I gave my notice three weeks ago. I had a week of vacation time left over, so I worked two weeks, had a week of vacation, and then will work one more week starting Monday. We had some money that I had been given for contract work that I’d done, and Bay got to go to Brazil this year, so we agreed that it would be cool for me to attend a dance camp being offered in Vancouver (for the first time ever).
The dance camp was called Get Down. Get Down represents a unique and rare opportunity: a chance to learn and train with the founders of some of the styles I’m into, such as popping and locking. Let me repeat that: the founders of those styles. It’s a little surreal being in class and having the teacher tell you “Now, this move is called the Romeo-twist, because my brother was wearing these shoes called Romeos, and we used to say ‘Yo, twist those Romeos!’”.
The instructors teaching are:
- Greg Campbellock Jr
- Greg did most of the choreography for the original lockers (back in the day when they were on Soul Train). You can see some of that original footage below. Cheesy? Yah, a little. But it’s also way funky.
- Popping Pete
- Popping Pete (who’s actually named Timothy) is Boogaloo Sam’s brother. Boogaloo Sam, created popping and boogaloo. Popping Pete has been heavily influential in the creation and evolution of those styles.
- Sugar Pop
- Sugar Pop is one of the members of the Electric Boogaloos, and someone who has come from the start of locking and popping to its current state.
- You can see Sugar Pop and Poppin Pete both getting down here (Mr. Wiggles is in grey, Sugar Pop is in brown, and Shonn Boog is in black and red):
- One of the founders of House dancing. You can watch Caleaf dancing here (sound quality is terrible):
So, now you’ve got an idea of the caliber of talent that we’ve been fortunate enough to train with. The best part is that all of these guys are really cool, and really good teachers. On the first day, I was a little worried.
Suga Pop went right into teaching us choreography, and I find that I generally prefer to learn technique so that I can then take that and use it in my own freestyle dancing. However, as the days have passed, I started to gain a real appreciation for the fact that all of these guys are really teaching us that what these styles are really about is dancing.
If you’re not dancing, you’re not doing the style, and it’s that simple. You can sit there and hit the hardest pops anyone has ever seen in their life, but if you aren’t dancing, it doesn’t matter – you’re holding the music hostage, and that’s not what it’s about. Dancing is a visual representation (and interpretation) of a given piece of music.
I’ve been reflecting on the experience over the course of the weekend whenever I find myself with a few spare cycles for thought. When I went into the camp, I had a set of expectations and thoughts about what it was that I needed to learn. I left the camp having learned something quite different, but far more valuable.
When the first couple of classes didn’t meet my initial expectations, I was a little bit disappointed. ”Why aren’t they teaching us technique?”, I thought to myself. Actually, they were teaching us technique — they were just doing it within the framework of teaching us to dance. You can’t have all technique and no dance, because that’s not…. dancing.
One of the things that Suga pop stressed a number of times was that popping is a style of dance that it is very easy to hide behind. What he meant is that it is very easy to use good technique in popping and simply do that without having any groove or dance behind it. Because of the illusions that the technique in popping creates, people watching will be dazzled, and the person can get away without actually doing any real dancing underneath.
The more we worked throughout the week, the more I realized I’ve been focusing on technique to the detriment of my ability to progress as a dancer. Only time will tell where the correct balance lies, but it’s certainly something for me to keep in mind.
Know your history
This week was a lot of history. I’ve always known a good amount of the history surrounding popping and locking, but none of that knowledge contained an understanding of the social dances that went into creating these styles. Every time we’d learn a new dance from hiphop’s roots (and often dances that I’ve seen people at weddings do (poorly) just for fun), sure enough, there’d be some element or technique in popping or locking that had integrated that original dance in some capacity.
Learning these original dances really helped provide a greater understanding of the context surrounding the styles that I love, and also provided a really solid foundation to grab onto whenever unsure of what to do next. Unsure of what your next move is? No problem, just drop down into the original dance and get back into the groove.
Find. Your. Groove.
This was really one of the biggest things we had hammered into us this week. Don’t go out there and dive into moves. Even though moves and tricks are cool, they can never be allowed to supercede just getting down.
It is challenging to articulate beyond these points. I suspect this is because it is fairly orthogonal to the way in which I’m used to being taught. The next couple of weeks will likely lead to a number of revelations on my part. The trickiest part about this experience has simply been that there was so much knowledge to absorb. You do your best to pick up everything, but it’s just impossible to fully retain all of the information passed my way. It’s even more difficult when I’m trying to parse that knowledge and understand what it means to me as both a dancer and a teacher.
Regardless of what I end up pulling away from the experience, I can absolutely attest to the fact that it has been one of the most significant periods of growth to date in my journey as a dancer. There’s really not much more that can top that, is there?