Exploring the Elements: Dance

From beatmaking and hip-hop production to dance, deejaying and emceeing, each hip-hop art form contains valuable lessons that can be applied to many aspects of life. We’re taking some time to explore how the principles of each of the elements that we teach contributes to the larger goals that Next Level is trying to achieve.

In our previous installment, we talked to producers and beatmakers about what their art has to offer to the world of cultural diplomacy.

This time, we talked to some of Next Level’s dancers about how hip-hop can use movement to build bridges between cultures.

Probably the most obvious benefit of dance as a tool for international communication is that it doesn’t require spoken language. People who do not share a language can still share a dance. And once that connection is made, they can share ideas through dance as well. “From personal experience,” says Next Level Team El Salvador b-boy Danny “Dan Tres Omi” Rodriguez, “it seems as if every city on the planet has a cypher. It’s a common ground we can all start from.”

Starting from that common ground, the language of dance allows different subjects to be explored in new ways. Through dance, people can express ideas that may be too abstract, uncomfortable or even dangerous to express in words.

Even just the idea of free expression can be very important for people who don’t often have the opportunity to speak about their experiences and perspectives. This can be liberating on many levels: politically, socially and even spiritually.

As Next Level Team Zimbabwe b-boy Ken Fury points out, “Dance is one of the keys to freedom and self-exploration, which requires the person to dig deep within themselves to find their own special movement and vision. Also, hip-hop originally is purely avant-garde and draws upon the challenge to create something that hasn’t been done before, by combining movements and ideas from all different forms of art. I think this is something that shouldn’t be forgotten, for it is important for its constant evolution.”

Beyond that, notes Next Level Team Tanzania dancer Karlita Waackafella, “There are many similarities between Hip Hop/ street styles and the traditional dances of many indigenous cultures. From my experience in Tanzania and further traveling in Uganda and South Africa, I saw how many of the dancers tied their traditional dances as a foundation to hip hop styles they were mastering. Something I’ve noticed is how indigenous movements, especially from the African Diaspora, are blueprints to street styles.”

On a more basic level, dance is also accessible to people of all economic backgrounds because it doesn’t require any special equipment except your body and space…and even the space is negotiable! Hip-hop dances were designed by people who lived in small spaces and who danced on rough surfaces, including concrete. These dances were specifically designed to be performed in tough circumstances, and people respond to that. As Danny Rodriguez observes, “Dancing is also a struggle for space – even more so with hip hop – because those marginalized groups that created hip hop had nowhere else to go.”

Finally, it’s important to remember that hip-hop dance was created both by and for youth. Some of the most historically important hip-hop dance pioneers were as young as ten or eleven years old when they started dancing. This fact alone can be very empowering to youth around the world, but it also means that the goals of the pioneers are easy for young people to understand: hip-hop dance was designed to help people explore their own identity, and to identify and express elements of their personalities that they felt were worthy of attention. “I am here and I am important”. As Global Next Level b-boy Angelo says, “Dance is also about respect. Even if it sometimes looks like a fight, at the end everyone is smiling and shaking hands.”

That is a message that people around the world can relate to. As NL Team Thailand B-boy Toyz aRe Us notes, “Dance is universal, with every country, city and culture having a unique dance of its own. Hip-hop culture is awesome in that it expands globally as opposed to being local.”

The idea that hip-hop can be both global and local at the same time means that dancers can use movement to explore their relationship to worlds both large and small, personal and political. These relationships – this sense of connection – is powerful. As Next Level Team Bosnia dancer Deena Clemente (Elements Crew) reflects, for many dancers this feeling of connectedness can actually be so charged that it even takes on a spiritual dimension:

I would also add the evolution from our ancestors in general, Native Americans as well as the African Traditions all contain the same elements:

The DJ is the Drum; The MC is the Medicine Man/Woman; The Dance is the form of healing prayer celebration which is what the circle of life represents and why we gather in the circle weather to battle connect share teach and heal. The Graffiti is the Hieroglyph left behind as symbols, guidance, signs of remembrance of who we used to be and who we are rediscovering ourselves to be…

The Most important element; The Wisdom Truth and Understanding is The Spirit…Hip Hop is more than what our human eyes can see…It’s the Raw Organic Energy we are and Receive from Mother Earth and Father Sky…The artistic expressions embody the Spirit that evolved from ancient times…

Hip Hop is the evolution and sacred medicine our ancestors left for us to rediscover and reconnect to our divine spirits essence which is love…

Which is everything.