by Samara Atkins
Tip 1: When you’re building up choreographic phrases, repetition is key to students’ understanding of the sequencing. Repeating a section several times, breaking down the more difficult moves as you go, helps students remember what you’re teaching.
Tip 2: Playing with tempo changes is also helpful once you’ve taught the entire phrase.
by Samara Atkins
Tip 1: Dance can be especially helpful in processing emotions.
Tip 2: Encourage your dancers to use hip-hop movement to reflect their feelings—and to create rebellious and revolutionary art.Read More
by Samara Atkins
Make sure your students have the kick ball change (also called kick cross step) in their hip-hop vocabularies. This move is fundamentally about shifting the weight.
Once your students have the feel of the kick ball change, add a little variation to give the move more power and style.
by Samara Atkins
The crisscross is an essential element of the hip-hop vocabulary. Funky and stylish, it’s a great move to be able to pull out, whether in choreography, freestyle, or battles.
When students have the foot patterns down, have them add a body roll in reverse (rolling upward from knees to head).
Teaching musicality can be harder than teaching moves. An especially difficult skill is “sitting in the pocket,” stretching a move to fill the space (or pocket) between counts. Mastering this skill (also called “finding the groove” or “riding out the beat”) is important to hip-hop’s style, flow, and execution.
To help students learn this skill, vary your intonation when counting, drawn out where students should sit in the pocket and sharp where they should end it: “Ooone, twooo. . . ” or “Ooone, two! Threee, four!”
Spins or turns are great “punctuation” elements to introduce into students’ vocabularies. Spins can accent a specific beat or the end of a phrase, and they look cool, whether in choreography or freestyle. There are many turns you can teach to add dynamic motion to students’ dancing.
Pencil turns are another good accent. Begin with feet shoulder-width apart, arms loosely at the sides. Bend the knees, jump the feet together and wrap the arms tightly around the torso to create momentum, and spin the body 360 degrees in either direction. Spin up on both toes, keeping weight distributed between the feet. Tell students to look as narrow as possible, as if squeezing into a tight space.
Freestyling (improvising) has been around since long before hip-hop began, making dance come alive on street corners and at parties. In recent years freestyling has become increasingly important in the hip-hop world—it’s a major component of the urban street dance movement—mostly because it encourages so much spontaneous creativity. New freestyle moves come out of experimenting or trial and error; trending moves, like the Dougie or the dab, are often born from someone’s take on a preexisting move. The basic concept is doing whatever comes to mind while listening to a song and letting your movement be completely free.
Impromptu and improvised, freestyling gives dancers creative control over their bodies—and that can make students nervous. Framing freestyling as an activity or task can help them feel more comfortable exploring their own movement. For example, ask students to freestyle for 16 counts at certain points within set choreography, perhaps during the intro or at the end, and either individually or all together.
Tip 1 I’ve previously described the dive (“Two Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers: Drop-Freeze and Dolphin Dive,” March-April 2015), a house dance move. Here’s a basic version for beginners.
Tip 2 To teach the dodger, another house dance move, have students stand with the torso and weight shifted toward the left, left knee slightly bent. The right foot is on the ball, slightly behind the left; the right shoulder is angled forward. In this move, the shoulders always move in opposition to the working leg.Read More
An explosive quality (driven by the energy of the music) is inherent to hip-hop. The ability to execute explosive movements—sudden, decisive, and fast—makes a dancer stand out onstage.
Encourage students to dance with each other in public as well as in class. While the studio is a great starting point, hip-hop dance is an art form that can be fully realized only when danced as a community, in a social setting.
The back spin is a good introduction to understanding and controlling centripetal force. It’s often done from a footwork position, but to teach it, start on the floor.
The sweep is a great foundational move for beginner b-boys/b-girls. Begin in a squat, right leg out straight to the diagonal, left hand on the floor for stability. Sweeping the right leg across the front to the left, shift weight to the right hand. Hopping off the floor with the bent left leg, sweep the right leg underneath. Sweeping the right leg behind the body, shift weight back to the left hand and leg. Tell students to keep the sweeping leg straight as long as possible, and to push strongly off the floor so the straight leg can skip cleanly under the bent leg with no trip-ups. Repeat on the left. For a continuous sweep, keep the same leg traveling around the body.
Individuality is essential in hip-hop. While students need to know how to pick up and execute other people’s choreography, they also need strategies for generating their own movement. Try these exercises to get students’ brains working and creativity flowing. Allot plenty of time, and end with performances and a critique session. As they work, students may find it helpful to jot down steps in a notebook.
Choreograph by “cutting and pasting”: students generate short sequences, then identify beginning, middle, and end sections. They cut apart and rearrange these sections—for example, moving the end to the beginning or the middle to the end.
The wave starts from the fingertips of one hand and travels across arms and shoulders to end in the fingertips of the other. Have students start in a T position—arms out and level with the floor. Tell them to keep a mental image of this position; it will help them hold a clear shape that shows off the wave’s progress.
