May-June 2017 | 2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | The Upper Body’s Connected to the . . . Lower Body

Photo by Briana Gardener

The Upper Body’s Connected to the . . . Lower Body

by Samara Atkins

Tip 1
Many hip-hop students struggle to connect their upper bodies (arms, shoulders, neck, head, chest, and torso) to their lower-body moves. It’s easier said than done. Here are some ways to develop the upper half’s ability to complement the lower—and make your students into more expressive, dynamic dancers.

Start by leading dancers through a quick series of foot patterns. Then have them add arms that mimic or follow the motions and directions of their legs and feet. For example, kick front, punch the arm (first in opposition, then on the same side); or swing the whole right side (arm and leg) back, then the left. This mimicking exercise gets students’ upper and lower bodies in sync and accustomed to moving simultaneously. Remind students to keep their upper bodies fluid, not stiff.

Tip 2
Once students are comfortable with the upper body following the lower, have them try making the upper body contrast with the lower.

Play a song and find a basic beat that students can stay on with their feet. Then have them pick out a different beat in the music, and try to keep that rhythm with their upper bodies. A good way to start is with feet in single time and arms in double time. For example, start students off in a side-to-side two-step (step right, close left; step left, close right) on the basic beat. Then have them add arms, extended straight out to the sides and circling in double time. (Try this with various styles and tempos of hip-hop music.)

Encourage students to be as free as possible in the upper half without losing the beat in the lower. With practice, their ability to showcase different rhythms will become increasingly organic.


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.