Last night, I took the second popping workshop I’ve been aware of ever being offered in Victoria. While I know that there have been other workshops offered between this one and the last one I took (Jake Evans, from Nova Scotia, about three years ago), these are the only two that I have been aware of. This is an indication (to me), that there is a real lack of means to get in touch with other dancers, and the Victoria hiphop community in general, and share this kind of thing.
After meeting and talking, last night, with other people that are passionate about popping in Victoria, I feel that I have at least one small purpose to contribute towards our small but growing hiphop community, and that is to help the network grow. But enough about that, let’s talk about the workshop.
The Groovy G’s
The workshop was taught by two members of the Groovy G’s, a popping crew based out of Vancouver. The first time I heard about the Groovy G’s was when I started searching the net for popping classes being taught in Vancouver. I wanted popping lessons, but since we didn’t have any classes in Victoria at the time, my only option was to head over to Vancouver. I talked briefly with Jamieson, one of the two guys that taught the classes, but aside from subscribing to their blog, things didn’t get much further (I really wanted to take classes, but that didn’t change the fact that the only thing in my wallet was a gaping hole – it’s not cheap to take repeated trips to Vancouver).
I actually heard about last night’s workshop in a very round-about manner. The Groovy G’s posted a note about a funk theory workshop that they had just finished giving. “Whoa”, I thought, “I could easily make it over for one day-long workshop, provided I budgeted for it”. I wrote the G’s to ask them if they could give me some advance notice the next time they were planning something like this, and whether or not they would be having another one any time soon. From there, things just exploded. Hector (I believe), wrote me back to let me know that Jamieson and Trevor were apparently teaching a workshop in Victoria in a few weeks. I added Trevor and Jamieson on Facebook, started talking to the people over here that were putting on the event, and couldn’t believe that I almost missed this.
Brooke managed to drum up some good interest, and a number of familiar (and friendly) faces showed up at the workshop with us, including Jo, Guillaume, Vincent, Sean, Jack, and Max. As soon as we entered the studio, I recognized one guy from VEMF last year that Graham and I had seen tutting, and a few people I’d seen on the ol’ Facebook.
It’s funny to see that a dance workshop is really no different from any other kind of culture. As soon as we sat down,I commented to Brooke that there were three evident cliques: The Vibestreet Dance clique, the Boston Dance Company clique, and .. one more (which I didn’t know enough about to provide a label). It’s not that any of us are elitists or anything like that – it’s just human nature to be apprehensive when in new social settings.
Cody Campbell had put some music on so I practiced a little bit with the kids while we waited. The mood was very much that of everyone sussing each other out. “Who’s that over there?”, “Hmm, I wonder if that guy’s a good dancer”, “Hmm, don’t know them”, etc. Brooke pointed out various people that were prominent in our small but growing dance community and then it was time to start.
After we paid and I met some of the people I’d been chatting with on Facebook, Liz came out and did a quick intro of the two guys that were teaching us: Jamieson de Guzman and Trevor Chung. I had talked to Liz over e-mail a few weeks prior, and she was awesome. Super passionate, and really keen to help hiphop grow here in Victoria.
Once we got past the intros, Jamieson talked a bit about what popping is, and how it relates to dancing. I’ve heard this many times before, and always attempt to imbue the same thing in my own students, but it’s always good to have it repeated and internalized. Time to start!
The first hour of the workshop, we spent on popping. It’s always interesting to attend different workshops with different instructors, as they have different fundamentals that they are teaching, and different approaches. Jamieson stressed that three things you should work to pop are your arms, your legs, and your neck (yup, your neck). Personally, I think that popping your chest and tightening your abs is also important and will further the power of your hits. It could be that Jamieson was just providing the basic building blocks, and those last two sets of muscles can be added in later.
We drilled the basics for a while, focusing on the fresno, and mixing it up between singles and doubles (shift your weight on every beat, or every second beat). Some people get impatient revisiting their foundation like this, but I can never get enough, and I was content to take it as an opportunity to tighten things up. I actually felt pretty good about my hits from these basic positions – the work I’ve been putting in has helped keep things clean and tight.
I noticed things started to fall apart when we started moving into positions that I haven’t trained at all. Getting my legs to hit when I’m in poses that are new is quite difficult when I don’t yet have the muscle memory in place. Jamieson let us know that the general rule to follow was that you pop whichever leg has the most weight on it, and whichever leg you can straighten most easily. That’s a good general rule to have, but I still need to practice hits in various positions, like during walkouts.
As we went through the choreography, one move I had never seen before came up, called the popcorn. You do the following:
- Raise up one leg and hit
- Lower your leg in front of you, place your weight on it, and raise your back leg (essentially taking half a step forward). Hit.
- Reverse the motion you just did so that you are now in the same position as in 1, and hit.
- Put your feet back together, and hit.
Pretty simple really, but it creates a neat visual that I haven’t seen broken down before. I quickly realized that I needed to work on hits when I’m balanced on one leg – these are especially challenging, and the illusion is instantly broken if you don’t maintain your balance throughout.
