By Janet Martin
“Many different dance styles emerged from ‘pedestrian’ beginnings and grew into a legitimate dance discipline,” Wendy Rosoff, dance teacher at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles, Calif., said. “I think this holds true for hip-hop, and I truly admire it and all of its different iterations.”
Since then, the style has grown to incorporate hundreds of sub-genres—including, but not limited to: ticking, breaking, and popping—and has been featured on shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew.” Despite its humble origins, hip-hop is starting to find a place in the canon of the dance world, right up there with ballet, jazz and tap.
In August 2010, William Lett, a musical theater instructor at California State University at Fullerton, told a different story. “[Hip-hop] hasn’t reached academic status yet like ballet, jazz or tap,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post. And yet, schools like the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, which is an accredited institution of the National Association of Schools of Theatre, as well as the Charisma School of Dance in Washington and the University of California at Los Angeles all offer hip-hop classes along with the more traditional dance styles.
“Hip-hop has a rich history and takes a specific technical ability,” said Rosoff. “Each discipline is its own beast so it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but I think it owns its own slot in our dance culture at this point.”
Although schools like Juilliard do not formally offer hip-hop classes to students, alumni like Christian McBride and honorees like Quincy Jones, who received Juilliard’s honorary doctorate of music degree, have done professional work in hip-hop that is noteworthy. Hip-hop is slowly gaining a place amongst the world’s top dance schools and finding a place in the professional world. When it comes to being a professional dancer, Rosoff believes that “with dance making a comeback in film, TV [and] new media, hip-hop is essential.”
The group Poreotics charges $8,500 per gig and earn a full-time income from performances, merchandise sales and dance workshops, according to the Washington Post. All of this suggests that Lett was a little short-sighted in his opinion. Hip-hop may have started on the streets of Los Angeles and New York, but that does not mean it holds a place below other prestigious styles of dance.
While a professional career as a hip-hop dancer is no longer as far-fetched as previously thought, such a career is not necessarily easy. As with any professional performing art, there is a certain amount of training and technique that is required. Sites like YouTube allow even the most inexperienced dancers to show their stuff to the world. Because they get a certain amount of views, they think they are qualified to dance professionally. But any dancer will tell you there is more to a dance career. “When there is an emotional connection to the movement, and it’s well executed technically, we’ll buy whatever the style is,” said Rosoff. “I think the disconnect occurs when young dancers believe that simply by doing a series of steps or tricks, they are embodying the dance. It’s so much more than that. Dance comes from the inside core of your being and pushes through the body to express whatever thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing. It’s the same whether you’re dancing ballet, tap or hip-hop.”
When one considers the intense competition displayed every year at the World Hip-hop Dance Championship, a contest held in Las Vegas, Nev., since 2002, Rosoff’s observation does not seem far off. Despite hundreds of dancers on the web, only three crews go home winners each year. Even Poreotics, the group good enough to make a living off of hip-hop, placed second in the 2010 competition.
“TV shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ and sites such as YouTube have had a profound effect on the kinds of dance the public sees every day and therefore, I think hip-hop has crossed whatever cultural boundaries there may have been [to] become more prevalent than ever,” Rosoff said.
Rosoff has faith in the potential of hip-hop to grow and become just as important and respected in the dance world as styles usually associated with professional dance. While this is a positive, it does mean even more work for young, up-and-coming dancers. Hopeful poppers, lockers and breakers need to rise up and put in the work required of all other professional dancers in other areas of dance in order to meet the growing demand for professional, quality dancers.
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