Protecting Culture In The Industry




By. Brian Henninger


In a dance industry that is full of fads and trends, how can we as artists protect our cultural heritage within the ever changing landscape of the dance industry? In a professional environment where we being asked to perform movement labeled as “Hip Hop” which has no basis in hip hip dance or culture, how can we do our part to preserve that culture in the long term? How can we remain authentic as dancers while still being able to work and support ourselves in this industry?

The first people who can help the most to preserve the culture of dance are the teachers. The teachers from small home town studios all the way up to teachers at major studios in NYC and LA are the first people who can make a real difference in teaching of culture along with movement especially within Hip-Hop dance. So many times I have been judging a dance competition and seeing dances categorized as Hip Hop but contained ZERO actual Hip Hop movement. This is do to several different factors but the most important link in this chain are the teachers. Regardless of whether or not you live in a small town and have no hip hop experience, if you are teaching young dancers it is your responsibility to either seek out the knowledge necessary to train your students or have the humility to understand that you shouldn’t be teaching that style.

I am for sure not suggesting that everyone revert back to the first versions of Hip Hop dance, and live within the a creative box, but I am suggesting that people ( teachers especially), understand where movement comes from, and are able to communicate that to their students. If you are teaching a class and your routine has a move taken from a fundamental style (Breaking, Popping, Locking, House, etc), It is your responsibility to provide context to that movement for your students. Understanding what the move is called, what style it originates from, and maybe even where your students could find more information about that style, are necessary and important pieces of information. Imagine a ballet class where the instructor taught a plie but called it “bending your knees”, it wouldn’t feel or be authentic.

It is important for us as dancers to transcend styles and innovate but it is equally important to preserve our past and our heritage. The dance world will never stop changing, but it worries me to see some of our cultural heritage slipping through the cracks. Innovation is important and will continue to bring us amazing dancers and styles we haven’t seen before, but in that same spirit it is important to gain inspiration from looking backwards to the founders of these styles and perfecting the basics of movement while we innovate. Go to a ballet class 20 years from now and I will bet that you will be asked to do plies and tendus. Go to a Hip Hop class TODAY and I wonder what the chances are that you would be asked to “ Top Rock” or “ Twist-O-Flex”? As dancers and teachers alike we can hold ourselves to a higher standard and help preserve the origins of our styles while also pushing them to the next level

Stay inspired, and keep innovating so our industry can continue to move foreword. keep researching, and learning so that we can stand strong on our foundations and push this industry far past where anyone expected it could go!


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