Street Dance Essay

Hip Hop Dance Essay

Hip hop dance was important to African American culture because it allowed them to create their own culture, their own music their own style. When watching Flex is Kings, there are many young men in a video demonstrating what hip hop dance culture has evolved to in the 21st century. They are a contemporary urban dance movement. One can see the emotion and the “seriousness” in their movements. Hip hop dance is these people’s lives’(“Flex Is Kings”). Flex is a type of street dance, sometimes is called “bone breaking” due to their moves looking like a person either has no bones or that they are literally breaking them to create the skin cringing dances they create(“Flexing”). Dancers such as Storyboard P have mastered the art of flexing. He mentions in one of his interviews that when dancing one is revealing who they are (“Storyboard P”). African American people lean on this particular art form to elaborate how, as a race we have been able to display our culture to mainstream America. Mainstream is basically a majority of people (Mainstream).
Hip hop, however, has transformed into mainstream culture, therefore losing itself. "Black culture, which has a long tradition of struggling against (and at the same time, working in close collaboration with) the dominant white culture, has rounded the corner of the 21st century with what looks in one sense like an unequivocal victory. Young America now embraces hip-hop as the signal pop-music genre of its time. So why does that victory feel strange: not exactly hollow, but a little haunted?" (“When the People Cheer”). As hip hop itself has begun to change so has the form of dance. Hip hop dance now has a mixture of what the Flex kings do in their videos and dances such as the popular dance “Nae Nae”. Hip hop dance in general today, however, is more of what someone sees in music videos.
How could we talk about hip hop dance without discussing hip hop? Hip hop has a very long history and the way that rappers and dj’s changed throughout history has greatly impacted hip hop dance. Hip hop began in South Bronx, New York. Hip hop splits into four different categories: rap music, turntablism, breaking, and graffiti. Rap music, turntablism and breaking impact dance more so than graffiti. The turntablist as well as breaking brought about the different dance moves created in the 1970s. DJ Kool Herc began hip hop right in his apartment on 1520 Sedgewick Avenue. Rap music was created at street parties, and Herc constructed an outline for hip hop music and culture by adding onto the Jamaican tradition of improvised ‘toasting’, reggae musicians who sings and “toasts” to the instrumental rhythm, boastful ballad and speech above music (“Hip Hop”).
Herc also added onto “break-beat deejaying” in which he made it so that beats were isolated and repeated for long periods of time throughout the night. With the new kind of rap music and beat changes dance groups such as the break-boys and the break-girls (“Hip Hop”). They...

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It’s late Sunday morning, and I’m sitting in a parking lot in a seemingly industrial area of Boulder. At first look, there is nothing extraordinary about my surroundings. But the pumping bass sending reverberations up my spine is indicative that things are not as they seem.

The source is a small sectioned-off portion of a warehouse with “to be life” painted vertically in bold letters. Upon entering, I see a little over a dozen teenaged faces, smiling, sweating, having fun.

These are the faces of Side By Side Dance Company, an ensemble of movers brought together not only by dance, but also by a longing for community as well. At the helm of the rehearsal is Larkin Poynton, a self-described “all-style” hip-hop dancer with a knack for telling stories through his body. He leads the dancers through choreographed movements and uses a distinct vernacular—“boom-ka,” “wow-ha,” “hit-hit”— to create a pulsating rhythm that drives the dance.

Poynton, who was born in Spain but grew up in Longmont, remembers falling in love with dance as a kid after seeing its capacity to captivate audiences. Citing Marcel Marceau and Gene Kelly as early influences, Poynton defines dance as a conduit for self-expression. “It’s the body’s natural reaction to emotions,” Poynton says.

It’s a sentiment shared by many hip-hop dancers, who use their bodies  to convey emotions or narratives. In a recent  interview with “The New Yorker,” Brooklyn-based street dancer Storyboard P calls dancing cathartic and considers himself a storyteller more than anything else. “When you’re dancing, you’re revealing yourself,” he says.

Poynton and his dancers are preparing for the Prelude Urban Dance Competition, a national competition that stops in Denver this Saturday, January 18. Competitions like Prelude bring attention to the Colorado urban dance scene, he says, giving locals a chance to mingle with outside dancers. But the competition also puts some constraints on hip-hop, potentially stripping defining elements of the form, like its improvisational nature.

Hip-hop is a large umbrella, under which an impressive variety of sub-styles reside. New techniques have evolved since its origins on the Bronx streets: krumping, flex, animation, Memphis jookin’ to name a few. Poynton’s training ranges from house (a footwork-heavy style) and breaking to funk styles like locking and waaking. These diverse styles are merely a sampling of urban dance.

Commercializing hip-hop often requires more structure. Choreography may be set, formations organized and musicality made uniform. Some dancers, like Storyboard P, refuse to perform choreography. But Poynton doesn’t see the situation as being so black and white.

“I think that hip-hop dance and freestyle are synonymous, but I also think choreographed movement is just a part of dance in general,” rationalizes Poynton. According to Poynton, improvisation is “the seed” of his choreography, maintaining the authenticity of freestyle in the process.

The commercialization of hip-hop dance has made it possible for dancers to make at least a part-time living. Christa Lewis, a Prelude judge and hip-hop dancer, is thankful to pay some of her bills with her passion through teaching, choreographing and performing in commercials, music videos and live shows. (She also works in a Denver coffee shop.)

After a three-year stint in Los Angeles, Lewis is now heavily involved in the Colorado urban dance scene and committed to giving hip-hop more exposure. She hopes Prelude can do that on a local and national level. Lewis’s enthusiasm for dance runs deep and, as a self-described, “tall, lanky white girl,” she wants to spread the message that hip-hop is about inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

For these dancers, bringing hip-hop from the streets to the stage isn’t an attempt to change the dance form or disregard its roots. Hip-hop began as a movement for at-risk youth to break away from their troubled lives, Lewis says. “When you dance you forget about what's going on in the world and feel free.” She strives to keep that sense of freedom at the heart of urban dance.

Amanda Suk, a contemporary hip-hop dancer in Los Angeles, has competed in competitions like Prelude. She clarifies that the only parameter imposed during competitions is a time limit. Within that frame, troupes can be as creative as they wish. Overall, she finds hip-hop competitions to be too subjective, but still  finds value in them beyond a first-, second- or third-place finish.

“At the end of the day, competitions achieve a platform for us to showcase our work,” Suk says. “It brings people of all different ages and walks of life under one roof to celebrate music and movement.”

Prelude Colorado Urban Dance Competition is hosted by Hype 303 Urban Dance Company and will be held at the Theater at Colorado Heights University on Saturday, January 18. The competition begins at 6 p.m. For ticket information, visit PreludeDanceCompetition.com.


Stephanie Wolf is a former professional ballet dancer and a freelance journalist based in Denver reporting mostly on the arts.

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