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Dance Debate: 3 Reasons Why Grooving Is A Technique

About a month ago a dance acquaintance of mine posted on Facebook, “Grooving is suppose to be natural, it’s not a technique. Listen to the music.” When she posted it, I don’t believe she thought it would ignite a significant debate amongst dance practitioners, but that is exactly what it did. The foundation of the debate was predicated on the question of, “is grooving itself a technique?”

dance technique 2I believe this is an important topic that needs more discussion amongst social dance practitioners, specifically because dance practitioners within ballet, modern, theatrical jazz, etc. often use the word technique to describe valuable characteristics solely within their own genres; thus, marginalizing the valuable techniques within forms outside of the euro-centric paradigm (I just went to an audition where the choreographer said, “We’re going to learn hip-hop and some technique”…WHAT!?) 

 

In regards to vernacular/street dance, notions of “ease” and “anyone can do it” from inside-and-outside the community create a fallacy that technique is non-existent within these genres (I talked about this before in a previous post, The Technical Dancer: Perception of Beauty Through the World of Dance).

dance technique 3As a result of this false ownership over the word technique (the T-word for short), I speculate that there is a repulsion towards the T-word from vernacular dance practitioners within the United States, especially amongst hip-hoppers. We as a community have subconsciously associated the T-word with euro-centrism, and thus exiled it from our vocabulary. What have we come up with instead? The G-word— groove. Groove seems to be the antonym of technique, the yin to technique’s yang. Since euro-centric dance forms want to claim technique, we claim groove. Here are some quotes from that debate I had with dancers on Facebook:

“the groove itself is just a feeling… there’s 0 techniques to just groove”

“you can do the exact same everything as another person, but you will look different, because of your body structure, natural energy level, rhythmic anticipation, etc. Such factors are too subjective and inconsistent to be considered technique… Groove is just not technical, that’s all.” Note that “body structure, energy level, rhythmic anticipation” are used here to describe idiosyncrasies of an individual that inform their groove, and thus their groove cannot be technical.

dance techniqueMany within the culture have established that groove and technique are two completely different things. However, it’s more complicated than that. In our attempt to dichotomize groove and technique, we perpetuate the euro-centric ownership over the latter. It’s important for hip-hop practitioners, and vernacular dance practitioners in general, to take ownership of the T-word as we legitimize our own art forms within our society.dance technique 4 You know what, forget legitimization. We deserve to take ownership of the word because we have worked our asses off for it. We know what we do isn’t easy. We understand the hours-upon-hours of sessioning, cyphering, practicing alone, taking classes, battling, sweating, crying, bleeding, bruising, and all the other “-ing’s”. We’ve put the work in just like any other form to say that what we do is technical. Show up and own that!

So, is grooving natural and/or is grooving technical? To me, the answer is yes to both. Here are some definitions from Mirriam-Webster and three reasons why:

Groove: a pronounced enjoyable rhythm; an established routine or habit

Natural: coming instinctively to a person

Technique: a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure.

1. Something that is natural can also be technical

I feel like this is obvious, but still needs to be mentioned. We walk. It’s natural… now. There was a certain time it wasn’t, but we learned techniques in order to accomplish walking. If you want to walk backwards, you’re going to walk toe-to-heel instead of heel-to-toe. Walking regular, backwards, sideways, or on your hands may feel more natural than it is for others, but that doesn’t expel the fact that there is still a technique to it.

2. We are unique, but we’re also the same

Scientists have established that on a molecular level human beings are 99% the same. As unique and precious as you are, you’re also very much the same as everyone else.

I believe the spiritual nature of groove is completely unique. However the way it manifests is unique on a level, and then it’s also shared on another level because of the similar DNA that resides in each of us. That shared commonality, again, is the technical aspect to me.

In hip-hop social dance, the shared commonality is the bounce of the body. Each individual’s unique characteristics falls underneath a certain type of bounce. If you’re finding your natural groove, but not finding a bounce within your dance, then you’re not carrying out the communal technique.

2b. Case and Point: Babies

Grooving to music is a feeling, a natural response to the auditory impulses that converse with one’s soul. The most quintessential groove exists within babies (for your viewing entertainment, here’s a great compilation of dancing babies…). Every baby has their own unique synchronicity with the music they’re listening to.

