“This is Hip-hop?”
I believe I watched the above video a total of ten times.
The first time I can't even really count. I think I was in a state of shock and my brain couldn't process what it had witnessed. The second time, I’ll be honest, I found it really amusing. It was hard NOT to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. As I watched it over and over again however, I began to get increasingly frustrated. There was just so much wrong, and I didn't know what to be upset about first.
Consumerism and You
America is a consumerist society, and there’s really no way around it. Literally everything you own, whether you bought it or it was given as a gift, was in one way or another the influence of an incredibly good marketing campaign. No, you don't need those Jordans (you know, the exact same ones that “come out” every year), but somehow you are convinced you do. Why? Because advertising agencies and big marketing firms understand how your brain works better than you do. It’s all psychological, and they’re REALLY good at their jobs. This is true for every product and service, in every industry, on every level, and Dance is far from an exception.
Still fairly new, Hip-hop is in a very delicate stage of establishing a firm identity. Many of the “ol’ school” Hip-hop heads that grew up with, and have a deep, emotional connection to the music and it’s culture, have a hard time with it’s mainstreaming. And with good reason: once something becomes a cash cow, it’s integrity and very essence can be lost to commercialization. This is the truth about Hip-hop dance. Because dance is an art that exists in time with music, it’s inevitable that it will evolve along with it. Today, we see a demand for Hip-hop dancers that we would have never seen back when NWA was a top-selling group. There are “Urban” movies, commercials for Juices and digital devices, flash mobs, and the list goes on. All wonderful things. But is any of it real Hip-hop?
So getting back to the video, you may wonder what exactly is so terrible about it? Well, I'm glad you asked! There are a few things I feel obligated to point out:
1). Right away, it struck me the way she said the word “Hip-hop”. It seemed really unnatural to her, and she was doing this wierd emphasis on the “p” in “Hip” and the “o” in “Hop” that was distracting. I think she might of said the the word over a hundred times, using it in every single one of her demonstrations…you know, kinda like when someone doesn’t really know what they’re talking about?
“A rock is like, you know…a rock.”
There were no terms used, no vocabulary whatsoever that gave you any information or definition of Hip-hop. There were just empty explanations, and irrelevant back stories that left you thinking “now you know damn well….”
2). The almost baggy, matchy-matchy, pseudo adidas sweat suits. Obviously none of these people had a real understanding of the influence of fashion on Hip-hop culture. Sure, it was the 90's and clothing was worn in this way well into the 00's, but she probably just watched Beat street or something of the like and did what anyone who knows nothing about a culture before mimicking it does: they ruin it.
3). Probably the biggest problem is that this video is supposed to be a Hip-hop dance tutorial…with no actual Hip-hop dancing! No popping, no locking, not even breaking, and that's where the sweat suit was made popular (I really hope Crazy Legs hasn't seen this mess)! No Deena, that turn out and those Jazz hands does not make it Hip-hop. You telling me to have a relaxed posture while standing in a first position doesn’t help either. I feel really bad for the kids in the video. They clearly have a dance backround, but no real example of what this particular style is all about. How will they feel if they become exposed (and you know they eventually do) to some actual Hip-hop dancing? Will they be embarrassed for having participated in this video? Will they resent their teacher? Will they care at all?
4). I lied. The biggest problem with this video is the cultural appropriation. I realized the reason I was most upset about it: Not only did this video get incredible exposure, but it did so because it was taken on by a middle aged white woman with suburban white children in the background. Hip-hop was ridiculously mis-represented, and the entire thing seemed more like a mockary than real education. This concept isn’t new of course, the video itself is old as hell, so it’s no suprise. The issue is, with how technology has evolved, the video has somehow resurfaced, and is receiving even more exposure than it did when it was first filmed. Who’s to say a child won’t come across it today and really believe what is shown in this tape is real Hip-hop?
1, 2, Step
A friend of mine recently shared his frustration with me in taking dance classes here in New York. In fact, many of my dance friends have expressed their lack of enthusiasm for training in the genre in general. The complaint is that there are too many “teachers” who give a cool combination of steps and choreography, but do very little to feed the hunger that is real knowledge. Technique. Freedom of movement comes from learning the basics and mechanics of a specialized dance style, and then using those tools to discover how your body can manipulate them into different dance moves. Sure, you can learn a hip-hop piece even if you can’t freestyle...but that’s part of the problem. Everyone is so comfortable with mimicking what they see others do, that they don’t even care to internalize the most basic form of identity within this genre of dance. They’re content. There’s a lack of respect.
Hip-hop came from the streets. There was no “5,6,7,8”, no group 1 and group 2 at the end of class. Hell, there WAS no class. At it’s very core, Hip-hop dance is a form of stylistic expression that was meant to encourage standing out, not fitting in. How do we as a community go from the cushy, cash-profit continuation, back to the art? To where Hip-hop technique can be deemed just as important as Ballet technique?
Even better, how many of you are educating yourselves on Hip-hop culture? Are you calling yourself a Hip-hop dancer, but can’t Boogaloo to save your life? Do the beads of sweat form instantly at the mention of freestyling at an audition? Hmm..
Let’s take the next week to spread some real knowledge! Here’s how:
Share this blog post anywhere on social media, and title it with one word: an element of Hip-hop. Tag 2 people, and challenge them to do the same without Googling! When you do, don’t forget to include the hashtags #iJustMOVEment and #THISisRealHipHop. I will post first to give an example of course. Now…
Are you up for it?
But I mean, what do I know?
I just Move.