Tag Archives: dancer

“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!

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

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!

SYTYCD Reflection #2: So You Think You Can Choreograph?!

As I’m watching the show this week, my housemate comes up to me and starts our common bashing of the show after we hear Nigel talk about technique and pointed feet like the two are mutually exclusive to each other. But this time, I was like, “ Nah, stop it, I’m too tired to be having all of this animosity tonight, sooo let’s not even go there this time.”

And truly I didn’t want to go there. I had my say last week about the structures of the show that get on my nerves. So this time, I was looking forward to sitting back, eating my nachos, and watching some good ol’ dancing (And to see some people I’ve met through Hiphop battles test their skills in the competition. 3 of them made it so shout out this week goes to Kenya Standing O Sutton, Benny Eaz, and Roderick Crider- congrats y’all!)

So anyways, towards the end of the show, an auditionee comes on to the stage. Her name is Gaby Diaz. She’s one of those people who decided to show her grit and audition twice in-a-row because she didn’t make it the first time. At first I was like, ‘Oh no, here we go, why is she doing this to herself?’ But, then I listened to what she had to say during her interview.

She claimed that she got cut in Dallas because her solo was like a run-on sentence. The judges didn’t enjoy the fact that she didn’t allow her solo to breath with stops and punctuation. So, she came back with a vengeance in Detroit to, I believe, a new song and a new routine. From the very start of her solo I could tell that the girl had skills…and she does…she ended up getting to Vegas with her second attempt.

But this brought up the question for me of why did she get cut in the first place? As I said, I could tell within 5 seconds of the solo that the girl could tap dance. Nigel is a bona fide tap dancer, so I know he could tell as well. But she got cut because she overcomplicated her solo.

This just got me thinking about how this show judges a dancer’s choreographic ability as well as their movement prowess, but only when it comes to “stage” dancers. Most “street” dancers don’t even choreograph their routines in the first place. And yet, the judges give Hiphop dancers the benefit-of-the-doubt all of the time. For example, we heard Nigel constantly complain about how Hiphop dancers weren’t moving through space well in the premier episode of Season 12. However, that didn’t stop most of the street dance auditionees from receiving a ticket– because they could see the talent of the dancer regardless of their choreographic capabilities!

Yet, there’s a clear double standard established as this dope stage dance tapper receives the boot because her amazing sounds were done too much and too fast. Now, don’t get me wrong; I understand that a good presentation of ones’ dancing skills is key. But, just like a great athlete may not be a good coach, a great dancer should not have to be a great choreographer. And the judges should have a responsibility to distinguish a talented mover from a talented choreographer, especially at this beginning point in the competition.

I’m really proud of the girl for coming back, because she is really talented and the judges almost missed out on a potential tapper– a style that has a small pool of auditionees to begin with. So, props to Gaby Diaz and I’ll be rooting for you because I’m all about the underdog… and you’re pretty cute. Good for you for showing that you can dance and choreograph!

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Blessings.

Growing From The Rain: A 2nd Year Grad School Testimonial

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This past semester I was honored to give a talk about passion to a group of undergraduate students at The Ohio State University through an event called “What’s Your Number” hosted by Vanessa Scott. Through this event, I was reminded of how powerful testimonies can be. Sometimes, it is not about preaching what others should do, but just letting others know your story with a hope that someone can be inspired by it. So, I wanted to tell a story from my second year of graduate school with a hope that it empowers someone someday:

Coming into this past Spring semester of 2015 I was really anxious. It’s really nothing new. Every semester since the beginning of my graduate career has been filled with nervousness because of my desire to do well. But, there was definitely something different about this semester in particular.

For one, I was coming back from the toughest semester I’ve had in my graduate career. It was ironic because my schedule for that semester was the most lenient and inviting one that I’ll ever have (a lot of Hiphop and very little ballet… ah yea). I literally was set to have the time of my life. And, I started off right: get up early, work out, take class, teach class, enjoy life, repeat.

