It’s been a little longer than normal since my last entry. That’s mostly because I’ve been keeping myself fairly busy. The stuff that is keeping me busy is stuff that I don’t really want to set down only to come home and spend even more time writing about (don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely passionate about dancing, I just haven’t felt inclined to write about it lately), and I haven’t really felt inspired to write beyond that.
However, this Saturday was the end-of-year wrap-up for Vibestreet Dance, and so it seems a good time to reflect a little bit on how things have gone. When I look back to only two months ago, when I first started taking popping classes from Dillon, I can barely fathom how much things have changed.
Before I talk about my own thoughts, it’s probably worth talking about our end-of-year show. Three weeks before the show, Brooke mentioned that our breaking instructor would be putting together a routine for it, and it would be great if I could as well. This would pretty much be the first time I’d ever done any choreography, so I was a little bit nervous – I spent about a week putting things together, and then went over it with the class.
In retrospect, I over-simplified certain parts, as I wasn’t sure how quickly the class would pick things up. It turned out, really quickly! All of the kids were great, but I was obviously especially proud of the kids that I had been working with, and was really happy to see how well things went. I think that in the next year, they’re going to start to really take off.
Although it’s nice to pretend that the instructor gets a lot of the credit for the progression of the students, I think most of that credit belongs to Guillaume, Jack, Max and Vincent (along with Olivier and Sean, who weren’t able to come to the later classes, and thus participate in the portion I put together) for being such great students. Kids like these guys don’t come easily, and their dedication and hard work make everything easier.
I also bumped in to two other guys that had been popping for about a year as well, got them out into one of our cyphers, and then got their information and told them to come out to the jam sessions I’m trying to get going. All in all, the show was awesome.
The biggest change that has occurred since starting at Vibestreet has obviously been that I’ve moved into the role of teaching, from that of a student. Teaching is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and that I’ve always enjoyed. My own experience has been that teaching people the art that I am interested in is one of the best ways for me to gain a better understanding of it myself. Breaking techniques down requires thinking about each part of the technique and understanding it at a very fundamental level. I’ve always felt this way, and indeed, studying calculus with friends in University, I always appreciated being asked for help with various questions. My friends would apologize for bugging me with another question, but I was secretly being selfish and gaining from the questions they were asking me.
Back in the very early days of the world wide web, a friend and I ran a dance website called “Shaddup and Dance”. It was a piece of garbage, and would make web browsers explode from having to render the sheer ugliness of colours that we jammed onto that page. Not only that, but there was also negative feedback from the original gangsters that took exception to my tutorial videos (many of them were indeed quite poor), or our attitude that just because you’d been around for a while didn’t mean that you were above critique. Still, there was an awful lot of positive feedback that accompanied the negative, and the opportunity to provide some advice and direction to other dancers that were attempting to learn the same techniques I had was one that I relished.
The first day that I started teaching was with the junior class. I hadn’t met any of the kids before, and I had no idea what they had learned up to that point. Brooke told me that they were passionate about popping, which was promising, but I didn’t realize how accurate she was. These kids have been awesome, and really stuck it out with me. They were patient with my fumbling starts, and have given me lots of inadvertent advice that I have taken to heart. The opportunity to work with them (and hopefully to continue to do so), has been really great and has provided ample opportunities to learn myself.
Working with the adults has been slightly easier, though no less of a learning experience. It’s been easier because adults are generally more willing to focus on the foundation, and because I had the benefit of being attending the four classes previous to my taking it over.
When Brooke asked if I wanted to keep teaching, I didn’t even have to think about the answer.
Starting to think about choreography, and to actually apply that to the lessons I’m teaching, has been a completely new experience for me. In the ten years that I have been dancing, I have always focused on building and practicing foundation movement. No fancy moves, no fancy vocabulary of choreographed moves to draw from, just foundation. Personally, I like this, as it means that I can very quickly adapt my dancing to work with whatever the music is asking of me, and when I focus on foundation, it is much easier to take in new influences and apply those to the existing foundation.
