What’s up in the dance community
❱ Jacob’s Pillow Four-Season Studio
❱ Gift Leads to Doctoral Program in Dance Education
❱ It’s Good to Be the Ballerina Boss
❱ Hip-Hop Arrives at NYPL
What’s up in the dance community
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.
All dance studio owners strive to find excellent teachers to fill their faculty rosters. Yet it is not uncommon for owners to crave more variety for students—to provide a roster of instructors similar to those of professional studios in large markets such as Los Angeles or New York City. At Wildwood Dance & Arts, located in America’s heartland near St. Louis, Missouri, owner Leah Cordiano-Siemens has found a solution to the need to broaden her hip-hop offerings: she typically brings in at least one guest teacher each month. In so doing, she exposes developing dancers to current dance steps and choreography and gives them a taste of the world of professional dance.
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.
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.
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.
Getting young dancers to understand popping is a big challenge. Here is a way to get the movement into their bodies.
As I prepare for a new season of hip-hop classes at my studio, ICON Dance Complex, I always start by thinking about curriculum. It’s important to take several factors into consideration when designing yours: the number of classes, and the age range, experience, and skill levels of your students. You can then design an effective program with choreography tailored to the students.
When you hear someone mention a preschool dance class, you may think of miniature tutus and tiny taps, but there’s a new player in the preschool scene: Hippity Hop. That’s what many studios call their preschool-age hip-hop classes, which bring the energy and coolness factor of hip-hop to the fun and developmental activities of preschool dance. The classes vary from school to school, but what these classes have in common is upbeat fun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The earthy grounding of African dance and the airy grace of ballet are not so far apart, philosophically or physically, at Ballethnic Academy of Dance. Founders Waverly T. Lucas II and Nena Gilreath have built a curriculum that offers both—as well as modern, tap, and hip-hop. But here the focus is as much on building character and developing the whole person as on teaching dance.
A normal week might find Jimmy Locust teaching 20 classes at his studio in Stamford, Connecticut. Or he might be on a plane to Los Angeles or Hawaii to choreograph a music video. Or a camera crew might be following him as he prepares for an upcoming performance with his acclaimed youth performance team, Hip Hop’s Finest. Life keeps the diminutive Locust, who is four feet nine inches tall, on the move.
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.
For 18 years, my studio’s enrollment has remained steady. I have seen students graduate from high school and move on, only to be replaced by little ones now old enough to join Fundamentals of Dance, a class for the youngest dancers. Some students move away while an equal number of dancers change studios and come my way. Yet attracting male students to the school and sustaining their enrollment was like picking apples off a pear tree—until I added hip-hop to the roster.
The quiet midafternoon hum of San Francisco’s ODC Dance Commons’ lobby slowly ratchets up to a low roar as a swarm of young dancers, many of them teens, gathers before dispersing into the classrooms. And like thousands of high-schoolers around the country, many of these dancers face the college admissions process, a challenge—to put it mildly—for any teen. At ODC, a program called Next Steps is there to help.
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.
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.
In this month’s issue we focus on jazz and hip-hop. As we were brainstorming about the content for the jazz section, I found my mind wandering back to the mid-1970s, when as teenagers, my twin brother, Rennie, and I would go with our mom to New York City to take classes from the jazz masters of the time. Many of those classes were with Luigi, who is featured in this issue.
If the San Francisco International Hip Hop Dancefest, now in its 14th year, had a sustaining mantra it would have to be “give ’em love.” It’s with these three small words that producer and artistic director Micaya (single name only) encourages her audiences to thank the artists onstage one more time.
You could call Marcus Alford and Annie Day the duke and duchess of jazz dance. Partners in marriage and in business, both studied with jazz masters and have choreographed, performed, and taught for more than 30 years. Alford performed with jazz legend Gus Giordano for a decade, and Day studied with the likes of Luigi and Phil Black, and then worked as second in command to JoJo Smith, founder of what is now Broadway Dance Center.
