September 2016 | 2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Spins as Accents

Photo by Briana Gardener

Photo by Briana Gardener

Spins as Accents

By Samara Atkins

Tip 1
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.

One of my favorites is the drag turn. Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend the knees to create momentum, then spin toward the right shoulder on the right foot. Drag the left toe on the ground behind you, using it as a slowing mechanism. To end the turn, step out with the left foot, or jump both feet out to shoulder-width apart. Repeat to the left.

For a more advanced approach, smoother finish, and more stylized look, start the turn with feet closer together.

Tip 2
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.

Two arm variations: bring the arms straight up over the head, one hand grabbing the other hand or wrist for balance; or bring them to a “football field goal” position (fists up, elbows bent upward in 90-degree angles).

A variant on this “jump-together” pencil turn is a “pull-in” pencil turn. To spin to the right, pull in the left leg to meet the right leg in parallel; to spin left, pull in the right leg. To finish with the most punctuation, jump out of the spin and plant both feet in the starting position.


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.