Hip Hop, You Don't Stop
Garofoli, Wendy, Dance Teacher
A multi-billion dollar industry, hip hop can be a vital component in your studio's success. Read on to learn about developing a comprehensive hip-hop program that is appropriate for your school.
Last year, Amanda Armetta-Gring opened her own studio, Armetta's Grande Jeté Studio of Dance, in Macungie, Pennsylvania. On the class menu: a smattering of dance technique classes, gymnastics-and an overwhelming number of hip-hop courses. "Everybody calls for hip hop," she says frankly. "If you HR don't have it, they don't want you."
Studio owners who have little experience but want to meet W the demand are faced with an interesting dilemma: How do you educate students about hip hop when you have limited knowledge on the subject? The genre has reached a critical point in studios and on the competition circuit. Dancers are performing jazz routines to hip-hop music, and its history and early practitioners are in danger of being forgotten, even as its influence permeates every facet of popular culture. In order to ensure quality education for their students, directors should commit to the serious study of hip hop's ever-evolving shape. While paying homage to its roots, they can simultaneously capitalize on hip hop's popularity to grow their businesses, provide well-rounded instruction and expand and enhance their own dance vocabulary.
Research the Roots
Hip hop as a dance form has been around since the early '70s, emerging on the streets of New York and quickly reaching the West Coast. Breakdancers (or B-boys, as they are known in hiphop circles) in the South Bronx would "throw down" to the funk-inspired sounds of Kool Here, considered to be hip-hop's first DJ. By the time the first rap single, "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang, hit the charts in 1979, breaking, popping and locking were widespread on the streets. In the early '80s, Hollywood took notice, and started featuring the dance styles in commercials, music videos and movies such as Wild Style, Breakin' and Fame. But it wasn't until later in the decade that hip hop made its first appearance in dance studios in the form of street jazz, a style that combined popular moves such as "the running man" or "the Roger Rabbit" with traditional jazz technique. Still, studio owners didn't sit up and take notice until the start of the new millennium, when hip hop's staying power had become increasingly apparent.
By gathering information from the internet, movies, books, music videos, instructional DVDs and documentaries, teachers can uncover more of hip hop's history and its current trends. (For a basic list of resources, see page 48.) They can also gain more exposure by attending performances or connecting with artists who are active in the community. However, the single best resource for teachers is the classroom. Douglas Yeuell, who is the executive/artistic director of Joy of Motion Dance Center in Washington, DC, encourages instructors to take advantage of hip-hop pioneers, such as Mr. Wiggles, Mr. Freeze and Popin' Pete, who continue to perform and teach throughout the country at conventions, workshops and colleges. "Jazz is my thing, and there are a lot of jazz greats out there," says Yeuell. "If I'm going to educate people on jazz, I've got to work with those who have defined it. The same is true from the hiphop perspective."
After studying the technique and its history, studio directors will have a foundation on which to build a versatile hip-hop curriculum. Yet, knowledge alone won't suffice; employing experienced faculty is key. Hiring in hip hop can be tricky, particularly because it's primarily embraced by younger audiences. Rose Sem, co-owner of Groove Nation Hip-Hop Academy in Vancouver, Washington, says she looks at how many years applicants have been dancing and teaching hip hop, as well as what techniques they are familiar with. Yeuell cautions directors not to overlook the importance of proven teaching ability. …