Hip-hop and street dance culture continually redefine themselves, shifting both quickly and slowly. In some instances, it has shown itself to evolve into something entirely different overnight without my having noticed. In other instances, it moves at a snail’s pace, fighting change every step of the way. These shifts, whether they come quickly or slowly, are disorienting. For the newer generation of dancers, there is rejoicing. Every time something shifts forward, it makes room to include the newest and younger; it allows them entrance into the cool club — the very club that they have been barred entry into on the basis of youth and inexperience. For older generations, the shifts come with threats, leaving them aggressively denying their own fear. With each shift forward, the OGs are vulnerable to the dangers of becoming irrelevant, of fading into the “has beens,” essentially, kicking them out of the cool club just as room is made for the younger kids. But the shifts themselves, regardless of if we embrace or recoil from them, will still come. As with any culture, hip-hop and street dance seeks to redefine and reinvent itself time and time again to suit its current generation, to allow itself to maintain relevancy to the ever-changing community that feeds upon it. In a way, hip-hop and street dance must shift forward with the times.
Classically, there are style-specific battles. Within these battles, the dancers are required to remain within the bounds of their particular style. Then there’s all styles battles, where the dancer is required (in most cases) to perform their style masterfully to multiple genres of music. Lastly, and newest, there are open style battles, where every style goes. Within this battle format, you should be able to do multiple styles and do them well.
There is a similar trend in choreography. Gone are the basic foundations of choreography; it’s not just about creating dance moves to music anymore. In most cases, the judges and the crowd are looking to receive a story; they want to be wowed, they want to see something completely original and new and, most importantly, out of the box. Essentially, they want dancers to completely reinvent what it means to perform a choreography piece.
The ongoing question that seems to forever do revolutions around this dance culture is this: are these cultural shifts a good thing or a bad thing? Whatever they are, should we be charging further into the new? Or should we bound backwards for a return to what is original? The longer I’ve existed in this scene, the more puzzling my own answers become.
The original way of doing things should be honored because it paved the way for the rest of us to come forth and express what gives us life. Having been able to train with OGs and experience this culture in its psuedo-original form, I can say that there is something completely enthralling and soul-changing to be able to explore a different era with a different feel. It truly does have a very unique and special power in terms of expression and performance. But, I also live in the here and now. I see these new dancers every day in the battle scene, on stage, in classes, on YouTube – and they’re hungry. A lot of them aren’t that great, with a few being noteworthy exceptions. We cannot ignore those few that are changing the game.
How do we reconcile the divide between the origins and the future? Street dance will always be hesitant because, like hip-hop, it’s utilized to provide an avenue of expression and release; it’s a way to give voice to the voiceless. If it changes in any way, there is always going to be at least one voice that is silenced. In that, street dance is not very different from any other insular culture. It is flawed in its own system. Street dance will never reach a moment of equilibrium. Why? Because hip-hop’s constant is the consistency of change. Hip-hop is built on redefinition because there will always be another voice that demands to be heard.
The problem with this divide is that it leaves little room to explore the positives of each side, the old and the new. We’ve made little-to-no action towards a progressive connection between the two. Then, those that lead the two ends of street dance, the ones with the loudest and most authoritative voices, the OGs and the best of the New Gs — they are messing up. On each side, they are working towards their own gain, the rise of their own empire as opposed to moving and influencing the rest of us into a united hip-hop front.
Street dance as of late has suffered from its own attacks against itself. The OGs are saying the new generations refuse to acknowledge history, claiming they neglect to learn foundational skills and culture to properly represent it; thus, killing said culture. The New Gs complain that the OGs give them no space for creative exploration. Professing that the box they have built is too small, and they are too close-minded to look beyond that box. The only way they would approve of new movement is if it maintains close attachment to pre-existing movement. This leaves little room for the dancers toeing the lines of abstract movement. In this, both our new and our old have failed us. They, and by virtue, we, have forgotten the true meaning of hip-hop, the reason for street dance. Rather than uplifting one another, we’ve chosen to maintain a solid divide, keeping each other out of our individual spaces, essentially, silencing one another’s voices.
Is that not everything we worked against? How bitterly ironic that we’ve chosen to turn our backs on one another.
I openly embrace hip-hop and street dance. I’m a complete lover, follower, and member of these two cultures. I’ve chosen to do so because they’ve given me my expression, my passion, and my voice. While I speak on my love for this culture, I am not hesitant to note all the ways I’ve attributed to this problem. When I first came into this scene, I very much was of the old world mentality. I was all about original hip-hop and foundational skill. I was a part of those who were aggressively against the new generation. I enjoyed breaking other dancers down in cyphers and in battles. I always had a dark pleasure in physically informing someone of their lack of skill and my superiority over them. I’m not proud of this, but if it is for the greater good, I don’t mind mentioning my own shame.
I think it’s only fair that I recognize my own flaws. It is all of our personal flaws that amount to the collective one negatively affecting our culture. I don’t really mind the shame that comes with my acknowledgement because I am also aware that I’ve moved out of this state of mind. I’ve moved out of the “us versus them” mentality. I’ve begun ruminating the possible ways in which we can combine these two forces, these two cultures that, in actuality, are two sides of the same coin.
Has there been a massive evolution of style? A massive evolution of culture? Absolutely. There are positives and negatives to this growth. As practitioners and members of this community, it is important that we recognize that not all forward movement is a positive movement.
Hip-hop once gave me a voice. However, I’ve realized that it’s not just about gaining a voice, it’s about using it. It’s about the strength of voice when you are working against the grain, when you are speaking as the “other.” It is not an easy job, but I have no doubt there are many in the scene as conflicted as me, many in the scene that want to see a coalescence of the two. It can happen, we simply have to be willing to work on it.
– A musing from a lady in hip-hop.