Sitting in the Pocket
by Samara Atkins
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.
Listen to several songs and point out (or have students call out) various rhythms and musical accents in each. Then, to one song, teach a simple, repetitive phrase. (Try four counts of 8, with a repeating move of at least eight counts.) Demonstrate choosing a rhythm, then stretching the moves to fill the pockets and make the phrase almost continuous. Have students try it.
As students improve, encourage them to sit in the pocket selectively, as an accent, and to end each pocket percussively to accentuate it. For example, for a pocket between counts 1 and 2, stretch the move on 1, and end it with a sharp move on 2.
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!”
Once students are comfortable with the choreography, tell them, “Relax and let go!” Technique should now be secondary to playing with delivery and execution. Great music can help students to move freely, whether in choreography or freestyle, as you remind them to get creative with hitting moves on the beat versus finding spaces between counts.
Finally, explain that sitting in the pocket is an ongoing practice—every song is different. The habit of listening carefully, identifying rhythms, and finding places to ride out the beat will make students’ dancing more stylish, musical, and rhythmically playful.
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.