Hip Hop, comin’ at U from L.A…

…L-A-N-G-L-E-Y, that is, a typical middle-class suburb where Hip Hop dancer Jen Oleksiuk grew up. She has never lived in the ‘hood’ or the ‘projects’, places stereotypically associated with Hip Hop. As a child she played baseball and volleyball, and at 19, began training in dance. Today, she is one of the most sought after Hip Hop dancers in Canada with stage, film and television credits to her name. She is the director, founder and main choreographer of the Stonefoxx Dance Crew, and her classes are in high demand. Not bad for a white chick from suburbia, eh?

Hip Hop, on the other hand, developed in the gritty streets of inner-city New York and Los Angeles. Although Hip Hop expresses many themes, its music of commercial success often expresses the hardships of a ‘live-hard, die-fast’ urban lifestyle. Rivalry amongst street gangs influenced the dance form of ‘battling’, where dancers provoke one another with moves that can be aggressive, sly or witty. Its manner of expression is confrontational, aiming for a direct dialogue with its audience.

Soon enough, Hip Hop culture and dance became mainstream and pushed beyond its American borders. In a well-known video clip (you can find it on YouTube), Korean B-Boys pose as border guards at Panmunjom, the heavily fortified post straddling the tense North-South Korean border. The border guards taunt each other in a dance battle, even daring to step on the marked borderline. It concludes with both sides dancing together and a handshake over the borderline. Here, Hip Hop expresses not just confrontation between adversaries but also hope for unity and peace.

I first tried Hip Hop dance because I loved the music’s rhythms; I gave little thought to its lyrics or themes. Jen sometimes choreographs to ‘Gangsta Rap’, a genre of Hip Hop music known for its recount of the violence of ‘gangsta’ life. Though, when she repeats the lyrics, she’ll replace the profanity with the most creative substitutes I’ve heard. I laughed thinking I’d ever relate with its exaggerated characters, the ‘gangstas’ and excessive ‘bling’. Surprisingly, it was fun to pretend to be that badass ‘gangsta’, and it was easy to relate with the emotions it expressed. You know what it’s like to fight for what you believe in, or to tell someone to bugger off, don’t you? Sometimes, I doubt whether these Hip Hop artists even take themselves seriously, and I wonder if these ‘gangstas’ are merely rapping from the basement of their suburban homes.

To dance Hip Hop, I had to forget everything I had ever learned about posture, which is hard after years of ballet training. Hip Hop allowed me to slouch, swagger, limp and stagger; moves regarded as ugly in other dance styles look surprisingly good in Hip Hop. The secret is not in looking pretty, but in one’s style. What makes Jen’s Stonefoxx Dance Crew so great to watch, is that each dancer asserts her personal style with such fierceness. Jen frequently told me to make my moves ‘bigger, more aggressive’; I really had to commit my movements to what I was saying. There’s no hiding behind choreography, so I threw my best gangsta-self out there while wondering if I looked ridiculous. In the end, it felt so good to just give ‘er, I didn’t care how I looked.

I’ve never experienced life in the ‘hood’, but there is something very universal and addictive about Hip Hop dance and its culture. In my straight life, even I can be badass. To anyone who objects, I challenge you to a battle!

Jen Oleksiuk teaches Hip Hop and other dance styles. Check out the Stonefoxx Dance Crew and contact her at: www.stonefoxxdancecrew.com