A Lady in Hip-Hop: A Musing on the Dance Scene

A Lady in Hip Hop: A Musing on the Dance Scene
Photo Courtesy of Feel Good Collective

I realize that I’ve never introduced myself, despite the fact that I started at The 5th back in August. My name is Noelle Marie and I am a freestyle dancer repping Femme de la Funk, Homeland, and International House of Artistic Punking. I used to run my own blog titled “A Lady in Hip Hop,” in which I discussed hip-hop and the dance scene through a feminine lens.

I have very strong views when it comes to street dance, and I find that while many will agree with me, many will not. I am fine with both outcomes. I should state that I have been Waacking for seven years and have been teaching it for the last three. Prior to that, I was a Krumper — from 7th grade up until my freshman year of college when my heart was stolen by the Funk.

Because of my background, my view is a unique one. Krumping is a male dominated scene while Waacking and Punking is a gay and feminine scene. I sit on this platform between two extremes when viewing female dancers. I’ve battled, judged, and watched countless All-Styles battles throughout the years, and my belief is that the scene is both too soft and too hard on its women.

Let’s start with too soft. I find myself frustrated when I see women walk into battles dressed like they walked out of a Step Up movie, donning big hair, baseball caps tilted to the side (though they watch no baseball), player specific jerseys (though they don’t watch basketball), and whatever the latest shoe trend happens to exist at that moment. If the clothes aren’t enough, there’s the presentation. Queue talking like you’re from the hood, when, 9 out of 10 times, you’re not.

The largest problem, however, is the dancing. I see a lot of half-delivered moves, a lack of concepts, and poorly executed forms indicative of inadequate foundation training. Then, if they know they’re lacking it, there seems to be an ongoing trend to fall back on body rolls, twerking, and hair whipping. If they get called out on it, there is a quick reversal back into baby girl likeness, drawing big eyes, telling everyone you “just want to have fun” and “but I’m good for a girl.”

This works for them. Because everyone will give you props lest your baby doll eyes flood with tears. This tends to be permissible because the scene is heavy with men. Men are prone to big eyes and bare midriffs. If you twerk and body roll for days, it’ll be enough because being “hot” is half the battle. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

Photo Courtesy of KOD
Photo Courtesy of KOD

I can’t stress how much this frustrates and offends me. If we pass off poor execution of skill as something noteworthy, then what happens to all the women who are actually serving? All the women who are winning, not because they are women, but because they are as good as, if not better than, the men?

Yes, I’m thinking Asia One and Damita Jo. Ana Sanchez and Toni Basil. I’m thinking Miss Funk, Waackeisha, Jojo Diggs, Jeskilz, Jimini Cricket, Pandora, and Marie Poppins. In newer generations, I’m thinking Jaja and Lily, Dassy and Lorena, Natalie Gorrie and Ladia Yates.

Do you not know who these women are?

Do you see what the problem is?

None of these women have ever relied on the fact that they’re a female to take a win. If it’s so permissible that anything is talent for a girl entering a hip-hop battle, then those that have actually made noise, fade into the back burner.

How are any of these women supposed to advance their skill level if no one is being real with them the way they would with a new budding male dancer? Tell them to go full out, complete their movement. Use bigger steps and take some classes. Kill it the way a goddamn dude would. Better yet, do it better so no one could go around talking shit.

Which leads into the next problem. The community also has a tendency to be too hard on its women.

America and hip-hop has been built on a faulty perception of gender equality. I’m not going to go on a feminist rant because I just want to say this: I’m tired of salty dudes using low blows to describe women after they lose against them.

“She only won because the judge thinks she’s hot.”

“She only won because she was using her body too much.”

“She only won because her boobs were popping out.”

“She only won because she was being so emotional.”

“She only won because she’s a fucking girl.”

Wait. What?

I’ve heard all of these things and more. For the men in our community, if you’re not uplifting the beginners by lying to them about their skill levels as a way to get at them, then you are trash talking the women who have been able to take you out simply because it’s uncomfortable to lose to a girl.

But our dance scene is changing — it’s opening. It’s doing what hip-hop was supposed to be doing all its life. It’s empowering all of us. Here’s the thing: the scene can’t grow if the mentality doesn’t.

Photo Courtesy of Last One Stands
Photo Courtesy of Last One Stands

When people rely on a woman’s movement and body as a way to excuse the fact that she won, they are discrediting their women. In Popping, when men wave, they go into a body roll. A women employs the same technique and they are yelled at for using their body. Women are told to dress like men when they pop. In hip-hop, it is more common to see a woman in baggy clothes lest she be told she’s relying too much on her body. These are all problems of prejudice.

I don’t think the dance scene was ready for the burst of women that it has had. The scene hasn’t quite figured out what to do with it, and the negative preconceptions are showing. Badly. It’s hard, but the scene has to figure out how to deal with its women. It has to figure out how to be fair, how to be understanding, and how to be make a little less judgment. The women are here. They are serving. And most of them are winning.

Perhaps coddling beginner female dancers is a way to stunt their growth and keep them from being a threat. Or maybe it’s the outcome of American culture in which women are “delicate flowers” that shouldn’t be offended. Maybe we’re afraid of what these women can do once they figure out their own power. Maybe we don’t want any more powerhouse women to further shame our men when they take their wins.

There isn’t a clear answer or fix for any of this. But now, more than ever, our culture is having a shift in how they view their women. It’ll take a while, but for now, perhaps we should try being a little bit more cognizant of old views we’re reaffirming and new sexist views we’re employing.

Thank you,

A Musing from a Lady in Hip Hop

Noelle Marie

Noelle Marie is a writer and personal essayist that covers topics ranging from social justice to the Asian diaspora to hip hop and street dance. She's currently finishing up a novel covering her roots in the Philippines, and she's the dance editor at the 5th. You can also catch her at any street dance event in LA either competing, judging, or performing.

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