A Dance Teacher’s Guide to Hip Hop
Your students may be able to bust a move at school dances, but would they make the cut in a hip-hop audition?
“Not all movement to hip-hop music is hip-hop dance,” says Safi Thomas, artistic director of the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory. “It would be like moving to Mozart and saying that I’m doing ballet.” Thomas founded his New York City school to give a conservatory-like education to aspiring professional hip-hop dancers. Students, accepted by audition only, take dance theory, music theory, anatomy, kinesiology, critical thinking, health, stagecraft, art of repertory and anthropology in addition to technique classes. They have exams and a final thesis at the end of the year. “If students really want to make hip hop their career, they have to have a platform for understanding all the style’s elements, and how they interact with one another,” says Yvonne Chow, HDC education director. Here, Thomas and Chow explain that there are five universal elements of hip hop. Understanding all of these styles is the best way to give students a fighting chance as a hip-hop dancer.
Popping is a contraction and release of the muscle—a very quick movement—that is actually the relaxation between muscle tensions, not the tension itself. In the ’60s, popping’s predecessor was called hitting or the hit, and was done by groups primarily in California’s Bay Area. Sam “Boogaloo Sam” Solomon of the Electric Boogaloos coined the term “popping.”
Popping Vocab: Puppeting, waving, lurchin’, the creep, Egyptian (tutting), scarecrow, richmond robotting, ticking (clock), dynorama (animation), strobing, vibrating
Popping Aficionados: The Electric Boogaloos (currently including Sam “Boogaloo Sam” Solomon, Timothy “Popin’ Pete” Solomon, Steffan “Mr. Wiggles” Clemente, “Suga Pop,” Steven “Skeeter Rabbit” Nicholas, Straphanio “Shonn Boog” Solomon), Granny & The Robotroid, Hit Master Fish, Lock-a-Tron John, Mariette “Peaches” Rodriguez, The Black Messengers, Slick Dogg, Demons of the Mind, Mr. Fantastic, Pop Master Fabel, One Plus One
Locking appeared in California around 1967, and it’s a series of joint isolations in various body zones. This style often has a little bit of a comedic flare and a more joyful nature, and it’s done mainly to funk and soul music.
Locking Vocab: Lock, points, throwback, wrist roll, iron horse (which-a-ways), muscle man, scooby doo,
stop and go, scoobot, skeeter rabbit, funky guitar, knee drop, leo walk
Locking’s Inventor: Don “Cambellock” Campbell
Well-Known Lockers: The Lockers (Don “Campbellock” Campbell, Toni Basil, Dave Gregory “Greg Campbellock Jr.” Pope, Fred “Mr. Penguin” Berry, Leo “Fluky Luke” Williamson,
Bill “Slim the Robot” Williams and Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quiñones), Emilio “Buddha Stretch” Austin Jr., Anthony “Tony Go Go” Lewis, James “Skeeter Rabbit” Higgins, Jimmy “Scooby Doo” Foster, Ana “Lollipop” Sanchez, Raymond “Spex” Abbiw
Many think that Boogaloo came out of popping, but the boogaloo style was actually happening on the West Coast before hitting or popping ever manifested. At the core, it is very loose movement, mostly with the hips and the legs that allows dancers to seem as if they have no bones.
The Most Well-Known Boogaloo Dancers: Boogaloo Sam and the Electric Boogaloos
Boogaloo Vocab: Twist-o-flex, walk-out, fakey, neck-o-flex, cobra, snakin’, slides, glides, old man, Egyptian
BREAKING, B-BOYING or B-GIRLING
This unstructured and highly improvisational style is probably the most well-known element of hip-hop dance. It comes from the South Bronx in the early ’70s, and its predecessor was uprock, a competitive street dance popularized by two men named Apache and Rubber Band Man. In breaking, there’s a movement set for each level. Toprock is done at a high level (standing). Downrock brings you from high to mid or low, and floorwork is done at a low or deep level.
Breaking Crews: Rock Steady Crew (seen in the movie Flashdance), Zulu Kings, Sal Soul, Crazy Commandos, Dynamic Rockers,
New York City Breakers, Air Force Crew, Full Circle, The Bronx Boys (TBB), Seven Gems
SOCIAL DANCING/’80s PARTY DANCE
In the 1980s, groups started to take social dances like the Charleston and the twist from American culture and combine them with the party moves they were seeing in NYC clubs and house parties. This choreography and freestyle is what we often see in music videos. It was popularized and codified in videos by Elite Force Crew and proliferated by Cicely and Olisa of Nustylz.
Old-School Social Dance: The wop, the cabbage patch, the roger rabbit, the running man, the rooftop, the humpty hump, the worm, the kriss-cross
New-School Social Dance: The jerk, the soulja boy, dougie, chicken noodle soup, hyphy, toe wop, turfin’
Photo: HDC Artistic director, Safi Thomas (by Anna Kuzmina, courtesy of HDCNY/AK47 Division)