However, choreography is a very important aspect of dancing, and freestyle dancing is essentially coming up with choreography in real-time. Taking on the role of teaching has required me to re-evaluate my relationship with choreography (a sentence that sounds exceptionally lame). Seriously though, while working on foundation is essential for anyone that really wants to become a great dancer, not everyone is geared the way I am, and most people want to actually do something cool as they’re learning.
Choreography provides students with a direct relationship between the foundation that you have them working on and actually dancing (honestly, it’s difficult to understand how you are going to turn a chest hit until a dance until you’ve practiced it enough). With a little bit of choreography, it is easy to take some basic foundation and put them together to make something that looks kind of cool, and provides a direction to train towards. This should be one of the key goals of anyone attempting to teach – to instill in students not only the value of foundation, but also some ideas for the direction that they can take those foundations.
Finding Vibestreet Dance has been a lot like finding Victoria Squash Club – a whole new community of people to meet and interact with, and that share interests similar to mine. Although finding people that shared my interest in squash was a bit of a challenge, I have literally been searching for ten years for people that are as passionate as I am about the styles of dance that I love. It’s not that those people don’t exist, it’s just that the hiphop scene in Victoria is so dry, and it’s very difficult to find events that support maintaining that kind of culture.
In all of the people that I’ve trained with and taught, I’ve discovered new inspiration, and it really is extremely energizing. Nothing inspires creativity like being exposed to more creative people. In Brooke, especially, I’ve found a
new friend with which I can talk about new observations, epiphanies I’ve had while practicing, and complain about the things that have bothered me in dancing culture for as long as I’ve been a part of it.
I can (and do) share many of these things with Bay on a more abstract level (as we can discuss dance with each other at a level above any particular style), but it is refreshing to be able to talk to someone else about things that have, up until now, existed solely in my own head for the last decade.
Although I started to develop a love for popping from watching hiphop videos and tapes put out by Mr Wiggles, it was raving that actually really got the ball rolling. For all of the negative stereotypes (many of them accurate to some extent) present at raves, good dancing is appreciated, and if that’s what you’re into, there’s space to do it.
Not only that, but every party, I would run into the same people that were there to dance. We knew each other, and it presented a constant drive to keep improving. I really wanted to rise to the top, and to bring something new to the table everytime that we met. There were many days of the summers that Graham and I would spend alternating between playing Tekken and practicing dancing.
However, raving is not really a sustainable activity, and as time went on, going out to clubs stopped being one as well. Without either of these options, there really wasn’t any outlet to fuel my desire to improve. I would practice from time to time, but to what end? My friend Michi can apparently derive his motivation out of thin air, but I’m not that way.
Teaching is exactly the factor that I have been missing for so long. Having students that are thirsty for new knowledge presents an incredible amount of motivation. With other people to be accountable to, my drive to continue progressing is stronger than ever before. This doesn’t surprise me, but it is extremely rewarding to feel that way again.
With Brooke being gracious enough to let me use the studio for practice when it’s not in use, I find myself heading there at least twice weekly to work on new ideas. Although I am still at the stage where I am planting a lot of seeds, I really feel that the coming year will mark a huge wave of progression on my part.
On top of that, I’m taking hiphop classes, a style of dance that I’ve never really had any exposure to aside from watching it being performed. These classes have given me an opportunity to appreciate new ways of moving around the dance floor, new postures, and a greater appreciation for choreography in general. Watching Brooke teach the class has given me a chance to glean as much knowledge as I can from her own wealth of experience.
Summer and the Future
It is difficult to know exactly what the future will hold, but now that I’ve found a dance culture that I can partake in, I will hang on to it like grim death. The summer is already filling up with exciting opportunities, including dance camps and workshops that I am planning to take, which will really open my eyes up to new ways of moving and keep the ball rolling (I just hope I can keep pace!).
I’ll be posting updates as we move further into the Summer. Until then, stay tuned!