The Technical Dancer: Perception of Beauty through the World of Dance

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After a few years of teaching Hiphop dance, I’ve come to realize how complex the form is. I constantly push myself to find creative ways to break down the fundamentals of Hiphop dance, and I can tell you that transferring the basics to the average student is a difficult thing to do. I’ve found that there are many complicated body patterns within something even as “simple” as grooving to music!

I’ve gathered a new appreciation for all of the dope Hiphop dancers who haven’t had a day of formal training in their lives, yet contain this kinesthetic awareness that allows them to move with such virtuosity! From bboying, to popping, to waacking and more…Hiphop dance is tough! There are so many subtle nuances within each style that these dancers constantly train to maintain and improve. There is a word that people use in ballet and contemporary to describe the execution of fundamentals within their own dance forms…technique.

Yet, I rarely hear the word technique used to describe Hiphop dance. Instead, I hear quotes like, “[We’re] putting together the sort of untrained world of Hiphop with the formally trained…”- Nigel Lythgoe (Director of the television series: So You Think You Can Dance).

Thinking this may just be one person’s bias, I did a little research. First, I typed in “Dance Technique” in google and received these images…
"Technique"

Mostly all of them were in sync with Nigel’s description: long legs and arms, lean bodies, straight lines, pointed feet, flexible muscles, etc. You may think I’m generalizing, but seriously, look for yourself in the pages of google and see what you find. In the same SYTYCD interview, Nigel is asked, “How long does it take for you to tell that this person is great [at dance], or this person is not very good?” and he responds with, “You can basically tell very very quickly…you notice that legs aren’t straight or toes aren’t pointed or the lack of technique is noticed pretty soon.” So, in educating the masses of America (and the world!) about dance, certain leaders– and I would argue many leaders– of the community are instilling an idea of beauty through movement based off of euro-centric ideals. All that is to say, apparently, we Hiphop dancers are untrained, and without technique…ouch.

Yet, that very thought was what I based my value as a dancer on in the beginning of my career. Training within academia, I constantly take classes with bodies that do not look like my own; and, therefore, it is hard not feel frustration at the fact that I am a muscle-bound, flat-footed mover. I have injured myself trying to force myself into splits, faced embarrassment as teachers tried to get me to do something that my body literally won’t do, and wreathed in frustration because, no matter my efforts, I felt as though I was not living up to the idea of a technical, beautiful, mover.

So, this got me thinking…if a Hiphop dancer does not have technique, then what do we have? I did a little more research and typed in, “the antonym of technique”:

Ignorant. Impotence. Inability. Incompetence. Ineptitude. Lack.

…………yea.

In the movie Malcolm X (1992), there is a scene where Malcolm’s mentor in jail is showing Malcolm the definition of black and white in the dictionary during the 1960’s. The definition of “white” had words such as innocent, pure, and harmless while “black” had words like forbidding, foul, wicked and others that exuded negativity and evil. Now, maybe I’m reaching too far…but maybe I’m just connecting dots…why are dance genres that derive from European’s sense of beauty the ones that get the claim of being professional, scholarly, and specialized (synonyms of technical)?

Many people before me have said this, but with this post I’m just here to repeat it: Hiphop dance, as well as every other dance genre that derives from the African tradition, is a technical form. I’m sick and tired of leaders in the industry inferring that the movement that I identify with is inferior to any other. Technical ideas such as groundedness, broken lines, SWAG, isolations, undulations, release, flexed feet, and many more all have value and are technicalities in dance that many “technical dancers” don’t have.

So, to end, I just encourage you to question anyone who talks about a mover having or not having technique. Maybe it won’t do a thing, but I believe that the more we question, the more we become aware, and the less conventions will exist that separate the value of peoples in our nation and in our world.

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2 thoughts on “The Technical Dancer: Perception of Beauty through the World of Dance”

  1. This is an excellent post that gives voice to the dance experience of so many ethnic dancers. Hip Hop dance is often disrespectfully categorized as the Ebonics of the dance language.

    To me, it is utterly counterintuitive for anyone to consider the subtle differences in ethnic physiology to be defects. Yet the same strength, grace, control, flexibility, balance, and athleticism has allowed minorities to reach great heights in the sports world.

    Personally, I think this issue stems from the prevalence of ignorance in the dance world. Individuals of color have always been interested in dance, but historically we have not been allowed in the studios. So our technical training was learned and passed down in living rooms rather than studios; on cardboard boxes rather than hardwood floors.

    Unfortunately the same ignorance that was at work then is alienating people of color today. I just thank God for the fortitude, dedication and resilience that ethnic dancers have. And I pray that God continues to open doors and hearts.

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