When we think about hip hop dance, what immediately comes to mind? Maybe it’s an image of breakdancing b-boys on the street, or MC Hammer’s iconic “U Can’t Touch This” music video, or one of your favourite hip hop themed movies, like Save the Last Dance or Step Up. Hip hop music and dance have been embraced by pop culture since the late 1980’s, when Run-DMC ft. Aerosmith released “Walk This Way”, and became the first hip hop song to make Billboard’s Top 10 list. Fast forward to 2019, and it’s blatantly clear that hip hop music and culture is at the forefront of mainstream media, with the biggest artists in the world (ahem Beyonce) taking center stage within hip hop’s wildly influential and diverse stratosphere.
But if we look back at where hip hop got its feet wet and developed as a unique style, it may be surprising just how long it’s been around. Thought to have originated on the American East Coast in the late 1960’s, hip hop dance was born in the gritty streets of New York City. A direct affront to the uptight rigor of classical training offered by dance academies, only available to the upper class and bourgeoisie, hip hop dance truly was for the people. It fostered a sense of community and self-expression for those living in lower income neighborhoods, such as The Bronx and Harlem. Predominantly populated by people of African, Latino, and Caribbean backgrounds, early iterations of hip hop dance were heavily influenced by these contrasting cultures. Not one singular move or style embodies hip hop dance, for it’s a genuine melting pot of diversified techniques. Rather, hip hop is more about attitude and vibe, and is best exemplified by The Bronx-born style of breakdance.
As hip hop found its footing on the East Coast with early hip hop artists like Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa in the 1970’s, the West Coast developed their own distinctive brand of hip hop dance styles. Initially inspired by rigid, robotic movements, like those seen in The Jackson Five’s video for “Dancing Machine” in 1974, West Coast hip hop style was in a world all its own. Rooted in funk music, the music of the West Coast sparked a desire to embody the otherworldly movements associated with mannequins, robots and aliens. A multitude of spin-off dance styles developed from the West Coast streets, like roboting, locking, strutting, popping, and boogalooing. While these styles emerged in a category all their own, over time they have been absorbed by the massive genre umbrella that is hip hop dance.
Nowadays, hip hop is one of the most popular dance styles, and has been fully adopted into the sphere of formal dance training. In fact, it’d be pretty difficult to find a dance school that doesn’t offer at least one hip hop class to any student eager to deviate from the classical styles of ballet, jazz and tap. Hip hop culture has become so mainstream, that it is now taught in some Universities as a core course subject. Interested in deepening your understanding of how hip hop culture has influenced the urban working class? Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario has you covered. Feel like deep diving into the many ways in which Beyonce has become a cultural construct within pop culture? University of Victoria in B.C. has made that possible.
Hip hop began as a creative platform for the oppressed to revolt against the powers that be, as a way to assert their visionary power of expression. It has been repackaged and appropriated, sterilized through the lens of academia for the consumption of anyone who can afford it. But the beauty of dance, regardless of genre, is that it really is for everyone. You don’t have to be rich, powerful, beautiful, or cool to enjoy cutting a rug. All it takes is a desire to move your body.
Because it is the genre most often associated with freestyle, improvised, or party dancing, hip hop has become the most accessible and transferable dance style there is. Dancelogue has compiled an extensive arsenal of hip hop inspired dance tutorials to learn at home if you aren’t interested, or can’t afford, to take a formal dance class in a studio. You’re just a few clicks away from impressing your crew at the club this weekend with some funky fresh moves, so clear some space in your bedroom and pop n’ lock your little heart away.