Each baby also has technique. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that there are similarities in the way each of these miniature human beings accomplish the task of interacting with the music. The groove and the technique are both present, and both are natural.

My last thought is that hip-hop culture has a tendency to glorify the individual above all else. As beautiful as this mindset is, hip-hop will never reach it’s fullest potential with it. The glorification of groove over technique is the foregrounding of the individual over the community. It is not until we embrace our technique— our shared experiences of accomplishing things— that we will unlock the true impact we can have on each other and our world.

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The Hip-hop Generation Gap: How Black Creations Lose Their Black Face

I think that we, as the African-American men in hip-hop, have a greater responsibility because we have the ears of so many millions of our young people. And they listenin’.”- Steve Harvey

I truly believe that hip-hop dance culture is at a critical juncture in this day in time. As Steve Harvey said, hip-hop has a massive influence on young African-Americans. However, in addition to the ears, we also have the eyes. The dance is arguably an equal contributor to hip-hop’s influence on the younger generation.

The responsibility to make that influence as positive as possible falls upon every individual in the community— it takes a community to raise a child, as they say. Additionally, the responsibility lies upon the pioneers of hip-hop dance culture the most.

Dance Fusion Japan
Dance Fusion 2017 Japan with NYC OG’s

Pioneers are now in there 40’s- 60’s, and have numerous generations of hip-hop practitioners behind them. Thus, they are the elders of our community who have gone through the gamut of experiences from the birth of hip-hop to its existence as a global phenomenon. They understand first-hand the magic of the block parties where all of the elements existed in a blast of black and brown expression. Recognition of their creation from mainstream America through media-hype set them on a high of celebrity lifestyle. They quickly felt the fall of a labeled “irrelevant has-been” as the same industry stripped them from their creation in order to create its own money-making machine. The pioneers have witnessed the birth and evolution of 40-plus years of black and brown movement: b-boying, popping, locking, house, vogue, waacking, hip-hop social dance, lite feet, jitting, jookin, flexin, krump, and more. I can go on for a while, but the point is these pioneers are filled with knowledge and experiences that, if shared, can educate younger generations on how to navigate our world as a hip-hop dance practitioner; ultimately, creating a stronger foundation for hip-hop dance to stand on and grow from.

 

taiwan tony 3
Dance Class w/NYC OG Tony McGregor in Taiwan

Have the pioneers been living up to their responsibility? Is the wisdom being passed down? It’s hard to say. I’m thinking of a way to measure that. One thing I can say with more certainty is that the knowledge passed down to African-Americans in the states pales in comparison to the knowledge that Asians and Europeans are experiencing. In my own experience, after a year of consistently attending a NYC institutional hip-hop hub in Exile Professional Gym (EXPG), my interaction with NYC pioneers (OG’s as we call them) has been minimal. That is the admission of a 26-year old who is hungry for the knowledge that the OG’s have to offer.

The black and brown adolescents— the heirs to the hip-hop throne—are not. Why would they be hungry for the knowledge of absent elders? Why would a child obey their father when he has been previously obsolete in their lives? I empathize with the young hip-hop generation, and saddened for the culture, when they express complete ignorance about their predecessors. It’s no surprise considering the elders are still busy trailblazing around the world providing their crucial kinesthetic and philosophical knowledge to hip-hop dance practitioners within other countries.

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Dream Works Dance Japan 2017 with NYC OG Cebo Terry Carr 

I am not claiming that there is something wrong with sharing information outside of New York City or the United States. I also understand that the pioneers have to make their own living, which I will leave for another post. My point is that the issue lies in the magnitude of the imbalance. It is strange to me that black and brown hip-hoppers from New York City are sharing knowledge within foreign lands such as Japan and countries in Europe, yet the only hip-hop centric dance studio in all of New York City— the birthplace of hip-hop— is run by a Japanese company.

That is why we are at a critical juncture. I do believe Steve Harvey’s quote still holds true— the young African Americans ARE still listening. There is still hope and time to connect the gap between what was and what is, but that time is shortening. Unless OG’s understand that they must filter their knowledge to their own people as much as they do abroad, hip-hop will be no different than jazz and rock’n’roll—the future will once again have Caucasian-Americans, Europeans, or Asians as the face of a beautiful black creation.

