to not only perfect their craft, but as a way to contest and mobilize against the negative forces in their community such as gangs and the dominating perceptions of hip-hop style and black masculinity. The theoretical framework of this project borrows from George Lipsitz’s theorization of the Gramscian concept of organic intellectuals and exemplifies a term I refer to as corporeal education . Jerks use new media platforms such as YouTube to connect youth in their community and across the world, transforming “blighted” urban spaces with few options for recreation, into dance arenas and podiums for social commentary. Through a yearlong ethnographic fieldwork study composed of direct immersion in the Jerkin’ community, this research provides critical insight into a phenomenon that may be otherwise overlooked. My project poses these questions: How do Jerks use style and fashion to differentiate themselves from other forms of dance such as Break Dancing? In what ways do Jerks articulate their organic intellectual analysis? What lessons can be drawn from their formation of Jerk crews and the battle circle? In addition, this research reveals how Black Youth respond to their environment in culturally specific ways and, therefore, provides an important contribution to existing scholarship on Black Studies and Culture Studies.