Hip Hop

Favorite Part: Feeling like a beginner again. Even with years of dance training, I often feel like I’m starting from scratch and learning to move my body all over again.

Best Adventure: Taking hip hop classes in Amsterdam and Tokyo. I don’t speak Dutch or Japanese, so I was learning dance through dance alone.

Hardest Part: Building up my shoulder muscles! I had to learn to dance with my shoulders instead of holding them in ballet’s steady “swan’s neck” position, with the shoulder blades drawn down the back.

During my conservatory training in ballet, I avoided hip hop classes at all costs. The strange, loose style didn’t make sense to me because ballet has an absolute “ideal” toward which all dancers are striving. I didn’t understand the underpinnings of the dance form and it intimidated me for years.

It wasn’t until I took a break from dance during graduate school that I learned to appreciate the freedom of improvised and stylized dance. I went into my first real hip hop class with an open mind and absolutely loved it.

The Process

Getting to know hip hop was like learning a new language—not only did I need to learn new words, but I had rethink the way I learned choreography and remembered movements. Hip hop is far more focused on movement quality than ballet, which prioritizes positioning.

What it Means to Me

Hip hop subverts many of the “rules” of ballet (perhaps, unsurprisingly). The sharpest contrast is in how the two forms value character, or swagger. In ballet, technique always comes first. Without solid technique, there is no reason to perform. But hip hop prizes confidence above all. Hip hop philosophy says there is no movement you can’t make look good. You simply have to own the dance, to put energy, and confidence, and perhaps even cockiness into it and people will want to watch.

That’s a powerful lesson. The “right way” doesn’t really matter if your dancing can turn heads and draw crowds. If you act like you’re worthy of someone’s attention, they’ll give it to you.

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