Before I even knew the name of the movements, I knew hip-hop. Countless family home videos showcase the diaper-wearing version of myself bobbing along to the seamless beats of Juvenile and Zapp as they blast from my parent’s stereo system.
I remember staring in awe at my mother’s pop, locking and ticking skills, as her arms and body synchronized with the beat. The style of hip-hop that my mother knew originated in her home state of California during the 1960s-1970s. She learned hip-hop through experience without ever attending a dance class or entering a studio. Hip-hop was natural, not something people paid to experience.
In 5th grade, I was exposed to a new form of dance: competitive hip-hop. A woman named Ms. Delly volunteered to sponsor a dance team for my middle school. Prior to meeting her, I had never learned a choreographed dance or entered a dance studio. The first week was arduous. I vividly recall the tears rolling down my face as I struggled to understand how to let someone instruct my body to move the way she wanted it to. I couldn’t attune my style to match my peers.
I spent countless hours practicing, and by the end of the semester, Ms. Delly invited me to join her competitive team. My body conformed to the movement, but I maintained my originality in its form.
My first dance competition was eye-opening. To the people on stage, hip-hop was just another trained style. The people on stage wanted to win trophies, which made me feel as though I needed to win as well.
Competitive trophies validated my right to be on stage and in a world where very few people looked like me. Saying I disliked competitions would be untrue, but they were not representative of the hip-hop I knew and loved. I danced on a few school teams before coming to Georgetown, but I never re-entered the competitive dance world after middle school.
In my freshmen year at Georgetown, I joined Groove Theory. It was a team that mixed natural talent with studio-taught precision. I love our occasional four-hour Saturday practices and dancing until midnight on Mondays and Wednesdays. I love working until I am exhausted because I love hip-hop dance. However, each time I dance in the studio, I am reminded of the divide between the studio and the soul.
The studio stands for wealth and commercialism, while the soul stands for freedom. The studio stands for elitism, but the soul stands for tradition. The studio is where words like “ghetto-fabulous” and “urban” are used as frequently as Starbucks sells Pumpkin Spice Lattes in the fall.
The connection between the communities where many street styles originated and their modern-day dance equivalents is unfortunately severed by the commercialization of dance. In reality, the professional distinction between stage and street dancers comes from difference of opportunity. For example, if Misty Copeland had not been introduced to ballet in classes at her local Boys & Girls Club, she would never have become the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre.
The beautiful thing about dance is that it brings people together. Dance has the ability to communicate pain, suffering, beauty, tranquility and love, all within the span of seconds. Dance styles spread to different communities and break down borders. However, although hip-hop dance is spreading to new communities, they are building great fences to keep the old communities out. The roots of hip-hop dance are stigmatized rather then embraced. The soul and the studio can co-exist. The studio needs the soul. Without the soul and the freedom established in the foundation of hip-hop dance, the future will be stagnant.
I am grateful to Groove Theory for allowing me the opportunity to become a choreographer in my own right. Now I have the power to bring the soul to the studio and break down those great fences. I aim to reincorporate the roots of hip-hop dance into the future.
There is beauty in street dance that cannot be found inside the confines of a studio. There is a certain grace in its soul that cannot be commoditized. Funding for the arts will break down the barrier and keep hip-hop and other dance forms from becoming elitist structures.
Everyone, regardless of color or finances, should have the opportunity to leave his mark on the world of dance. If I have learned anything from my dance career, it is that the world needs far more Ms. Dellys and far fewer fences.
Latazia Carter is a junior in the College. LIFE IN ART is a rotating column, appearing every other Friday.
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