Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Passing on the Essence of Hip-Hop

Photo by Briana Gardener

by Samara Atkins

Tip 1
Do your students know their hip-hop history? Although hip-hop culture influences all of us in some way, many dancers don’t understand its history, and therefore, what hip-hop truly meansand so have a hard time embodying the movement’s essence.

Students should understand that hip-hop originated as a cultural expression of Black and Latino communities, born from the need to be seen and heard. Today hip-hop is taught and danced all over the world by a wide range of people. Yet to be an amazing hip-hop dancer, you still need to understand the foundation on which the genre was built. So teaching your students that history is as crucial as teaching them choreography.

Start a history discussion in class by asking, “What does hip-hop mean to you?” There are no incorrect answers to this question, but students’ responses will help set the tone for talking about hip-hop history and its importance to our culture.

Tip 2
I like to give students a little social, economic, and political context for styles I cover in class. For authentic information, nothing replaces original footage or documentation of living hip-hop heads telling their stories—because they were there. Look for pioneers such as Buddha Stretch (hip-hop); Ill Kozby (locking); Popin Pete and Pop Tart (popping, strutting); and William Randolph of the Black Resurgents and Mike Predovic (O.G. Mike), both based in the San Francisco Bay Area (boogaloo, roboting, strutting). Check the library and the internet for credible hip-hop literature, such as Jeff Chang’s book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop or articles on

We have to preserve the history and cultural aspects that make hip-hop movement so beautifully unique. Hip-hop and hip-hop dancers change with the times—yet it will always be our duty to pass on the genre’s essence to generations to come.


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