“Negus” Dance Film

Negus- noun: Kingship, royalty.

Inspired by the works of artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Kehinde Wiley, I wanted to explore different levels of identity and representation of the black male in the United States. “Negus” is a Hip-hop work that asks African-American males, where do we come from, who are we now, what values do we uphold, what obstacles do we face in this society, and how do we overcome them?

In asking these questions, “Negus” seeks to use Hip-hop as a way to portray the humanity of the black male figure. In doing so, it directly opposes the commercial rap world– a primary source for the portrayal of the stereotypical black man–and delves deeply into some complications about certain aspects of the African-American experience.

“Negus” premiered at Urban Art Space in Columbus, OH in January of 2016. This film both captures the essence of the original work and completely wrecks it simultaneously. Within the film aspects of controversy between who we are and who we could/should be are portrayed as well as lighter themes such as rhythm, fun, etc. I hope this helps give you a way into viewing the film and I hope you enjoy!

Put Your Hands Up: Hip-hop, Incarceration, and the Fate of the Black Male pt 4

As much as the prison complex and the rap industry affect the livelihood of black males in society, they also affect the way in which black males are seen in this society. Again, the understanding of how a criminal label can affect how you are seen is fairly simple, but the role of the commercial rap industry is more complicated and subdued. If the prison complex is used to label African American males as criminals, then the commercial rap industry substantiates that labeling by portraying an enjoyment of the lifestyle that leads to prison. Take the industry’s use of Travis Scott, for example. Scott is a contemporary rapper worth 2.5 million dollars whose most recent song, Antidote, has been on Billboard’s Top 15 rap songs for weeks. Here is an excerpt from Antidote, “I might do it all again / I just hit a three peat / fucked three hoes I met this week / I don’t do no old hoes / my nigga that’s a no-no / she just want the coco / I just want dinero / who that at the front door? /if it’s the feds oh-no-no” (Travis). Travis Scott grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas in a two-parent home with his father running a business and his mother working for Apple. He went to college, but dropped out. Travis Scott lived in a socio-economic status that is less likely to be influenced by gang culture and criminal behavior yet, his counter-cultural lyrics still portray a blatant and monotonous display of criminality while rejecting the idea of instilling value through socially conscious poetry.

The commercial rap industry has used African American males like Travis Scott to rid the diversification of Hip-hop’s counter-cultural mentality in order to display African American males as a demographic that embraces the lifestyle of a criminal. Therefore, the commercial rap industry is aiding in the dehumanization of African American males by portraying the notion that we as a community enjoy lifestyles that lead to second-class citizenship.

Using lyrics from the 7-grammy award winner Kendrick Lamar, the commercial rap industry is saying, “Fuck niggas’/No better than Samuel or Django/No better than a white man with slave boats” (Kendrick). Yet, Kendrick’s words can also be used to show the battle that Hip-hop culture is currently fighting against the criminalization of African American males:

“Retraced my steps on what they never taught me/Did my homework fast before government caught me…[this is] straight from Ethiopia/N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty- wait listen/N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish/The history books overlook the word and hide it/America tried to make it to a house divided/The homies don’t recognize we been using it wrong/So I’ma break it down and put my game in a song.” (Kendrick)

In showing the royal lineage of African Americans, Kendrick Lamar exemplifies Hip-hop culture’s resistance against the “second-class citizen” stigma of said demographic. However, the emcee element of Hip-hop is not the only one fighting this battle. Hip-hop dance, with its growing influence in American mainstream culture, can have a massive impact on the identity and perception of African American males in this country. As a Hip-hop choreographer and teacher in graduate school, I have studied the ways in which the values of Hip-hop culture—Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun—can be cultivated within a studio classroom and a concert stage environment (Chang 105). As a result I’ve created artistic works that use street dance styles to raise awareness on issues such as police brutality, and explore ideas of identity and representation in regards to African American males living in this society. I’ve also created weekly Hip-hop dance classes in the city of Columbus called “onCUE” where “CUE” is an acrostic for create, unite, and empower. These dance classes are for the entire community where students learn foundational street dance techniques in order to grasp a new way to connect with themselves and to converse with others; thus, encouraging the dissolution of social, economic, political, and criminal barriers.

By introducing a pro-cultural agenda through Hip-hop dance, I am combatting both the “second-class citizen” label brought on by mass incarceration and the criminalization of commercialized rap music. My efforts might not be enough to change the system, but I’ve witnessed the affects enough to know that it changes lives including my own. I’ve gone from seeing myself as solely a thief to proclaiming that I am a dancer. I am a teacher. I am an artist. I am a scholar. But most importantly, I am an embodiment of the positive influence that a criminal can have on this society through Hip-hop.

 

Works Cited

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press, 2012. Print.

“Billboard Hot Rap Songs.” n.p. n.d. Web. 23 February 2016.

Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s, 2005. Print.

Cummings, Pond. Andre Douglas. “Thug Life: Hip Hop’s Curious Relationship with Criminal Justice.” Social Science Research Network (2009): 19. Web. 23 February 2016.

Kendrick Lamar. “i.” Genius. 23 February 2016.

Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap. dir. Ice T. Indomina Releasing, 2012. DVD.

Travis Scott. “Antidote.” Genius. 23 February 2016.

Put Your Hands Up: Hip-hop, Incarceration, and The Fate of the Black Male pt 3

Part 3:

Ice Cube—previous member of the rap group, NWA—in The Art of Rap says, “What [street knowledge] means to me is letting the streets know what the politicians is trying to do to them and then letting the politicians know what the streets think of them, if they’re listening.” In the same interview, Ice T then responds with, “I wanted somebody to take my album, when they done, be more intelligent about the game than they were. Versus me saying that I’m tough…” (Something From Nothing). This insinuates that even the “gangsta’ rappers” of the 1980’s who dropped the F-bomb like it was a preposition had an intent to instill values into their hood and into the minds of anyone who would listen.

The rappers of today previously mentioned in the list of chart toppers don’t seem to have any similar kind of intent behind their music. Social conscious messaging is either completely void from these artists’ work or it exists and is swept under the rug by the rap industry. When you look at a rapper like Yo Gotti, his latest album The Art Of Hustle—which features a Billboard top 15 song, Down In The DM—begins with the track My City, which is an authentic reflection of life in Yo Gotti’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Yet, Down In The DM holds almost 11 million views on Youtube compared to My City’s 43,000 views, thus showing the disparity in the kinds of counter-cultural Hip-hop music that is played on a commercial level today.

Michelle Alexander in the New Jim Crow established what the label of “second-class citizen” implies in this country: discrimination equal to the treatment of blacks during slavery and the Jim Crow era. However, how is commercialized Hip-hop related to this label of second-class citizenship? The number of incarcerated African American males is at an all time high in the United States. Simultaneously, the most influential medium for black men to be heard by a mainstream audience has shifted towards a counter-cultural movement that represents excessive sex, illegal drug use, and violence. I suggest that the combination of the two is a powerful force that negatively influences the ways in which African-American males identify themselves in this country and the ways in which others identify them.

When I was ten years old I moved to the edges of inner city Philadelphia. It was the first time I had been in an environment where the majority of people around me resembled my ethnicity and racial make-up on a daily basis. As a boy trying to fit in, I found myself listening to rap music and watching Hip-hop music videos through 106 and Park on BET (Black Entertainment Television) despite my parents’ strict opposition against such things. I was a part of a Christian home with both parents invested into my life, yet I remember how my mind solely desired the fruits of my Hip-hop influenced environment. I wanted to wear the baggie clothes of Puff Daddy, talk like 50 Cent, and get the girls like Nelly. Naturally, I started cursing whenever my parents were absent, I sagged my pants as soon as I left the embrace of my mother to go off to school, and I talked to females like they were meant for only one thing. The black males I looked up to in the media influenced the way in which I viewed the world, even in contest with my own parents’ teachings. If my ten-year-old mind was so influenced by the counter-culture of commercialized Hip-hop that my parents felt a need to move me from Philadelphia after 3 years, I can only imagine the magnitude of influence it has on young black boys whose fathers are in jail.

The b(AA)ttle

This project explores the impact of many commercial rap songs on our society in regards to the representation of blackness in America.

It also combats the use of glorifying criminalization within rap songs as a way to silence the productive voices of blackness and black people in this country.

Enjoy!

Where White People Say “Nigga” Freely: Reflection of my Kendrick Lamar Concert Experience

Two weekends ago I was the most excited I’ve been in a while. I was going to see one of the most prominent figures in Hip-hop music and culture: Kendrick Lamar. I was hype because although I’m a Hip-hop dancer, I really don’t get down with a lot of rappers. Kendrick, however, is one of the few rappers who I consider to be an artist within the emcee element of Hip-hop culture. I don’t agree with how he says a lot of things, but that is beside the point as he produces products that allow for one to take an introspective look into their character, their relationships, and their society. Kendrick’s lyrics personally encourage me to search for a deeper knowledge about the different cultures I represent and how that affects the way I negotiate myself within the structures of American society. Whether it’s replaying the words of Tupac Shakur in order to discuss a philosophy of revolution that spawns from the enlarging gap between the rich and the poor, or providing historical knowledge of the convoluted n-word that goes beyond the African-American experience of slavery, I can count on the words of Kendrick Lamar to constantly help me question what is happening in today’s society. So yea, I was pretty hype to let loose and enjoy the concert; and I paid enough money, waited enough time in line, and suffered through enough bad weather to deserve enjoying that concert! However, I quickly realized that my being at this event was not for my blissful enjoyment, but rather for a heavy educational experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about black males who identify themselves through Hip-hop culture and how stereotypes of that demographic serve as evidence for mainstream audiences to justify devaluing black males within American society. All cultures have their own stereotypes, but there may be no other demographic whose stereotypes affect the way they are seen and treated in society as much as black men in America. Stigmatizations such as the dangerous thug, the uncontrolled sex symbol, the violent drug dealer, and the primal athlete aid in many people’s reasoning as to why so many black males are incarcerated, why so many black females are single mothers, why black-on-black crime is so high, and why the black male academic dropout rate is so high. And, Hip-hop culture, specifically rap music, is constantly dealing with receiving ridicule for enforcing these stigmatizations.

So, I’m observing Kendrick Lamar express what I believe to be an authentic and artistic description of his life—an on-going struggle to find a sense of true and positive self in the midst of growing up in one of the most dangerous urban areas in America. As a result, lyrics with themes such as violence, drugs, gang life, and more are being portrayed as a representation of the culture in which Kendrick grew up in. And, in what I believe is an attempt to keep it real as an artist, the word “nigga” is constantly flowing from the voice box of Lamar’s throat to the ears of a sea of Caucasian college students in Columbus, OH (the crowd had a diverse mix, but still… it was mostly white folk). And, surprisingly—or maybe not—they are repeating the word right back to him.

Without going into the complication of the n-word in contemporary society, I just want to say that the historical baggage of the word has not lost its power regardless of whether its nigga or nigger. If a white person calls a black person a nigga in many contexts, especially out of malice, somebody is dying…just kidding…but not really. The point is that although the n-word still has the power to devalue a black person within a society that still carries the stench of racism within its foundational structures, all races in America find it okay to use the contemporary version of the word, and its mostly if not completely because of Hip-hop culture. Now, to go back to the concert, is it Kendrick’s fault that all these white people have no problem yelling out nigga? Many people would answer yea because he is responsible for the lyrics that he produces. Others have made the argument (and I’m generalizing) that these white people are going to say it anyways, so why not just be real with it, especially if the lyrics are authentic to the rapper’s experience?

Despite what side you’re on, and there are quite a few sides, there lies the fact that the word “nigga” is not used simply to describe a comrade. It is used to represent a commercial portrayal, specifically through Hip-hop culture, of what it means to be “real” as a black male in society: aggressive, strong, materialistic, misogynistic, homophobic, violent, and more. Yet, being “real” is exactly what is aiding in the devaluing of the black male in American society. For people who cannot understand the struggles of living against those stigmatizations on a daily basis to be yelling out this word, to me, is just ignorant. Furthermore, people who know about this struggle yet decide to say the word anyways…to each is own I guess. And, I get it. I’m a privileged black male from the burbs. I didn’t grow up in Compton or anywhere else where these stigmas are your daily reality. I just will never completely understand why anyone, especially black males, would so frivolously aid in the stigmatization of their own demographic within this hierarchical society.