When Reia Briggs was growing up, there was no glamour to hip-hop, no big purses or prizes. Winning a circle battle meant bragging rights; losing meant more practice. It was social, and it was fun. As a youngster in Chelsea, a hardscrabble abutter of Boston, Briggs and her friends would make up hip-hop routines in someone’s living room or show off their moves in local talent shows or under-21 clubs.
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.
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.
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.
Take that good posture and throw it away. In hip-hop, the posture is rounded, hunched, and low.
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.
The funky walk is the first progression in my classes: step forward on the right foot, hands in fists straight down over the foot.
Teach your students to listen. Get them to focus on the music, not just counts. Hip-hop music is filled with rhythms, beats, rap, and sound effects that have to be accented with choreography, with style and swag.
Know the craft. Like ballet, tap, and jazz, hip-hop has a foundation. Popping, locking, tutting, waving, isolations, and break dance are all elements and styles within hip-hop.
From the classic Ronco Veg-o-Matic to the newfangled best-selling ShamWow, product designers and developers have one thing in common. They see a need—from turning lights off from your bed to washing your feet in the shower without bending down—that other products in the cluttered marketplace didn’t fulfill.
“Be ICONic!” is hip-hop artist Geo Hubela’s motto. It’s both a positive message for his students and a catchy marketing brand.
Dance studios that offer hip-hop dance alongside classes in ballet, tap, jazz, and modern are everywhere these days. Studios devoted solely to hip-hop are rare, but if you visit the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suburb of Emsworth, you’ll find one: Brenna Jaworski’s Pittsburgh Heat Hip Hop Dance Company.
Dance, for me, has always been about having fun. I dance with San Francisco Ballet, but I didn’t start with ballet. I began with hip-hop when I was very young, at Ewajo, a small dance studio in Seattle.
How to tell popping from locking—and more
battling: informal dance between individuals or crews; usually personal and “in-your-face.” b-boy/b-girl: a practitioner of breaking.
Off of Interstate 5 in the heart of San Diego sits a nondescript three-story building. A dance studio is on the second floor. Set foot inside and you’re hit with vibrantly colored, graffiti-style murals covering the floor, walls, and even benches. Milling around are people of every race, age, and background, coming out of class flushed and glowing. What brings them together? A love of hip-hop dance.
When it comes to hip-hop instruction, Wildwood is old school By Heather Wisner In the beginning, hip-hop was more than just dance: It was a way of life, meshing movement with emceeing, turntabling, and graffiti art. But as veterans of the early days will tell you, today’s dancers don’t know . . .
A warehouse-like building in the suburbs east of Sacramento, California, wouldn’t be most people’s first stop in the quest for primo hip-hop dance classes. Most of the site on Folsom Boulevard is devoted to a family fitness center; the entrance to Studio T Urban Dance Academy is tucked away from the street side. But once inside, you’re in Coach Tee’s world.
I often hear master teachers preaching to students to be well rounded. Once students are old enough and show enough interest, it’s common practice for studio owners to encourage them to broaden their dance studies. Everyone has heard the familiar mantra that all dancers need to take ballet because it provides a foundation for all dance forms. On the flip side, nowadays many teachers consider studying modern dance essential for ballet dancers.
If you want to start a business from scratch, be wary of partnering with someone you have not known for a long time. That’s advice that studio owner Heidie Sharpe heard more than once—from her family, her friends, her business planner, her tax attorney.
The hip-hop movement can be viewed as one of social and cultural integration, as the ascension of a minority group into the mainstream of society. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) recognizes the importance of such integration in “Hip-Hop Project: Insight Into the Hip-Hop Generation,” a collaborative project of its theater and dance departments.
Studio owners may be at a loss as to how to guide their professionally minded students into a dance career—especially one in hip-hop. The answer may well lie in Monsters of Hip-Hop, the first all-hip-hop touring convention. It not only features some of the biggest names in the dance industry but also provides key information and opportunities for aspiring dancers to break into show business.
Do you remember back in the 1980s, when break dancing/hip-hop became popular? Everyone called it the “next disco” and said it would fade away like the hustle. Well, here we are almost 30 years later, and the style has evolved and become a mainstay. Just look at Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance or MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew—you could say that hip-hop is more popular today than ever before.