Roots & Branches 9: Trinise “AtLas’” Crowder

In this series, we explore different ways that Next Level’s influence endures, often long after the residencies are over. How do the seeds that we have planted take root and grow?  In previous posts, we have discussed how Next Level has influenced artists’ attitudes towards education, technology, community building, social healing, organization and developing a culturally sensitive approach to professionalism in the arts

This time, we speak with Team Brazil’s Trinise  “AtLas’” Crowder about how her Next Level experience has influenced her educational philosophy and practice. As the founder and creator of Intentional Movement, a project that pairs hip-hop education with health and physical education, AtLas’ has facilitated workshops across the United States as well as in Japan, Korea, Guam, and Italy. She is currently working to blend this vision with her experience as an elementary school teacher to help students pursue personal growth by enhancing their communications skills through hip-hop.  

“Hip-hop is one of those things where, if you’re not communicating effectively, people will forget about you immediately,” she points out. “And as a teacher, we are responsible for teaching kids to read and teaching them to write. So it only makes sense to pair the two, especially when it comes to my classroom. So my new focus is teaching kids how to be a whole person and communicate effectively, using hip-hop as a tool.”

“If you have a feature on a song,” she explains,  “the artist will tell you that you have eight bars, you have twelve bars, maybe even sixteen. So you have a limited amount of time to be able to say your message. It’s the same thing in life: no one’s going to listen to you drone on and on until you get to your point. No. You need to be clear and concise.”

“To be able to look another person in the face and effectively communicate your feelings or your goals or whatever it is - that takes some training.”

And an important part of developing those skills is having a supportive environment for experimentation. For Atlas’, one of the most important aspects of the Next Level experience was that it provided a model for how to create such an environment.

“I think the single most impactful experience that I can pinpoint was when everyone from the cohort came together in DC for the orientation,” she remembers. “And I walked into the room and I felt like the other people that were there deserved that space and I was just humbled to be in their presence. And then I remember specifically, Jaci Caprice, she smiled at me and she came over and she gave me this big hug as if we’d known each other for years. I seriously spent a couple of minutes trying to figure out, ‘Do I know her from somewhere? Did I forget?’”

“But she was just so warm and so embracing. And then D.S. Sense – same thing. Big smile. And then, slowly, we had time to interact and to meet each other. And it made me realize that there were more like-minded teaching artists that really wanted to do this work and enrich the culture, as opposed to what the mainstream has become.”

“But that experience showed me that it was about the art and it was about being authentic.”

 “I think that allowed me to walk into the residency itself from the place of a human -  a woman - who happens to rap. As opposed to a rapper that happens to be a woman. You know what I mean?”

“So I didn’t go to Brazil like, ‘I’m gonna go teach these people what they’ve been missing.’ No, I went in there for an actual exchange. I took some wonderful things away. And they impressed upon me the importance of maintaining those contacts. One of them even reached out to me when he was having his first child! Just from those two weeks of being there. He didn’t owe it to me to reach out for something so personal.”

For Atlas’, that personal connection – and the foundation it can provide for artistic and educational experimentation – is an important tool for empowerment in a world that may not be able to fully appreciate people who don’t fit mainstream expectations.

“When I was home recently, someone I used to work with reached out to me, and he’s like “I need more performers for this show.” And I was interested, but then he was like, “Yeah, I normally charge $50, but I’ll only charge you $25.”

“I was so hungry at one point, that I would have taken that as a compliment, but now I’m insulted by that. And I think that one of the things that helped me – pardon the pun – but “level up,” was the Next Level experience. The Next Level experience taught me that there’s more than just looking for shows.

 “You can be impactful as an artist, and as a teaching artist. And what you have to offer is enough.”

For more information about Atlas’, her music and her workshops, follow these links:


Joe Schloss