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In our society today several dance styles exist but the Hip Hop dance has stood out probably because of its popularity or its influence. Hip-hop represents a specific culture, here we will find out where this style originated from, the people it belongs to, and how it has evolved over the years. To give a solid definition to Hip Hop or any specific style of dance or investigate where it originates from a solid definition of dance in general becomes crucial. Presently, the form of dance with consistent and increasing popularity remains Hip Hop. Other modern and contemporary styles include Jazz, Ballet, and Tap.

These later examples have concrete definitions and criteria that make that style of dance distinguished from the rest. Quite clearly, Hip Hop as well is distinguished as genuine among the other forms mentioned, but based on what criteria. It seems lacking on the surface but by looking at the following definition of dance, a definition of Hip Hop dance will emerge. According to Judith Hanna who wrote, To Dance is Human: a Theory of Nonverbal Communication, body movements can be considered dance when the following criteria are met, “Human behavior composed, from the dancer’s perspective, of 1) purposeful, 2) intentionally rhythmical, and 3) culturally patterned sequences of a 4a) nonverbal body movement other than 4b) ordinary motor activities, the 4c) motion having inherent and aesthetic value (Hanna 19)”. Meaning that a dance can be defined as an action or motion according to this criteria and nothing more.

Before applying the criteria of dance to the style of Hip Hop it needs to be noted that the Hip Hop style of dance be embraced much differently than the other dance styles because, “hip hop people identify with, embrace, and live the genre completely” (Hazzard-Donald 513). The dance style comes as a package, one that cannot be separated from the rest of its components

America’s first taste of Hip Hop was much different than today but represents many of the same ideas. It was in an “era of African American male economic insecurity, of popular conspicuous consumption, of widening gaps between the rich and poor, and of moribund social movement for minority inclusion, that hip hop emerged” (Hazzard-Donald 508). In the early 1970’s the adolescent gangs of the Bronx began “dancing” and leaving their mark in the subways and streets as a way to combat conflict among gangs in a new unconventional way (Watkins 207). Many argue that “Hip hop is an expressive cultural genre originating among lower- and often marginalized working-class African American youth. The genre includes rapping, and rap music, graffiti writing, particular dance styles, specific attire, and a specialized language and vocabulary” (Hazzard-Donald 508). The specific attire refers to clothing, colors, symbols, and accessories that all categorize the African American adolescent males into which group, better known as “crew” they belonged to. Their “crew” becomes their identity, something they all want to be apparent so they can represent for themselves. Over the years the hip-hop dance style has evolved through three different styles to become one. These styles are; “Waack”, “breaking” and “rap-dance”

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“Waack” dance became the first known form of Hip Hop dance and can best be characterized by an outrageous style. It emerged in 1972 and can be considered a “breaking” or break-dancing style. Its movements are characterized as having a fusion of theatrical expectations with lots of showmanship. The theatrical presence can be interpreted as its purpose, to portray a certain type of movement and the showmanship represents purpose as well but also the culturally patterned sequence and the aesthetic value aspect of dance. Specific moves associated with this style of Hip Hop dance include locking or pop-locking, the robot, the spank, and rapid spins on various body parts including a frozen element. The specific movements represent the intentional rhythm. The movement quality of pop and lock is a jerking and freezing style. A segmented body part such as a hand “initiates a free-flowing, undulating movement that flows” (HazzardDonald 509) up the body part and results in a jerking or freezing when it has gone all the way up the body part. This style accentuates the torso, arms, and legs. Knickers, baggy pants with suspenders, or pants tucked into striped knee socks were typical apparel, accompanied by open-laced combat boots and later sneakers so the tongue hung out. “Waack” dancing, being the first associated with Hip Hop remains a dance of the streets, way before mainstream Hip Hop emerged and led the way for new styles to develop. Breaking is the second term coined with Hip Hop dancing that represents a more traditional African American dance than the outrageous style of “Waack”. Breaking emerged around 1973 and 1974 at Harlem rent parties and in the subways and streets. It most widely represents “the male one-upmanship” (Hazzard-Donald 509). The very competitive style accentuates the intent of each person’s performance as a way of attempting to outdo the rest. The style’s movements being intentional and very fixed represent the format or intentional rhythm. The dancers, who typically call themselves a “crew”, and onlookers of a different “crew” form an impromptu circle for the dancing to begin. Some equipment can be used, usually a cardboard or linoleum mat to protect the dancers from the concrete while dancing. The first dancer goes in, only for a brief ten to thirty seconds, and performs a very dense dance, compact with meaning. First he, yes he, for this style is the most prominently dominated by males due to a certain demand of athleticism in the movements, starts with a basic walk to get the flow or rhythm of the music, this categorizes the entry (Kalyan 250). He proceeds by getting down on the floor, using very syncopated movements, and does a movement like flares or the helicopter. Following the floor work comes a very acrobatic movement to get the dancer off the floor and back up to a vertical position. The acrobatic movement often being referred to as the transition leads up to the final element of the dancer’s performance known as the freeze.

The last style of dance associated with Hip Hop is rap dance. The rap dance style combines the aspects of “waack” and breaking but with a twist. That twist means that the dancing “is influenced and cross-fertilized by a less athletic form of popular dance, house dancing” (Forman 570). Rap dance, like the other two styles, is male-oriented but not exclusively male. An aspect of partnering in this style persists where a female can be involved, but not always assumedly. The partnering maintains a certain peculiarity because its foundation remains based on a lack of cooperation between the two. This may have to do with the purpose of this dance which is “fed by the celebration of the individual bound by in-group solidarity, community accountability and cooperation” Talarico 7 (Forman 570). Rap dance can be seen today at most house parties where it originated, and at some club-scene in urban areas. Overall the style of Hip Hop dance with the least complexities, but like the culture of Hip Hop, every movement has its intent and is complex in itself.

“Waack”, Breaking and Rap dance are the styles symbolizing Hip Hop dance before the media’s involvement. In each of these styles, concealed and obvious meanings to every movement appear. Every aspect of every motion has a very intentional purpose which correlates beautifully with the definition of dance. The movements are all derived from cultural elements such as life in the ghetto and the streets.

Hip Hop as a dance style will always have freedom in the movements to explore however the body chooses to move, representing the expressions and feelings of the dancer and the society the dancer belongs to. Ultimately defining the dance style of Hip Hop as one in which the dancer delivers their feelings and intent with explosive energy, while exploring diverse and changing styles and expressing their society through the cultural contexts of Hip Hop, all while fulfilling the criteria of dance. This definition is important in the bigger picture because it identifies a massive group of people who now belong to Hip Hop due to its expansion into America’s mainstream society.

Works Cited

    1. Craig Watkins, S. Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement. Boston: Beacon P, 2005.
    2. Forman, Murray, Hazzard-Donald and Mark Anthony Neal. That’s the Joint: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. New York City: Routledge, 2004:13-20; 505-515.
    3. Hanna, Judith L. To Dance is Human: a Theory of Nonverbal Communication. Chicago: The University of Chicago P, 1987.

 

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