So, anyways, yea…that’s why I couldn’t enjoy the concert featuring my favorite rapper.

What Happens When The Club Makes Its Way to The Stage?

I’ve just returned to Columbus from a wonderful 3 weeks at Bates Dance Festival. During my time there, there were a lot of discussions regarding choreographers’ processes when making work. During our second week at the festival, we were fortunate enough to see Robert Moses and his company, Robert Moses Kin, a contemporary dance company based out of San Francisco. During the talk-backs I attended, one of Moses’s most emphasized points was his interest in dancers as individuals. I took this to mean that his ideal dancer is one who has little-to-no-inhibition about using their experiences, hopes, worldviews, dreams, strengths, weaknesses, fears, downfalls, etc. as a way to inform their movement, and contribute to the choreographic work.

Moses’s construct of an ideal dancer is one that, I believe, is becoming quite the new-norm amongst many concert stage choreographers. There has been a shift in the relationship between choreographers and dancers from a clear hierarchical relationship to a more communal and collaborative one. In many processes these days, dancers are expected to bring their creative thoughts to inform the choreographer’s work. Therefore, many choreographers cherish the way a dancer thinks as much as they move. This is a drastic difference from a dancer who simply existed as a body to be molded and shaped for the purpose of the choreographer’s vision.

As I reflect on my appreciation of this evolution within dance, I find it intriguing to connect this importance of “dancer as individual” within concert stage dance to the folk dance tradition where the sharing of ones’ individuality has always been the norm. This norm stems from a quintessential characteristic of folk dance—improvisation—where it’s all about the expression of individuality as a way to contribute to the personality of the community.

Take a style such as Bboying. Despite its clear structure— top rock, floorwork, power moves, and freezes— the form would fail to exist within the folk communities if there was no clear room for individual expression. Within the bboy structure, bboys and bgirls use their own sense of style, musicality, amongst other things, in order to express innovation, creativity, and individuality. By sharing their own individuality within the Bboy structure, each dancer allows for the form as a whole to change and progress.

Dance used to be so segregated between high art (art done for the upper class citizens of a society) and folk art. Although each world has always informed one another, I believe the distinction between the two is becoming less and less prevalent as choreographers within concert stage dance continue to adopt the mindset of folk dance traditions. The increase of technology continues to integrate high and low art together as well, and I simply wonder how all of this integration will change the dance world and how it’s perceived during my lifetime.

Commercial Hiphop Dance as the New Face of Reverse Minstrelsy?

This post is pretty long, so if you’re more in for a shorter read, start at the asterisks below.
Yoooo…I’m headed into my last year as a graduate student at Ohio State! I am pumped, but the idea of delving into the professional world after years of anticipation is tripping me up. As the time approaches for me to graduate, I’ve been thinking a lot about where it is I want to reside and what exactly it is I want to do. Just a year ago that would have been an easy answer- Los Angeles, California to become a commercial Hiphop dancer. However, with the education I’ve been receiving in school, the answer is becoming less clear. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a value in delving deeply into the culture and the history of Hiphop in order to inform my dance, my creativity, and my life. Reflecting on the benefit of swimming within a sea of Hiphop knowledge, I now question whether I want to stand on the shore and simply let my feet get wet through dancing in the commercial world.

For right now, though, I still feel as though I owe it to myself to try out the mainstream scene before I put judgment on it. However, my skepticism about the mainstream culture has encouraged me to take a more critical look at it. I’ve found that my desire to gain cultural, historical, and social knowledge through dance is not the only thing holding me back from fledging fully into my once romanticized dream. I’ve now come to question whether the mainstream Hiphop dance culture represents themes that I even want to support. What I mean is that a massive amount of commercial dancers express themselves through movement by imitating and assimilating a certain rap culture that I cannot get down with.