Then a day came where I received an email that said I did not pass my first graduate exam– one that was crucial for me to pass in order to stay in the graduate program. Although my heart was struck, I sort of expected the result for numerous reasons including my procrastination with the assignment over the summer. Also, I was given a chance to retake the exam within the next month. So, all things considering, life was still nice. Little did I know that this bump in the road would lead to one of my greatest pits in life.

I tried to continue my 8:30 am-8: 30pm school regiment while getting the exam done- ultimate fail. My schedule was just too busy and taxing. I dropped my morning gym schedule and from that next day forward, my desire to arise every morning dropped with it. Waking up literally became the hardest thing to do. Despite how much sleep I received, I would struggle to gain consciousness because it felt like a brick was sitting in my brain, forcing my eyelids to shut me back into my dream state. The most important exam of my current life was silenced with every press of the snooze button (pathetic, I know). This went on for the greater part of a month. Finally, one week, I was able to muster up the strength to attack the exam full on. I wrote nonstop and asked for the help of peers, colleagues, and family in order to make my exam fail-proof. I turned my second exam in and immediately felt heaviness rise and dissipate from my soul as I felt proud of the work I had done.

A couple weeks later, I found that my pride wasn’t reciprocated as I read another email saying that I had failed again. From what I knew at the time, failing twice meant you would be asked to leave the program. By the grace of God, I was given a third chance to orally defend my exam. However, my spirit was already broken. The thing is I represent a unique demographic as a graduate student in the dance department at OSU. I am the youngest person, the most inexperienced dancer, the sole African-American…and then there’s the whole Hiphop thing. So, to sit there and fail twice in an environment where I already felt alienated (from nobody’s doing, but my own mindset) was hard for me to deal with. I’m not proud to admit that I cracked, but I am glad to say that I was able to still fulfill my responsibilities. Happiness was aloft, however. Positivity within myself or in my relationships was a rare thing to find.

I did end up passing my exam which sent me on Winter break severely wounded but, weirdly, not defeated. I felt invigorated to prove myself and take revenge on all of the things that held me down for 10+ weeks. So, coming full circle back to this Spring semester- I’m nervous. I remember losing sleep on the bus back to Columbus because I was listening to empowering podcasts that would oppose the voice in my head; reminding me of how well I started the semester before, and how poorly it went after that.

My new regiment consisted of an 8 am- 9 pm day at least 4 days-a-week. Most of the day, I was physically exerting myself through dance, working out, or teaching. I took time for myself from 6:30am-7:30am where I made sure to walk around my block, reflect on positive thoughts, pray, go back home, eat breakfast, and listen to an inspiring podcast.

After a week of this regiment, the head-voice told me, “Good job, you did it, but it’s only week one, and you’re tired, how do you think you’re going to do this for 15 weeks?” It just questioned me and questioned me. I did my routine with skepticism, simply waiting for the day where I would retract back to my old ways. Meanwhile, I also felt encouraged by the instant gratification of my regiment. There was something satisfying about feeding myself positivity through multiple modalities like the walking and the listening to inspiring messages. It allowed me to find love in myself, my purpose, and others on a daily basis.

And so, one week turned into two weeks, and weeks turned into a month. And, that voice stayed and questioned, but it started to quiet down. Because a month turned into two months. And, although I did slip up at times to fall victim to the voice questioning my resolve and endurance, I always got back up with a renewed determination. And then… Spring semester ended.

As I traveled on my morning route for the last school day, I couldn’t help but to cry and yell out in victory! For the first time in my life, with and through God, I feel like I gave my full self from start to finish. I trudged, and I pushed through the tiredness and the exhaustion. I barely missed any classes. I fought through any and all injuries. I performed numerous times. I choreographed even more times for works inside and outside of the department. I gave speeches. I taught great classes. I went above and beyond anything I’ve ever done and set myself up for greater things to come. When I fell, I got back up. And now, I sit here knowing that my best was given, and I am proud.

As I’m writing, I look upon my bookshelf and see 30+ cards and notes with lovely words of encouragement and thanks from wonderful people who I’ve had the pleasure of working with throughout the semester. I am so thankful for the things God has done, and the people God has put in my life, in order to push me another day, day-after-day. And even though that doubtful voice still lingers in my head, I lean back in faith knowing that if I beat it once, I’ll do it again.