Students need to learn when and how to create accents—to “stop on a dime” or “hit” a move’s maximum energy—to perform successfully. Usually, accents match sounds in the music, and both dance and music move fast. But that doesn’t mean hip-hop choreography must be taught at fast tempos. Students need to connect to movement and music at a slower pace first, to maintain technique, fine-tune details, discover nuances, and learn to sharpen moves by accenting the music.
If students tend to focus internally or stay in one spot while freestyling, or if choreography isn’t moving around the room as planned, turning basic geometric shapes into pathways can help. This exercise encourages students to focus outward and frees their bodies to travel.
Students can feel overwhelmed when asked to improvise. Focusing on dance fundamentals, basic aspects of movement shared by all dance forms, can help.
Many of the hip-hop steps we teach come out of popular dances. The camel walk and Patty Duke, for example, are based on 1970s dances that influenced the social aspect of hip-hop’s development. Since these steps started as party dances, have students face each other and interact to get into the right spirit.
There are a few versions of the Patty Duke; here’s one. Stand on two feet, shoulder-width apart, and start the groove, a body rock going backward. Bring one foot forward, leaving the weight on the back foot, to tap the floor on the accented beat. Return to two feet and rock, then tap with the other foot. Repeat.
The box step is a basic step in many styles. In hip-hop, it was popular with early b-boys/b-girls and lofters.
Most hip-hop dance is done inside a cypher. Dancers address the people around them with their movements, dance together, or dance at each other in battle. Make sure your students think about dancing in 360 degrees. If they always face forward in the studio, their dancing will stay too flat.Read More
We typically think about dancing for exercise, but what about exercising for dance? Hip-hop requires strength and stamina, but dancers who start off in the street (like me) may have no prior physical training. Some students struggle to keep up in class because they lack conditioning, not rhythm or ability to pick up steps.
The knee drop is a common but impressive transition to the floor. (Jerkers call it a pin drop.)Read More
Hands play a major role in hip-hop dance and can say a lot about a dancer, displaying personality and performance style, showing confidence, and telling a story.
To teach the backslide, have students start with their weight on the left leg. The right knee is bent with the heel raised and the ball of the foot planted.Read More
Freezes (also called pauses or poses) are the moments in breaking when the dancer stops all movement—as if frozen in time. Freezes can happen at any point and must be held with confidence.
The use of levels—high, middle, and low—is one of the fundamental elements of dance.Read More
1) To teach basic top rock, start with the two-step. A two-step can happen on either foot and move in any direction. 2) Use the mental images conjured up by dance and step names, such as popping and locking, to help your students feel the hip-hop aesthetic in their bodies.Read More
An important concept in hip-hop is “keeping the groove.” The groove is the constant pulsing movement of the body, which corresponds to the feel of the music.Read More
More and more people are hip-hop dancing today, so be in the know and teach your students the history behind the movement and its terminology.Read More
Before doing any hip-hop moves with students, work on their stance, which embodies hip-hop’s attitude and style. Compared to jazz and ballet, the body is looser and more relaxed, with rounded shoulders, soft knees, and feet in parallel. I tell kids to place a finger on the belly button, then contract like a deflating balloon. (Making deflating sound effects helps!) Emphasize imagining their strength and energy being pushed into the ground—I use the image of feeling your feet sink into wet sand.Read More
Shows can be more fun if the audience gets involved in the action. So how about holding a hip-hop battle at your next recital? The fun starts with a great emcee to keep the audience engaged and motivated. When there’s a break for a costume change, have the emcee ask for two volunteers from the audience to take part in a hip-hop dance contest onstage. The emcee should have one or two simple steps prepared to show the participants, such as the Dougie or the Nae Nae (see below); or simply have them freestyle.Read More
Partner work in hip-hop can be utilized in many creative ways. Partnering can be done so that the two dancers never come in contact with one another. One way is shadowing, where one partner dances closely behind the other. Isolations, sharp movements, waves, and tuts that are matched by both dancers are simple and effective forms of partner work.Read More
One of the biggest challenges I face, especially with younger kids, is helping dancers maintain proper spacing during class and in their routines. Many kids have a tendency to lose track of spacing and end up dancing on top of each other. Using colored rubber dots on the floor helps tremendously. The dots assist me in many basic hip-hop steps.Read More
For the last week of classes before holiday break, I recommend letting the kids come to class in hip-hop holiday-themed clothing. We have three rooms of classes running per hour, and each class learns a short holiday hip-hop routine. Make the steps easy and repetitive—for example, slides and freestyle poses—so the students don’t stress about remembering. Most of all, make the steps funky and fun.Read More
Here’s how to teach a cross-touch with a two-point turn: starting on the right foot, have students cross the right foot over the left on 1 and step out on the left on 2. The left foot crosses over on 3, stepping out on the right on 4; repeat the right foot crossover on 5, stepping out on the left on 6.Read More
In attempting to breakdance, many young dancers recklessly throw their bodies around; going to the floor for a freeze, they put all the support and stress of the move on their necks.Read More
For the basic tut, start with both arms straight out to your sides in a flat second position at shoulder height, straight wrists, palms facing down, fingers together. Bend the arms up at the elbow and down at the wrists into 90-degree angles. Return to straight arms, then reverse the tut by bending the arms down at the elbow and up at the wrists. Palms always remain facing the floor. Return and repeat, shooting for perfect 90-degree angles at the shoulders, elbows, and wrists.Read More
For the rock, dancers stand slightly hunched over, relaxed and with feet together. On the 1, they bop the head backward (not forward as they’re often inclined to do) and continue bopping back to front with the beat.Read More
Getting young dancers to understand popping is a big challenge. Here is a way to get the movement into their bodies.Read More
Sometimes hip-hop steps are right, but how they’re being done is wrong. If the foundations (such as popping and locking) and technique (such as isolations and contractions) are lacking, the steps will never look right or funky. Students need to connect with the music and translate it through movement.Read More
Dancers must have endurance to keep movement looking strong, clean, and sharp from the beginning to the end, especially important in hip-hop battles. To improve dancers’ stamina, incorporate hip-hop movement into aerobic interval training, and keep the dancers moving for at least an entire song, repeating simple steps. Remember to work levels too.Read More
There are many kinds of drops: the sweep, coin, and thread drops, and more. One of the simplest is the knee drop, which gives the illusion of collapsing one leg with a kick.Read More
As hip-hop is evolving, I see more urban styles that convey emotion. Lyrical hip-hop, which combines the nuances of lyrical dance with the vocabulary and foundational movements of hip-hop, is more interpretive than standard hip-hop. There are still isolations, gliding, smooth movement, and waves, but they are more fluid and less hard-hitting. And, as in lyrical dance, emphasis is placed on storytelling and conveying emotion. But stay true to the foundations of hip-hop or else call it lyrical.Read More
Clean, strong arms are imperative for me in hip-hop routines. Some dancers lack the technical training to understand correct arm placement. Try this: line the dancers up with their backs against the walls or mirrors, both arms against the wall at shoulder level and bent at a 90-degree angle. (You can also use elements and poses from your choreography that apply.) The goal is to increase muscle memory so they can nail the pose without the wall there. The wall helps with placement, preventing the dancers from having wild arms and moving beyond the pose.Read More
Clothing that complements the hip-hop style and makes students feel comfortable is important; if they don’t feel comfortable, they won’t dance to their full potential. Loose-fitting clothes and materials that move well against the skin accentuate many styles of hip-hop. Popping always looks better in sweatpants or a polyester warm-up suit. Many boogaloo-style poppers wear dress slacks instead of jeans because the slacks move well with popping leg movements. Long sleeves add flow to popping and waving.Read More
To teach what looks like a knee slide, have students crouch with feet shoulder-width apart and put the left hand on the floor. They push off, transferring the weight to the left arm as they slide on the side of the left calf around the supporting arm. As the slide begins, the torso remains lifted and away from the supporting arm. The right leg remains parallel to the left, held off the floor in somewhat of a side attitude, foot flexed.Read More
There are many variations on this simple and fun hip-hop move. As you step with the right foot, pop the shoulders up-down (count 1&) and repeat while stepping on the left foot (2&), continuing through 8 counts. Then have the dancers reverse the shoulder movement (pop down-up) as they step, and try it stepping backward as well. Now step it up by alternating shoulders right-left (1&2&3&, etc.) while stepping right-left on 1-2-3, etc.Read More
Squeeze Play: A common error when learning to pop is jerking the body. A pop is not a contraction—the movement of a pop is much smaller, quicker, and tighter.Read More
Sometimes counts alone are not enough when it comes to finding musicality in a routine. Hip-hop routines are usually beat-heavy and accented, less fluid than lyrical or contemporary.Read More
Transitions, staging, and visuals will enhance your choreography in a big way. Don’t be afraid to get beginner dancers transitioning and moving in their routines instead of standing in one spot for an entire song.Read More
2 Tips: Be visual and a creative and visual routine starts with creative ideas, a concept first and then the music.Read More
Homework! Understand the history and the styles. Studying old films is a great way to pick up moves and understand where they came from. Wild Style, a movie about hip-hop pioneers, is a must. Beat Street motivated me to breakdance and battle. Breakin’ is more of a commercial film but has some great popping—Turbo and Ozone rocked it out! The Freshest Kids, one of my favorites on hip-hop history, is an essential hip-hop tool.Read More
Tell your students not to wait for the 5-6-7-8 to move. I always encourage my students to freestyle or groove to the music before a combination begins.Read More
Take that good posture and throw it away. In hip-hop, the posture is rounded, hunched, and low.Read More
Tutting is creating shapes in choreographed patterns with the hands and arms, much like Egyptian poses seen in artwork. Making clean, 90-degree angles with the upper arms in line with the shoulders is very important in mastering this style.Read More
The funky walk is the first progression in my classes: step forward on the right foot, hands in fists straight down over the foot.Read More