Since 1979 with Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang, the musical branch of Hiphop culture has been popularized by the commercial world to the general American population more than any other element. With this massive explosion came a popularity of Hiphop that was never dreamed of by the founders of the culture. However, what also came was the general notion that Hiphop is music rather than a culture. Just last night, I was in conversation with a roommate of mine at the Bates Dance Festival and he asked me, “What is Hiphop?” And being me, I challenged him, “What do you think Hiphop is?” He went to say he believes Hiphop is a construction of certain sequencing and sounds that create beats…aka music.

From around mid-80’s to late-90’s (also considered the Golden Age of Hiphop), Hiphop musical artists were controlling a lot of the content that was being produced. As a result there were a vast array of styles and messages, good and bad, that Hiphop artists were portraying to the world; therefore, they were representing the true, complex nature of the culture itself through music.

Throughout the 21st century however, music corporations have stripped that power from the artists and have taken it upon themselves to repackage and redefine what Hiphop represents. Now, it’s to the point where too many Hip-Pop songs (mainstream Hiphop music) represent mainstream hegemonic themes—sex, drugs, violence, materialism, money— behind the mask of a stereotype of colored people.

(sigh)

*******************

I have always admired— and continue to do so— the commercial Hiphop dance scene for its intricate and virtuosic aesthetic. Again, as I think about entering into this world soon myself, I have taken a closer look at the culture and what it represents. What I have concluded is disturbing to me…and it is, in many ways, that the mainstream Hiphop dance scene, because of a certain ignorance of its choreographers and dancers, is a system conducive to the act of reverse minstrelsy.

(Gasp!) Now let me explain…

I’m not going to go deeply into the history, but ultimately minstrelsy was the act of white performers entertaining audiences through the dancing/mocking of African-American stereotypes during the 19th century. One way they did this was to paint their faces black and exaggerate typical facial features of the African-American such as the lips and the eyes. Eventually, in order to be recognized for their performance abilities and to take ownership of a degrading system, African-American themselves went under the blackface and participated in minstrel shows as well. Essentially, African-Americans imitated an imitation in order to get recognized for their craft- an act that I’ll call reverse minstrelsy.

Over a century later, as I mentioned above, American corporations are continuing this feeding of negative stereotypes of African-Americans to the masses through mainstream Hiphop music and music videos. However, this blame doesn’t simply belong to the money-hungry industries… it’s also on all the rappers who subjugate themselves to this role in their quest for the American dream. (It’s also the fault of the consumer who supports the music as well but I’ll leave that alone for now). These rappers are supporting this fallacious portrayal of African-Americans in order to be recognized for their craft and to support their family, which to me, falls under this definition of reverse minstrelsy.

Last of all, I blame the Hiphop dance community. As artists, we have a duty to be knowledgeable about the art and the culture behind the art. Why? Because if you knew the history of Hiphop culture and the African-American history behind that, I doubt you would be so eager to embody movement that imitates the lyrics that degrades the integrity of African-American people.

I specifically want to call-out all of the Hiphop choreographers who use these songs in their work, whether it be choreography in class or a dance video. With the dancers, one may argue that, especially with this generation, it’s just not that deep. Students simply come in to have fun, move, listen to hot beats, get their stank face on, and be out. But, Hiphop choreographers …we’re consciously listening to this music over and over again in order to replicate these songs in movement form; therefore, we’re engraining these negative messages into our soul, not only by listening, but by embodying. Then we go out and spread these messages, like a disease, to massive amounts of students as we teach all over the world. Then, to top it all off, we go and record this choreography for the world to see again and again online. But we don’t stop by simply recording the combination. Nah, that’s too easy. We have to go out and appropriate the themes within these songs by flashing our own fancy materialistic possessions, and dressing like we’re about to rob a bank…

What. the. hell, man. To me, we– as dancers, choreographers, and artists– cannot continue to consciously or unconsciously, imitate a false, negative imitation of what it means to be black in America. We need to realize the power and influence we have as we represent the future of Hiphop in America and do-away with this reverse minstrelsy mentality.

If you want to see a few examples of what I’m discussing here, click the links below:

1. U Mad- Ian Eastwood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THS7Ii1dhsI

  1. Bitch Better Have My Money- Tricia Miranda

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQraeOG-3L8

  1. I Don’t Fuck With You- Janelle Ginestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGzVbHZjRgc