Making It Happen: Hip Hop Goes to College
It’s rare to find hip hop in the course listings of liberal arts colleges, compared with more standard offerings like ballet and modern dance. But Jennifer Weber, the director and choreographer of Decadancetheatre, breaks the mold. Her classes at Mount Holyoke College throw hip hop into the academic world. Emphasizing the history of the form and highlighting women’s roles in hip hop culture, Weber proves that there’s much more to the genre than music video backup dancing.
Weber is no stranger to the academic realm; she discovered hip hop in the Philadelphia club scene while attending the University of Pennsylvania, and her passion grew during a semester abroad in London. “I took tap, jazz, and ballet at a local studio growing up, but I wasn’t very good at it,” she says. “Hip hop works well with the way my body naturally moves.” After graduation, Weber was hired to choreograph for a pop star, but it wasn’t a perfect fit. “I found that when you work in the commercial industry, you have so little control over what you’re doing,” she says. “I really wanted to create long-form hip hop dance theater.”
So Weber started Decadancetheatre, a New York–based troupe of six women that performs concert dance pieces using only hip hop vocabulary. The 2004 debut of Decadancetheatre vs. The Firebird—A Hip Hop Ballet, a remix of the classic Stravinsky ballet for the New York International Fringe Festival, put Deca on the map. The company tours worldwide and leads workshops and master classes. “So much of what people see of hip hop is one tiny slice,” says Weber. “We really focus on showing the range of emotion, the use of narrative—we want to see how far we can push hip hop out of its box.”
Weber’s classes (beginner and intermediate hip hop) challenge students to push their own limits. “I come from a classically trained background, and I was absolutely petrified the first time I took Jenn’s class,” says senior Jennifer Cobb, a double major in dance and French. But she stuck with it for the next three years, and found that Weber’s classes helped develop her artistry. “It improved my sense of weight and groundedness, and it totally changed my movement vocabulary and how I improvise. I’ve really expanded as a mover.”
Weber structures her courses to explore the foundations of hip hop, breaking down basic styles including popping, locking, and breaking. The classes also address the evolution of the genre, and Weber strives to give her students a sense of its cultural impact. “I don’t want people thinking that hip hop is just a cool move they see in a music video,” she says. “I want them to understand its cultural history and that it’s a social force.”
Popular versions of hip hop’s history don’t always account for the women who have helped shape the form. So the leader of an all-female company, who teaches at an all-female college, is careful to point out powerful women in the field—even if they’re not specifically dancers. “Hip hop would not have grown without the photographer Martha Cooper,” she says. “And the first article ever written about hip hop was by Sally Banes for the Village Voice in 1981—which was accompanied by Cooper’s images.”
Cobb says that Weber’s class fills a gap in the academic world: “There’s a lot of stigma attached to hip hop, and she’s an advocate for expressing how it can be more than the hyper-sexualization of women—which is how it’s normally perceived.” Yet Weber’s goals remain the same, no matter where she’s teaching. “I hope my students leave class feeling more confident,” she says, “inspired to take their own movement, push it in new directions, and find new ways to create.”
Jennifer Weber. Photo by Karli Cadel, Courtesy Weber.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.