January 2017 | 2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Creative Exercises to Process Emotion

Photo by Briana Gardener

Creative Exercises to Process Emotion

by Samara Atkins

Tip 1
Considering the strong feelings the recent U.S. election generated, I imagine many teachers have wondered how to get through the day or what to cover in class when emotions are running high. I believe dance can be especially helpful in processing emotions, politically related or otherwise. Whether or not we’re aware of it, we process a lot of information through our bodies and store emotions there, both positive and negative. Movement can help us process and release those feelings.

Here’s a creative exercise to help students process emotions. First, give them 10 to 15 minutes to write a paragraph or more about how they are feeling and to sit and reflect on the content. They might write about themselves, their day, or their overall emotional state. Play soothing hip-hop music—an instrumental with a nice groove and bass beat works well—to allow them to get lost in the flow.

Tip 2
Second, put students in groups of four or five. Give them 20 to 25 minutes to come up with a communal piece of at least four eight-counts that embodies in some way what the group’s members wrote. Then have each group perform for the class. Ask the audience to offer one-word feedback (“powerful,” “frustration,” “community”), and have group members respond with one-word descriptions of what they focused on to create their piece (“rebuilding,” “love,” “change”).

Encourage your dancers to use hip-hop movement to reflect their feelings—and to create rebellious and revolutionary art. Underpriviledged communities created hip-hop in the 1970s as a way to be heard and recognized as people who had something valuable to say. Since then, hip-hop has represented many otherwise unheard people. When words just aren’t enough, movement can take over and express our emotions, making us feel seen and heard.


Oakland, California, native Samara Atkins studied journalism and dance at Howard University and co-founded an all-female dance company. She teaches hip-hop at Destiny Arts Center, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and In the Groove Studios.