And so, I end my rant with a bible verse that I depended on through the latter part of this semester. It gave me this image that God is behind me to support, in front of me to lead, and on each side of me to hold my hands every time I decide to take another step in my path of purpose, “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40: 31.

Peace.

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.

Hiphop Lesson #1: Empower Yourself while Encouraging Your Community

Ain’t a way around it no more, I am the greatest
A lotta niggas sat on the throne, I am the latest
I am the bravest, go toe to toe with the giants

I ain’t afraid of you niggas, I’ll end up fading you niggas

We all kings
Kings of ourselves first and foremost
While the people debate who’s the king of this rap game
Here comes lil’ ol’ Jermaine
With every ounce of strength in his veins
To snatch the crown from whoever y’all think has it
But rather than place it on his head as soon as he grabs it
Poof, boom, paow, it’s like magic
With a flash and a BANG the crown disintegrates
And falls to the Earth from which it came
It’s done

Ain’t gonna be no more kings” J. Cole Fire Squad, Forest Hills Drive

Maaaaan, I’m fascinated by Hiphop! Over this past week I shared a lecture from Youtube by KRS-One called “40 Years of Hiphop” with my dance classes at The Ohio State University (Buckeyes National Champs say what!?) in order to get them exploring the question of “What is Hiphop?”

In pondering the question myself, I have gained insight to a powerful characteristic of the culture. Hiphop culture contains a paradox that emphasizes self-empowerment and peer-encouragement simultaneously through the form of art and competition. In other words, Hiphop allows the opportunity for an individual to be confident enough to claim that they are the best while also being selfless enough to claim that their peers are the best as well.

This brings up the question of, what is it to be the best? I would say that to be THE best means to be YOUR best. Hiphop culture in the form of bboying, emceeing, djayin, and graffiti writing offers an artistic format in which individuals are encouraged to show their best selves. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I am dancing within a battle, I am going out with the mindset that I am the best dancer out there! Nobody can touch me- I am better than you, you, you, and you! Before you claim me as being pretentious, let me remind you that I desire for my competition to show me their dance with the same mentality!

Why you may ask? Because ultimately, I am Hiphop, and Hiphop is me. But Hiphop is not just me, it is also anyone else who claims that they’re Hiphop. So, therefore, by both of us expressing our best selves through dance, Hiphop is at its best. If both my competition and I consider each other as whack, we ultimately devalue ourselves, and therefore, Hiphop. However, if both my competition and I find empowerment in being our best self, while encouraging the other to be their best self, we both leave as individuals with more value than when we came into the space.

When you look at the quote above, you see this same paradox in the rap element. J. Cole released his album a few months ago and with that release, claims that he is the greatest emcee alive! If you’re agreeing or disagreeing with that statement, you’re missing the point. Now I have to admit, I cannot claim that J. Cole is doing anything more than simply laying out some hot, yet narcissistic lyrics; however, for the sake of this post, lets say he is being intentional. Now J. Cole, being Hiphop and having a Hiphop mindset, is the greatest because he said so! As a fellow Hiphop artist, I say that he is right. Not necessarily because I believe J. Cole’s talent beats all others, but because I believe he, through his album, is contributing his best self to the Hiphop collective.

Hiphop is not the only culture that shares this mindset. As a Christian, I know that Christianity also contributes to this idea of being your best while encouraging others’ to be theirs in order to fulfill the body of Christ. The thing that fascinates me about this concept in regards to Hiphop is people’s perception of the culture. I am generalizing when I say this, but I do not believe many people think that Hiphop culture touches upon anything deeper than money, women, materialistic pleasures, drugs, guns, and partying (Thanks mainstream media!!!). Yet, Hiphop’s foundation also lies in the concept of power to the individual and responsibility to one’s community, amongst many other things. So what is Hiphop? Hopefully, you’ve gathered that it is deeper and more complex than you ever imagined!

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!