Hello 👋🏽 I want to talk about a few things. Bear with me, this will be long. I’ve been procrastinating on posting because I am hella TypeA and I felt like I didn’t have the perfect plan yet or perfect explanation or perfect format to say all this 😂 but at this point I’d rather it just be out there. I could write a blog on each of these bullet points lol but I’ll attempt to keep it shorter than that (which is still not very short).
- Black lives matter. They always have, and they always will. This has been something I’ve felt strongly about for many years but recently (this is probably thanks to the slow down of corona life) I have devoted myself to dig deeper in unpacking my own privilege – and responsibilities – in both my personal and professional life as a white woman.
- I owe my ENTIRE career to black culture. For 15 years I’ve been able to work as a “hip hop” teacher and perform as a “hip hop” dancer. Personally, my training/focus has always been commercial and industry performance, which is synonymous with Black culture, music and style. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a guest in this culture and have always felt loved and welcomed (from the very beginning with DASH fam).
- Staying true to the “roots” has always been incredibly important to me. I didn’t grow up in a studio, so my exposure to hip hop culture came from a) being so obsessed with it that literally every paper i wrote in college was about hip hop culture and/or music and dance from the African diaspora b) dancing and working with DASH Center on Hilltop. I remember the first time I walked into that building I literally wanted to cry. It was a dream. That space continues to inspire me to this day (undoubtedly way more than I even realize).
- So, as I started my teaching career at ballet studios who wanted to offer “hip hop” programs, I didn’t ever FEEL like the stereotypical “jazz teacher teaching hip hop” (also bc I wasn’t a jazz dancer lol). I taught context, foundation and elements. I knew I was a great teacher and that I had way more experience than many of my counterparts so I always felt that I was not the problem, tbh. (I still was) But I literally always had work. I was always able to get glowing reviews and although I know I worked my ass off for all this, I’m also fully aware of how much of that ease was thanks to the privilege I had as an attractive and peppy young white woman with a college degree teaching hip hop 🙃
- When we first opened The Beat Box, I knew how important it was to get this right. I envisioned community activism, adding fundamental classes in street styles, and TRULY honoring the culture and community. There’s a lot a lot a lot to say on this first couple years of the studio. To sum it up, I really was not equipped to do all that myself, didn’t have the support, and was too stubborn and prideful to ask for help. Not to mention the myriad of issues in my personal life that first couple years. Although I’m proud to say that some of that curriculum did happen and some I think still does, I guess I just lost steam for the fight. I’m sad to admit that it became something I wanted to TRY to include instead of putting my foot down and saying this was a NECESSITY for the studio.
- After some major life changes in 2016 I went into hustle mode until now. For a solid 3+ years I taught 7 days a week in multiple cities, and was basically just HUSTLING to pay my bills. Literally did not have a single day off while going through a shitty divorce and just trying to stay afloat. During this time, I regretfully lost sight of what I had originally committed myself to when I started teaching. Honoring the culture. I continued to develop myself as a dancer and teacher in many ways but fell short of refreshing myself on everything I studied in college and actively getting involved in the street dance scene.
- The last year or so I’ve honestly had major anxiety about teaching my hip hop classes. I’ve asked to change the names but again, I gave up pretty much immediately after hearing why it wouldn’t work, instead of fighting for it 😕 Since my classes have continued to be called hip hop, I have tried (I say TRIED… But have fallen super short) to intentionally include foundational movements and styles into my choreography and to talk about the names and origin. However, since I truly have not allowed myself the time to study or practice any of this myself – dropping random names of moves with zero knowledge around the actual history makes me feel inauthentic and unprepared. So anyways. This last year has been a constant stress of “i need to do more and i need to do better” and also “i literally have no time to even eat” I don’t think I’ve given my best to my profession in times of hustle like this (young artists, take note!)
- All this to say. As horrible as everything is right now, I’m SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL that it’s pushing us to have these conversations and actually make the changes. I am sure there are plenty of teachers who have been doing the right thing all along, plenty who have tried their best, and plenty who simply had NO idea this conversation existed. Studio Owners, this is ALSO YOUR CONVERSATION. Hire people who know what they’re doing. Don’t offer a hip hop class if you don’t have anyone who knows about hip hop (???! This seems so obvious but you would be surprised) Competition teams, don’t compete if you’ve never trained in hip hop??! (Again, seems obvious but this is reality). The studio and competition community (teachers, owners, coaches, choreographers etc) have FAILED the hip hop community. I openly admit and agree with that. But now we are all here, having the conversation. And now we get to choose how our dance community moves forward. Let’s get it right.
- One of my favorite things about being able to teach my classes online during quarantine has been that I haven’t had to label them “hip hop” (if you take from me you’ve probably noticed I ditched it like the first week of quarantine lol) Ive been reflecting on my strengths and background – and I absolutely can’t pretend that I know anything about the street dance scene other than from the perspective of a voyeur. I’m definitely done trying to justify why I should teach a hip hop labeled class. I’ve admired and learned what I could from a distance but that is NOT my area of expertise- and I won’t pretend it is. My work is centered and rooted in developing skills for performance and industry dancers.
- I want to make it extremely clear – this removal of the title “hip hop” in no way excuses me from learning more about how to give back to the black community or to teach historical context. I am personally so thankful for the time I have right now to educate and re educate myself, to unlearn bad habits, and to have important conversations with students, studios, teachers and community. I also want to note that this education will not happen overnight, and I’m still fumbling with how to include stretching, warmup, progressions, history, choreo, groups, feedback, execution training in an hour long drop in class 🙃 I’ve been trying to get all that figured out before posting about it but oh well. If you’re in one of my community groups (KGDP or KG Dance Fam) you can expect more links, videos, and resources to help us all learn more. Please challenge me, ask me questions, be curious about what you’re learning. I will answer what I know, and learn what I don’t.
If you actually read this life story of mine, bless you 😂 I am a pretty open person and so I felt I needed to provide context on how I’m arriving to this conversation today, and why it’s so important to me to start showing up in a more impactful way.
Teaching is my LIFE. I take it very seriously and it has always been my single most important value to do it right. I am committed to continuing this conversation, educating myself and my students, and encouraging studios/schools/competitions to rethink their business of teaching hip hop. Now that we know better – let’s do better 🙏🏽❤️ – KG