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Elisse Miller, Spring 2014

Rising hip-hop communities aim to create tolerant, spiritual dancers

paul mota


Poppers, lockers, b-boys and krumpers. These titles may not mean much to the average Joe, but they’re all part of a growing trend among youth in the United States—hip-hop dancing.

Hip-hop accepts all

Movies such as Step Up and TV shows such as America’s Best Dance Crew have been successful among youth in the United States.

Movies such as Step Up and TV shows such as America’s Best Dance Crew have been successful among youth in the United States. Infographic by Elisse Miller

Hip-hop dancing is unique from other forms of dance in its origins, style and implementation. This departure from the norm is usually what appeals to young dancers most.

Dance Fierce is an after school program that caters to middle and high schools in the Point Loma area. Classes are mainly comprised of students who are new to dance. Dance Fierce creators Annie Boyer and Courtney Golub chose hip-hop as the genre to teach because of the welcoming and modern atmosphere it creates.

“Some of the more established types of dance like ballet have very specific connotations in our mind. When people think of ballet, they often think of the Nutcracker with highly trained dancers,” Director of Dance Fierce Blythe Barton said. “When people think of hip-hop, they think ‘oh cool, I saw that on YouTube.’”

 The top 5 places for hip-hop dance in San Diego, according to Yelp

Even though hip-hop emerged from urban, poverty-stricken areas among people who sought a free, easy way to express themselves, it has spread to dancers of all ages, backgrounds and sexes. Because of its ties to metropolises, hip-hop has successfully infiltrated the San Diego area.

Culture Shock San Diego is a studio that hosts recreational dance classes and houses four different competition teams. It was created in 1993 by Angie Bunch, who discovered hip-hop dancing while performing as a jazz dancer in Los Angeles. After falling in love with the genre and throwing out her jazz shoes, she created the first Culture Shock dance team in San Diego.

“It seems to reach out to a far greater demographic,” Bunch said. “It’s not about being tall and skinny; it’s not about being black, white, or brown—it’s for all people.”

Bunch finds that hip-hop is an especially important outlet for students who are searching for a way to artistically express themselves.

“Hip-hop is a great way to say ‘you can express emotion through your body; this can be an outlet for your creativity and for your personality to shine through, ” Bunch added.

Hip-hop can change lives

Paul Mota, a 2009 Dance Fierce graduate and current high school instructor, says hip-hop helped him overcome his shyness as a kid. He felt that with hip-hop, there wasn’t a certain aesthetic to live up to.

“With hip-hop you go in, you wear whatever you want, and you just give a lot of attitude,” Mota said.

Before joining Dance Fierce, Mota was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. In 2013, he earned an associate’s degree in dance from Grossmont College. He currently teaches hip-hop to students at Helix High School and was recently featured in theSan Diego Young Choreographers Showcase. Now that Mota has shifted roles from student to instructor, he places a strong emphasis on imparting the same positive messages that attracted him to hip-hop in the first place. He makes sure to tell young girls to be proud of their bodies.

“But I always tell them ‘In hip-hop, it doesn’t matter if you’re skinny, it doesn’t matter if you’re big, if you put yourself out there, then that’s all I care about,” Mota said.

Hip-hop as a religion

Dancers of Rock Steady practice together after an hour-long Bible study.

Dancers of Rock Steady practice together after an hour-long Bible study. Photo by Elisse Miller

Because of the positive emotions that emerge from hip-hop dancing, dancers can experience a feeling similarly associated with religion.

Roy Whitaker is a lecturer in the religious studies department at San Diego State. In past semesters he’s taught a popular “Hip-hop and religion” course. He explained that the cypher, which is a freestyle, dance or rap battle environment, can create a spiritual, revenant tone.

“As the creative spirit moves, there is art,” Whitaker said. “When this becomes realized in the hip-hop moment, such as the cypher, then that will be a religious experience.”

There are other connections to religion and hip-hop. According to Whitaker, most western religions focus on the individual as a special entity; they are a child of God and part of the chosen ones. Hip-hop also has a strong history of celebrating individuals. Showcasing one’s unique style and moves is highly revered in the community as an important facet during performances. If a group of hip-hop dancers are performing specific choreography, the goal is for each dancer to put his or her own spin on the predetermined moves.

Rock Steady is a ministry of The Rock Church, an evangelical megachurch in Point Loma. The group meets every Tuesday for an hour-long Bible study followed by an hour-long hip-hop dance class.

MULTIMEDIA: Dancers from Rock Steady discuss how dancing strengthens their relationship with God.

The religiosity evoked in hip-hop dance attracts some young dancers join the hip-hop community, and stay in it.

“Dance is often tossed aside as an art form or as physical activity,” Barton said. “But we’re sweating, we’re making art, we’re being health conscious, we’re making smart choices, and those patterns really carry over into the rest of students’ lives.”



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