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Defining Hip-Hop Dance

This is an excerpt from Beginning Hip-Hop Dance by E. Moncell Durden.

Hip-hop is characterized by a high level of playfulness and exploration through "move-meant" concepts and techniques - that is, moves that hold meaning and value, informed by personal, social, cultural, and environmental experiences. Hip-hop social dances feature multiple rhythms, as well as movement that generates and expands from multiple centers; in other words, it is polyrhythmic and polycentric.


Hip-hop dance does not use movement practices from modern, ballet, or Broadway- or Hollywood-style jazz dance. Rather, like African, authentic jazz, and other African-diasporic dance forms (such as Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and Haitian), hip-hop employs a curved spine, bent knees, and an orientation to the earth. It is percussive, improvisational, and communal - for example, using call-and-response. It also uses pantomime and isolations, and it deeply engages the full body - neck, shoulders, arms, torso, rear end, hips, legs, knees, and feet. It is fluid, and the feet are flexed, not pointed.


The technique and structure of hip-hop are rooted in cultural concepts and traditions associated with behavioral characteristics of African dance heritage. New hip-hop dances are created all the time, and some recent popular forms include the Milly Rock, the Dab, Hit Dem Folks, the Drop, the Nae Nae, and the Whip, just to name a few. These dances engage and communicate African American cultural values such as the exhibition of cool, ideals of style, use of multiple rhythms, musical and spatial awareness, gesturing, attitude, fashion, spirituality, and individuality. These dance practices do not simply retain African American values; they enact philosophical theories as people place ancestral roots in new soil.


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