Likewise, while practicing walkouts, I realized that although I’ve drilled the movement, I haven’t touched on actually hitting throughout it. Another thing to work on…
After Jamieson finished, Trevor took over the class, and we started focusing on tutting and waving. The segment related to tutting was actually quite short. Trevor mentioned the basics of tutting, although he didn’t get as explicit as I would have (which is cool, all teachers are different) about what makes a tight angle, and things to watch out for. He did only have so much time though, so it’s possible he was just trying to cram as much in as he could.
Trevor showed us a bit about how he practiced (come up with a set of angles and transitions, and then drill that set), and went over some basic poses (like prayer stance). After that, Trevor went through two different routines with us, and included some footwork. I’ve been feeling pretty good about my tuts lately, as I’ve been working a fair bit on developing the discipline and mus
cle memory to keep clean angles. The footwork was brand new to me though, and I had to keep myself from falling right over a couple of times.
After tutting we moved on to waving. I’ve been putting a lot of work into waves lately, and I’m pretty happy with the progress. There’s infinitely more room for progress, but at least I’m seeing some changes that I’m happy with. Trevor went over the details of what makes a good wave versus a bad wave, and what it is that leads towards an aesthetically-pleasing wave (the secret is that wherever the wave is not, remains stationary. This is the real key to a good wave).
I noticed that the one thing Trevor did not teach was the isolations of a wave. His approach was more intuitive than mine, using techniques like visualizing the path that your hands and arms are taking, imagining there is a bar that your hands are travelling over, and so forth. I made a mental note to incorporate these kinds of visual metaphors in my teaching as well, so that both types of learners can benefit.
Trevor provided some names for a few types of waves that I’ve been working on lately, but haven’t had a name for them. The main one was a track wave, wherein you move your hands and arms as though they are travelling along a rollercoaster track (or any kind of path really). Once you’ve done this, you can reverse the wave and travel back in the opposite direction – the key is that you travel back along the same imaginary path.
One of the most helpful ideas that Trevor put in my head was the notion of setting up a specific geometry with your body, and then waving within that geometry. Eg, put your arms up in some kind of shape. Then, run a wave through that shape. Think about the way a wave might travel through that geometry, and mimic this path. The example Trevor provided in class was holding your arms out in front of you, with your right arm pointing straight up, and your left arm held out so that it is parallel to the ground, with its fingertips touching the elbow of your right arm. In this position, a wave will travel:
- Down from the fingertips of your right arm to your elbow
- From your right arm’s elbow through to the fingertips of your left arm
- From the fingertips of your left arm up to your left shoulder
- From your left shoulder, through your head/chest, to your right shoulder
- Out your right shoulder, to your elbow, then back up and out the fingertips of your right arm
It’s not necessarily complicated, but setting up various positions like these and then waving through them is part of how you turn waving from a simple technique into an actual dance that you can innovate and improvise using.
Putting it all together
The last hour of the class was devoted towards putting everything we’d learned together into a set of choreography that Jamieson and Trevor made up on the spot as we went along. Before we started this though, we drilled our hits a bit by doing something Jamieson called “copy cat”.
Copy cat is fairly easy – the leader starts by taking a pose and hitting on it for four beats. Then the class does the same thing. Then the leader takes a new pose, and the class then repeats that pose. It’s not complicated (but then, most of this stuff isn’t – it just requires dedication), but it’s a great way to work with the class. Ironically, I’d been planning something very similar out in my head for when our classes start again in Fall, so it was really nice to see that this is a valid approach that works well.
Once we’d finished this, we got going on actual choreography. I struggled a bit with this, as I have some difficulty remembering all of the parts of choreography when you’re putting it together quickly. I was definitely getting frustrated by the end of the class.
The other thing that I would have liked a little more would have been to spend more time on some of the additional techniques that they were including in the choreography. We ended up including some techniques like boogaloo that I would definitely have appreciated getting more time to work on. But that’s the way things go when you only have three short hours to work with a group of people.
After the workshop was finished, I met up with the Jamieson, Liz, Trevor and a few other people that had taken the workshop. I was a little bit hesitant to do this initially, as I generally don’t like just diving into a group of strangers, but I was glad I did. It was a little weird because noone but me was drinking beer (I stopped after the first one once I noticed that), so things were slightly awkward (bunch of strangers, but no social lubricant). However, I met some new people, got some e-mail, and got a chance to chat a little more with Trevor and Jamieson (interestingly enough, they started the same way I did – through raves).
So, what did I take away from the experience? I learned a good deal about teaching and some exercises and techniques that can be used, and I definitely picked up some new moves to practice on.
One thing that was interesting was talking to the other people that were in the workshop, afterwards. My friend Jo mentioned that she found Trevor’s more visual and intuitive approach easier to work with. So rather than breaking up an arm wave into the various isolations, just visualize your hands travelling up, over, and around a metal bar.
Unlike some of the classes I’ve had, most of the knowledge that I gained from these three hours came from taking what we were shown during workshop and reflecting on it. I’m cool with that – I love spending time reflecting about new knowledge, and figuring out where it fits into my existing understanding of the way things work.
All in all this was a really great workshop and I’m really glad to see these kind of things happening in Victoria. I came away with a few new friends, some more ideas to work towards, and inspiration.