Sunday, January 11, 2004

Hip-Hop Dance Competition

A cousin of the SO invited us to go with her to a hip-hop dance audition/competition in Oakland California. At first, I was hesitant to go because rap is not really my type of music. I can not find the rhythm and I often don't understand what they say because they say it too fast or there is too much slang in the song. Also, I envisioned this dark, dingy nightclub where the restrooms are littered with used toilet paper, the sink does not work, and the men miss their urinal mark. There will be no seats so that I can leisurely judge the participants. I will be uncomfortable and irritated. Not my ideal place now that I am getting older and older.

However, it turns out that 106 KMEL has some taste and decorum so they held the contest at an indoor basketball court within a sports gym. It was nice because of the high ceiling which allowed the body odor from participants to dissipate into the ether. It was also brightly lit and clean. The one thing I observed though was that the members of the gym were not so used to seeing that many young black people outside the doors of the gymnasium. Some of them had that look of fear and confusion in their eyes. I could just see some of them think in their heads, "Huh? What are they doing in this place? I hope they are not going to be members."

As for the music, it was really hip-hop and not rap. I can barely tell the difference. If forced, I would have to say that I can dance to hip-hop and I can't really dance as much to rap. I would have to extend that hip-hop would be closer to rhythm and blues too. The one question that did pop into my head is "When did rap evolve into hip-hop?" I remember LL Cool J and Run DMZ with the song Walk This Way from the 80's. But while in college, I could no longer listen to rap because it had evolved into a very harsh form like gangster rap like NWA. I essentially ignored rap until around 2002 when my co-workers would dance to it while working. I noticed that there was a rhythm and a groove in the music. That was when they told me that it was hip-hop.

Looking at the performers and the people that were present in the floor, it was obvious that hip-hop had become integrated into American life. The movement and the music allows for a perception of greater freedom from rules and regulations. The atmosphere is that of anything goes. In fact, some of the women were gyrating so much that I thought they were trying to pick up some of the judges. And there is such a strong beat to the music that you have to be dead if you don't want to at least move your body a little bit. Although for me, I still prefer the tango, international style.

Hip-hop might look easy, but it is still ruled by the rules of dance. There must be a beauty to the lines of your body. Your movements must be delineated and precise. There must be fluidity of form. And more importantly, a part of the body must contain that exhibitionist gene which wants to be the center of attraction. Without one of these components, the contestant is already eliminated.

In this competition, there were many people who looked very good in their hip-hop clothes and could dance very well when with a group of people. But once they are alone in the dance floor, it's a different ballgame. The butterflies in the stomach start flying; the muscles get tight; the ego takes a beating. One contestant went in the middle and completely blanked out and left. The announcer called him back and others pushed him back into the spotlight. There is no quitting allowed in this place.

Many of the women who dance really well when surrounded by their friends become very shy when dancing alone. It's probably because the dance that they do is very sexual. They vibrate their whole body; they hump with their buttocks; they insinuate with their gyration. These movements are fine and dandy when everyone around you is dancing the same way. But when performing it alone, it can degrade you into a sexual object. Or worse, it makes a mockery of your abilities to dance. Context determines whether you are slutty or a good dancer.

One contestant basically just shook her buttocks at the judges. The female judge made a face of disgust and quickly judged the dancer. The male judges all looked, but they too quickly realized that sucking up is sucking up. I was disappointed because of all the gyrations that I saw during warmups, this is the best that this dancer could do. Another spirit stifled by pressure.

In the end, hip-hop is still the movement of the body in synchronization with music. Sure, there are gifted people out there who can do amazing things. But the knowledge of some ballet and jazz will allow a dancer to stand out from the rest. Vibrating one's buttocks for a whole minute is not very creative. But working the floor with a series of spins is. Humping like a dog in estrus is amusing for about three seconds. Do it for a whole minute and it's embarassing. Wear something that shows off the body. Lose clothing will hide the pops and the smacks of the fine body movements.

To all you hip-hoppers out there, you better enjoy it now because when you get old, you can't do it again. Look at Hammer. He's not dancing anymore, is he?

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