Sunday, August 3, 2014

Old School - Always know your roots

I've been involved in dance for many years. I became a professional dancer in my late teens. My era of come-uppance was the late 70's and early 80's which is right around the time that street dancing was really becoming popular. Movies like "Breakin'", "Beat Street", and "Flashdance" were the "You Got Served" of the Day. Breaking and b-boy culture was exploding on the streets of New York and popping and locking were emerging on the West coast. There was no such thing as "America's Best Dance Crew". The original dance crew (Rock Steady Crew) was just forming.

I started off as a jazz dancer, but the first job I was hired for was with a street dance troupe called "The Dancin' Machine" out of Los Angeles. I performed the jazz for the Flashdance number. I didn't know anything about this other dance world. I did, however, love funk dance as much if not more than the lyrical stuff. I liked it and wanted desperately to learn how to do it.

In those days, you couldn't go to a dance studio and take a "hip hop" class. Some of the teachers that I gravitated towards in Los Angeles (like the legendary and influential Billy Goodson) were definitely mixing street styles in to their jazz classes, but there were no official classes in urban dance. There were no options to take B-Boy 101 or urban grooves (I've actually seen classes called this). In order to learn, you had to hang out in the neighborhood, go to the clubs, or find a way to get in with the social scene connected to it. You had to watch from the sidelines and practice at home until you were brave enough to throw it down in public. The only way to learn was by osmosis, experimentation, lots of watching, and practice. There were no videos on YouTube.  It was an interesting culture since many of the creators and originators were very protective of what they were doing. They didn't want you doing their moves… they would consider you a "biter". However, I do believe that the art form was expanded by dancers just free styling from the heart and battling or watching each other. Everyone influenced each other whether they like it or not. The collective soul of the dancers is what created the styles.

The hip hop movement back in the early 80's was a cultural thing especially in the Eastern US. Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx were leading the way because it was part of the culture of kids growing up in that era. This culture included more than just breaking or b-boying, but emcee skills, graffiti, music, and dance were part of the whole story.  Rock Steady Crew is the original crew in my book.

The best history I've come across on line is from one of the pioneers… "Mr. Wiggles". His web site has a ton of information regarding the history of urban dance and hip hop culture. He has definitely done his research as well as lived much of this story. Check it out here:

Dancers today are so fortunate to have so much access to education in any dance style they want. You can do an online search for dance and find just about anything. The history of street dance is a rich one and one that needs to be told. Now it is being told through those who lived it and are still sharing it today. I can only hope more writing will become available and video documentation regarding hip hop and it's dance origins.
Cool site with lots of products regarding street dance history:

Here are a few more interesting links regarding various urban dance and it's history:
Very brief but fairly accurate:
My favorite site regarding locking and the Lockers:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dance Training and Kids

As a dance educator and studio owner - I have some distinct philosophies about teaching and children.
During the past 20 years I have been involved in dance education and instruction on a number of different levels. As a parent myself now, my feelings have definitely evolved from one of indifference to distinct resolution. 
1970's in the dance studio
As a young teacher, I don't remember ever considering the intensity of the instruction. I never thought of it that way as I was just going in and doing a job and sharing what knowledge I did have about dance and theater. However, back in the 70s and 80s dance studio life was a totally different world. 

As the years passed and I became more and more experienced at teaching and more involved in the studios where I was working, I began taking my job more seriously. I began to investigate and read about children and psychology as well as physiology. As my knowledge grew, I began to formulate some opinions and philosophies about the dance world in general, what is appropriate for young people in dance, and how much training is healthy and beneficial to the overall well being of a student. I do not have a degree but I have been successfully teaching and mentoring dancers for over 25 years. So I have a wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject and have taught all around the world. I was also a professional dancer in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for two decades. I feel safe to say I am an expert. 

Amazing yet perplexing
At competitions, I began to see students of an amazing technical level at a very young age. Kids spending hours and hours in training and sacrificing all else in their life for the one activity.  Young kids are fearless and impressionable, and if they love something - they can be pushed hard and accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. However I started to wonder if this type of training is beneficial to kids. I believe in commitment and fitness as well as healthy competitiveness, but there is a fine line between excellence and obsession. The trend that I see is not necessarily a healthy one. It seems that the art of dance is turning in to the sport of dance and in some situations is fostering the exploitation of young people. 

In my opinion, dance is different from sport. I realize there are many people that feel differently and are doing their best to turn it in to a competitive sport. Look at all the competitions for dance on TV. I think of dance as an art form as well as a form of entertainment that benefits from fitness and has elements of sport. That being said, what is the purpose of a child becoming advanced beyond their years in dance? What will they do with this skill? Unless a parent is hoping to take their child to Hollywood or New York to become a child star or a child shows a talent, potential, and desire in ballet... then what is the purpose of premature expertise? 

In the training of young dancers,  I don't feel it is necessary for a child as young as seven to train for five hours every day. I am more comfortable with a natural approach where a child can commit to the work but let it progress naturally, and still have success and a great time doing it. This way it does not overwhelm the family or the child's life. I believe in encouragement and not forcing or pushing a child since it may not be what a kid needs to excel. As a teacher, I generally know when a child is ready to be challenged.

Balance is important
I am constantly striving to strike the right balance in training the young dancer. Most kids who dance will not become professionals.  It is one out of a thousand in my experience, but dance benefits every kid who participates in one way or another.  Most of all, it is my belief that there is a delicate balance that is important to keep while teaching dance. Kids only get one childhood. As a teacher, I try to avoid commitments that rob dance students of valuable childhood experiences. There is a middle ground. I like to encourage excellence in an age appropriate manner while encouraging kids to experience the other things that can enrich their lives. It IS possible to maintain a commitment to dance while still participating in school activities and other extracurricular pursuits. Desert Star Dance has been making it happen for years. We strive to teach kids to have a healthy attitude and outlook towards dance as well as life in general.
To find out more about Desert Star Dance go to: