THE ONGOING DEBATE ABOUT GENDER ROLES IN THE HIP-HOP DANCE COMMUMITY
WATCH AN OLD-SCHOOL hip-hop video from the 1980s or '90s- by Bel Biv DeVoe, Salt 'N" Pepa or Missy Elliot - and you'll see aggressive, hard-hitting choreography. The guy dancers are tough, but the girls are too, wearing baggy sweats and attacking the movement in a masculine way. Back then, hip hop was clearly a man's world.
Today, women in hip hop can still do head spins and freezes with the best of 'em, and they're masters of popping, locking and breaking - styles originally developed by male dancers. But you'll also find them dancing ultra-femininely in videos by artists like Beyoncé and Ciara. And it's not just the ladies performing these sultry movesthe guys are doing them, too. The concept of gender in hip hop is evolving.
No doubt, strong opinions about how men and women should dance still exist. But dancers and choreographers are continuing to blur the boundaries in class and onstage, slowly reestablishing how each gender is perceived. The hip-hop genre is also blending with styles like street jazz and contemporary, so its borders are shifting, too. To handle today's fluid hip-hop terrain, both guys and girls are learning to master diverse styles and to portray both genders. Dance Spirit spoke with hip-hop veterans to find out how and why the perception of gender in hip hop has evolved- and where it stands now.
THEN AND NOW
Jonathan Lee, a hip-hop dancer and teacher, explains that in the past, hip-hop dance was predominantly masculine because of its origins. "Hip-hop music's pioneers were men and the culture has been dominated by men," he says. "The word B-boy suggests that." Teresa Espinosa, a member of the Beat Freaks, adds that in the '80s and '90s this was especially apparent in dance circles and at battles. "In 1992, I was the lone female ranger in circles," she says. Because of that, the girls had something to prove: that they were as good as the guys. And they did so by trying to fit in and doing what those guys were doing rather than creating their own stylistic movement.
However, this is only one of many opinions about the role gender played during hip hop's early stages. Some vets think gender played less of a role than it does now. Dancing then was about the choreography, not about the dancer - so whether you were male or female didn't matter, what mattered was that you could execute the moves you were given. "In some early hip-hop videos everybody did the same jazzy movements, which are now seen as more feminine," says hip-hop teacher and choreographer Chuck Maldonado.
But today, we've entered an era in which new trails are being blazed. Guys and girls can dance femininely or get rough - anything goes. According to Brian Friedman, a teacher and choreographer, much of this has to do with the exploration of new hiphop styles and choreography. "I don't remember hip-hop dance being so genderspecific before," he says. "Ganky (DS October 2009) helped to change that." This ultra-fern, vogue- inspired style, which Friedman popularized, helped a whole new breed of dancer emerge, he says. …