Tag Archives: dance class

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

Get Groovy Reflection: Is Teaching More About My Subject Or My Student?

A little more than a week ago, I completed one of the most ambitious goals I’ve ever set for myself—the production of an online dance course. This course is a culmination of the saturated learning experiences during my short time as a teacher. Releasing the Get Groovy course got me thinking about the journey that brought me to this point in my pedagogical career and so, I wanted to share a little bit about it today.

531059_131535140304800_283081253_nI remember when I was an undergraduate at Penn State, I would always ask my mentor, Kikora Franklin, if I could teach her Hiphop class. At that time, not many people around me wanted to train in Hiphop the way I wanted to. So, I figured that if I was able to teach a class, I could force people to train with me the way I wanted to train (selfishness at its finest lol)!

Once I got to Ohio State, I believe, to an extent, I brought that mindset to my first group of students. The most important aspect of my classroom was the material being taught rather than the people who I was teaching it to.

One day, near the end of my first semester, I was too tired to do a lot of drills and stuff. So, I just taught a combination that I learned from a Hiphop convention: a little challenging, but to great music and really fun. The class ate the combo up! There were still mess-ups and people had to fight to get the material, but up to that point, I had never seen a group of students so alive in a classroom! I had started to grow accustomed to feeling as though I was talking to a brick wall, “We’re going to do jumping jacks, high knees, and then push ups, we ready?!”…

…crickets…

But, this time, I could see the energy exuding out of students’ eyes as they smiled, half-fived each other, and moved with joy to the song. That moment showed me the value of extracting Hiphop’s message– peace, love, unity, and having fun— and instilling it within a classroom setting. Simply teaching the physical components of dance would never be enough for me from then on. So, I decided that I would use my teaching of dance as a tool to help students construct a deeper connection within themselves and with the others around them.

Since then, I believe that my classroom has changed tremendously for the better. I have made a number of great relationships with students and I know they have connected with each other beyond the classroom– which is ultimately what it’s all about. I’m excited and nervous for every new semester because I love facing the challenge of guiding a group of strangers to gain a sense of a familial bond with one another through Hiphop dance. There are just very few things that satisfy me more than seeing that growth over a short 15-week period.

So, although Get Groovy is an online course where connecting with students is more difficult, I tried my best to create an experience that allows students to not only gain a skill-set, but to also grasp an understanding of how that skill-set can be used to make a better life for themselves and the people around them.

This week is the Get Groovy Launch Week! So, if you’re interested in the course, this week is the time to get it considering it’s 80% off if you click this link: (Get Groovy Launch Week Coupon Link).

Also be sure to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube @Cue4christ and Facebook @Cue Arnold. Blessings!

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.

The Mental Dance Class: 5 Tips 4 the Heady Dancer

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Over the past few days I have been listening to a podcast series called “The Overwhelmed Brain” by Paul Colaianni. The episodes consist of interviews that discuss ways in which people develop their minds in order to achieve their definition of success. I found the podcast in a general attempt to find multiple sources that could counter-act the crippling, negative, voices that run through my mind on a daily basis, cuz, ya know, one person can only take but so much after a while before it’s just time to be like, SHUT UP! (If only it were that easy!)

Anyways, as I’ve journeyed through the podcast, this idea of control keeps coming up within the interviews. All of these successful people keep mentioning how we need to control our feelings rather than having our feelings control us. And when they say control, what I think they mean is to control your negative thoughts and beat-them-up with positive ones; therefore, not allowing your negative thoughts to overwhelm what your meant to do, whether that be a daily agenda or your life’s purpose.

So I got to thinking about how, like life, dancers allow themselves to get taken out of a positive class experience because their thoughts just get in the way… I don’t know about y’all, but there are plenty of times when I’m giving that full effort, and then the burden of the world just hits me as I can’t accomplish something the way I want to accomplish it…

Messing up the Hiphop combo, like the very beginning of the combo, like within the first 12-counts, so that for the next minute you’re screwing it ALL up! And then, it’s always perfect when that happens after you just got chosen to be in the select group of 3 cuz you was JUST killin’ it the whole class!

…fail.

For those of us who get wrapped up in the thoughts of our mind a little too much, here are some things that I’ve gathered over the past few days that might help:

1. Prepare

If you know that you’re a person who has a tendency to get down on yourself in class, recognize that fact before you arrive at the door, and then leave it there as you walk in. Whether it’s bumping to your favorite songs, listening to a positive speaker, looking at an inspiring quote, speaking with a friend, or whatever, find your own way to get yourself positive and mentally ready for class before you even enter the space.

2. Talk to Yourself…Out Loud

This sounds kind of weird, but in this dope book called the bible it says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Meaning, the words that come out of your mouth are insanely influential, especially to yourself. Even if you don’t believe in scripture, there are studies (that you can find yourself cuz I don’t feel like looking them up, but there HAS to be studies)…nah there may not be studies, but there are intelligent people (i.e: Tony Robbins in The Edge) who say that speaking out loud an incantation is like listening to the hook of a song– it gets stuck in your brain. So, therefore, all the negativity doesn’t have room to reside in the space between your ears.

3. Smile, Holler, Clap, Support

One of the main things that I have been hearing in the podcast is that your posture and your expressions are indicative of your mood. If you are sulking and look like you ’bout to hit someone cuz you didn’t hit that triple-pirouette for the fourth time in-a-row, then it’s pretty obvious you’re mental state is getting down on yourself. In opposition, smiling, applauding, hollering at someone in support (at least in a Hiphop class, I ain’t ever seen no Ballet class where people are yelling at each other, but by all means try it!) are all conventions that make it hard for negative thoughts to take you down.

4. Go with a Friend

This is probably one of the most obvious, and commonly used, methods to create a positive class experience (until that friend start killin it and you getting all jealous cuz you messing up). But seriously, having someone there who cares about you beyond your abilities in class is probably one of the most powerful tools to foster a positive mindset. We all know that being in a room with plenty of talented people can be intimidating, so having someone you can ask a million questions to, joke with, support, and show love to, can be a crucial remedy to those negative thoughts that ruin the way in which you experience class.

5. Be Thankful
(That you’re not as bad as the person next to you……..I’m playing!)

You can look at this as an internal-external process too, but I’m specifically referring to showing thanks. After each class, go up to the teacher/choreographer and just thank them for their effort, time, and instruction. As humans, we’re all about connecting with one another, and making others feel good simply makes us feel good. So, no matter what kind of class it was for you personally, end it on a good note by being grateful because honestly, it is a blessing to have the money to take class and the health to dance, amongst plenty of other things.

I encourage you to think of plenty other ways to create a positive learning environment for yourself in class, but I hope at least one of these tips prove to be a good starting point for you. Thanks for reading, blessings!